Martial law reminiscences and springtime
(Editor’s note: The writer, who obtained a master’s degree from Harvard Law School after graduating from San Beda College of Law, stood up against martial law and defended its victims. After briefly serving as President Cory Aquino’s spokesperson and legal adviser, he was elected senator in 1987. He was a member of the Senate’s “Magnificent 12,” who voted to boot out the US military bases in the country in 1991.)
Major League pitcher Jim Bouton’s 1970 autobio, “Ball Four,” ended thusly: “ … When it’s over for me [in the major leagues], would I be hanging on [in the minors]? I went down deep and the answer I came up with was ‘yes.’ Yes, I would. You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.”
I am reminded of Jim because of another anniversary of martial law (ML) being inflicted on Sept. 23, 1972. Not Sept. 21, 1972, Thursday, which was just another day in the office.
I was then assisting the San Beda College law dean, Feliciano Jover Ledesma, who was busy as a Con-con (Constitutional Convention) delegate.
On Sept. 21, I monitored by radio a Plaza Miranda rally with Ka Pepe Diokno, Charito Planas and Bal Pinguel, among others, as speakers.
Yes, just another day in the office. Same as the 22nd, Friday. I drove home in my Beetle. Just before 9 p.m., when I was on Ayala Bridge, a flash report came on the ambuscade of Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile (which he was to admit on Feb. 22, 1986, at Edsa was fake news). The captivating candor attracted support, but in his 2012 memoirs Enrile reverted to the fairy tale.
The next day, Sept. 23, no newspapers and no radio-TV in our rented Sandejas, Pasay City, apartment.
Raul S. Roco, Ninoy Aquino’s right-hand man, called and said if we’d be arrested, we might as well be arrested together. We spent the night in Bel-Air, in the house of a brother-in-law of his. (Raul was my campus contemporary, a year behind me in law school. I was best man in his wedding with Sonia Malasarte.)
Resist, resist, resist
That night, I called Uncle Jovy Salonga (uncle, as his mom, Lola Dinang, was a first cousin of my own paternal Lola Talia, living in the same “looban” and my Daddy sucked from the breasts of Lola Dinang; my own Lola was barren of milk).
He said he was in the Senate, which had been padlocked. He and I made a solemn vow then to resist, resist, resist.
I resisted from Day One. I stood at Edsa beginning then, with the Aquinos, whom I had not really known, and stayed there until February 1986, when millions, including Fidel V. Ramos, JPE and Gringo Honasan, another fellow Bedan, finally joined us on the right side of the highway and history.
No Rene without Dulce
RAM (Reform the Armed Forces Movement) was on the wrong side previously, got trapped on Edsa, and was rescued by the people. Hence, People Power.
I was flattered to be asked to write this recollection, but I always stress “no Rene without a Dulce,” my late wife.
We met when she was working for her master’s degree in social work in the Jesuits’ Boston College and I was working for mine in Harvard Law. (We had full scholarships.)
One’s spouse had better be in support to last in human rights lawyering, which emerged and bloomed after Sept. 23, led by Lorenzo Tañada, Jose Diokno, Jovito Salonga, Joker Arroyo and others.
We — the youth or “uhugin” brigade — were the water boys or gofers (e.g., fearless Jojo Binay). Some lawyers started but backed out when opposed by well-meaning kinfolk.
But Dulce never complained even with my difficulty in bringing up the bread (she was working on government pay in the social welfare department, which she joined as a teenager right after graduation. She was No. 3 in the board exams and started to work with the informal settlers in Sapang Palay).
She never complained, except on Christmas Day 1981 when, after supper, I quietly sneaked out of Palanan, Makati, where I was her star boarder.
I crossed Vito Cruz to see Pops Baskiñas, an April 6 Liberation Movement detainee who was on a Christmas furlough.
When I sneaked back in, Dulce was quietly shedding tears, “Pati ba naman Pasko, talagang wala kang panahon sa amin?”
When asked in open forums how the family was taking it, I’d say half in jest, “Who’s to complain? I am neglecting all of them — equally.” The cross of human rights lawyering.
All over the land
From the mountain fastnesses of Isabela to Cebu, Davao and Kidapawan (where I helped prosecute the Maneros, who killed Fr. Tulio Favali), to the various detention camps and courts, we toiled, all over the land.
It was in Davao in 1976 where one of my pioneer human rights clients was killed by the military.
I first saw Eman Lacaba in 1971 sprawled on the ground, bloodied by police in front of a factory whose workers were on strike.
His case was quickly dismissed by a fellow proletarian, Judge Ben Abalos of Pasig. One day in 1974, Eman visited me in my rinky-dink office in Quiapo and said he was going “abroad,” i.e., underground.
Two years later, he was killed in Davao, in the flower of his youth.
One of my first ML national security cases involved the son of an Air Force officer who came to see me in Sandejas and said he had convinced his son to plead guilty and start anew.
That he did, in early December 1972. I asked Judge Victoriano Savellano if we could have his sentence promulgated between Christmas and New Year, when people’s hearts would be warm and gentle. Granted.
On promulgation, I asked the judge if I could approach the bench with the public prosecutor (fiscal then).
In a lowered voice I said: “Your Honor, the sentence is below the minimum mandated by law.” He snorted: “Bakit, a-appeal ka ba?” I considered myself told. Judges could be very understanding and kind, appreciative of youthful exuberance.
In early December 1972, when a Bolivian madman (Benjamin Mendoza) tried to stab Imelda Marcos, but was subdued, a fellow faculty member in San Beda (Judge Cesar Sangco) remarked, in jest, ML had produced its first hero.
When a US senator supposedly said we were a nation of 40 million cowards and one SOB, I would say “and one B.”
