Friday, February 15, 2013

Diokno is No Joke

Over a bottle of Red Horse Mucho,- Yobhel, my eldest, and I shared thoughts about Jose W. Diokno, the great Filipino nationalist. He told me things I am not aware of about the great man. My knowledge about Ka Pepe, Diokno’s nom de guerre, is limited only of him being a lawyer and senator dedicated to the promotion of human rights, the defense of Philippine sovereignty and the enactment pro-Filipino economic legislation. My son informed me that Diokno was the only person to top both the Philippine Bar Examination and the board exam for Certified Public Accountants (CPA). Then we discussed about the content and the ideas in the book “Nation for Our Children” which I purchased when I was still a young activist at Occidental Mindoro National College (OMNC), our alma mater. That was three years or so before my son was born.

In an Inquirer net article published last year, Ka Pepe’s son, Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno remembered, “It was 1974, the height of the Marcos dictatorship, when I first started going to court with Dad. The first time I saw him in action, I was hooked. I knew then, without a shadow of a doubt, that I would become a lawyer. And of course, I wanted to be a lawyer like him.”  Like father like son, indeed. I cannot help but recall and recount to Yobhel stories from my challenging and long stint with the Task Force Detainees of the Philippine-Southern Tagalog (TFDP-ST) where I served as its Regional Human Rights Education Program (HREP) coordinator. I told him that Ka Pepe’s idea of developmental legal aid have inspired us then, TFDP workers, to challenge government policies and practices. I told him about Diokno’s pet project, the establishment of Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) and how its members, mostly lawyers and paralegals, promote people’s genuine development. Ka Pepe and his legacy have tied the endearing and meaningful paternal knot between me and my only son that very hour with our favorite beer, if I may emphasize.

In that father-and-son mara-talk, we even compared senators during Diokno's time and the senators of our day. Ka Pepe and another late nationalist legislator, Lorenzo Tanada (AKA Ka Tanny) were both intelligent but never been unethical. Witty but never been arrogant. Their most memorable fight were against foreign corporations and not against their fellow senators. Whenever they present themselves in the media, their speeches are oozing with nationalism, democracy and sovereignty and not about their fellow senator's sexual preference or mental state. Well, those were the days when the Hall of Senate was a seedbed of intellectual and academic quest more than a circus or an entertainment venue. Those were the times when the media was interested more of words of wisdom coming from politicians rather than pick-up lines and antics. Those were the days before the likes of Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Panfilo Lacson came to the show. The days when the Filipino people prefer to be educated rather than entertained by politicians!

Though a man of Law, Ka Pepe was also a man of Faith. In that same article, siblings Mench and Pat Diokno wrote, “Dad was such an intellectual that it would probably surprise many to learn that he was a deeply spiritual person. His faith was very personal and private; he did not preach and as we children grew older, he left the practice of our faith to each one of us, without judging us for our sometimes lack of fervor.” It was said that Pepe Diokno even at sickbay, never lost faith and respect to people with different beliefs. 

My son, just like me when I was his age, is deeply hooked on the ideals and aspiration of Ka Pepe specially the man’s Filipino concept of Justice. Yobhel emphasized how Western thought dominated our way of thinking as a people and shared me a classic Diokno line in the manuscript “The Filipino Concept of Justice” from the book “Nation for Our Children”: “We have been dominated by the West for so long; our political institutions, our laws, our educational system, all are copies of Western patterns; and the advertising, television programs, books, magazines and newspapers emanating from the West have deeply affected our values. In these circumstances, can we hope to find a concept of justice native to us Filipinos?”

Diokno succumbed to lung cancer on February 27, 1987, just one day after his 65th birthday. In 2004, Diokno was