I had proposed that the college of law be closed until ML was lifted. No one voted to support me.
Afterward, a colleague whispered to me that I was right. Years after 1972, I met another fellow faculty member, an authentic Bessang Pass hero, in some court.
He had that faraway look, saying “Ne, keep going. I wonder what happened to that young man who in his youth was ready to die for the Motherland,” alluding to himself.
The advice was to be prudent. I chose to be “imprudent.”
After Ninoy Aquino was salvaged on Aug. 21, 1983, a game-changer, I flew to Davao to join a march-rally led by Soledad Duterte, mother of President Duterte, one admirable charming tough lady.
Resistance spread as the middle class and the elite realized that no one was safe and took the long view, for their children and grandchildren.
Flashback: In January 1971, I had signed up with Ayala. I dealt with Don Enrique Zobel, assisted by my teacher, Bobby de la Fuente (bar grade: 95.95 percent). I had been recruited in the United States by Joe McMicking.
Joe was the visionary who had conceived what Makati business is today. So, he told me, “It is said that it ain’t braggin’ if you can back it up.”
After coming down from the Ayala Insular Life building at Paseo de Roxas and Ayala Avenue, I hitched a ride with a fellow Bedan passing by, Danny Ong, also of Bobby’s Class ’54, who was to become Cory Aquino’s BIR chief.
In front of the Supreme Court building, a traffic-clogging rally. Among its leaders was Atenean Roger Rayala, whom I had known as a party animal in our college years.
(He was detained during ML for over a year, charged with Sen. Eva Estrada-Kalaw for “Operation Takip-Silim.”)
I told Danny I was getting off, to join my kind of people. I founded the San Beda Free Legal Aid Clinic. It was in that capacity that I monitored the peaceful Sept. 21 Plaza Miranda rally just in case there would be arrests. Ho-hum, that Thursday.
The next day, again just another day in the office for me but Ninoy Aquino was arrested that night (true) and JPE said he had been ambushed (false).
Human rights addiction
ML caused my human rights (HR) addiction. HR lawyering was unknown when I was in law school. I had not heard of salvaging, desaparecidos, Nawasa and Meralco treatments (torture), San Juanico Bridge (head on one bench, feet on another, to be whipped when one fell — ask Pete Lacaba) and the like.
I joined Ka Pepe’s Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) and later cofounded the Movement of Attorneys for Brotherhood, Integrity and Nationalism Inc. (Mabini) to take stands on national issues. Our fraternal bonding remained strong.
I thank ML for drawing me close to lawyer-heroes, such as Tanny and Pepe. And valiant journalists like Joe Burgos.
In his We Forum case, I was cited for contempt twice.
The first time, I was fined P50 for saying the civilian court was getting “militarized” with so many uniformed men around. I said I’d gladly pay it and held out a one-hundred peso bill and asked, “Can I say something more for another fifty pesos?”
The second time, a weekend in jail, telling the court that against the advice of our panel, I would not apologize. “A weekend in jail is a very low price to pay for the high privilege of sharing the suffering of our unhappy Motherland.”
My offense: I had called Marcos a “supersubversive,” pointing to his picture on a wall calendar.
Indeed, I have to thank him for making me more than a household word not only in my own household.
I lawyered, spoke, pamphleteered, sympathized, marched, agitated and got detained, shot at, truncheoned, water-cannoned, tear-gassed and chased.
In every rally I imagined or smelled gunpowder and knew that it could be my last. But, I survived, by the grace of a compassionate Providence, and the people, appreciative and grateful, elected me senator in 1987 without my cash-strapped family having to spend a single “singkong duling” of our own.
I was 32 when I came home in 1971, a leftist. I was a hundred miles to the right of Marcos when I left in 1967 for the United States, where there were rallies, tear gas, gunfire, assassinations, Black Power and news from home about the infectious First Quarter Storm.
I had argued that the business of a student was to study and not to tell Marcos how to run the country. Was I ever wrong.
Had I stuck it out with Ayala — a finer organization would be hard to find — I would have been in some plush enclave today instead of being on, what may be said, in one sense, the wrong side of Makati.
At times, there would be several wakes simultaneously on our streets. I was not a good provider in not even being able to give the family a home.
But, one thing I learned in Harvard is that poverty could be respectable, a takeoff from the biblical lilies of the field that neither toil nor spin but survive.
Yes, I would
So if I, ailing with medical bills, aches and pains, had to do it over, would I? Like Jim Bouton, I would go deep down and the answer I would come up with is “yes.”
You see, you spend a good piece of your life helping the poor, obscure and powerless, pro bono (“puro abono”) and you will realize that law is a jealous mistress indeed and that psychic income is fulfilling, the dream that drives one to law school in the first place. To help give our people a shot at a just, better life.
I wish no American official would again say we are a country of millions of cowards and one SOB. And as I would add, “and one B.” The Marcoses ruined our values, institutions and processes. This lesson we must remember. Jorge Santayana warned that “those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Imee says the Marcoses are in their winter. Politically, may they stay there forever.
Imagine marking last Sept. 11 as the centennial of Marcos. He was born in 1916 as he testified under oath in Honolulu. My San Beda Law Alabang students have produced his birth certificate confirming his birth in 1916. But how he was obsessed with 7 (and 11) and falsified his age. His epitaph should read: Here a lawyer lies still.
Today, we have a Prez who sandbags his guests to do the clenched fist gesture with him, very much like Hitler and his troopers, and sees human rights addicts as a lower form of animal life. Yet he remains popular and populist. But I do wish him to succeed as his success is yours and mine, everyone’s. But ML?
Never Never Never Again! Non, je ne regrette rien.
No, I regret nothing. —CONTRIBUTED
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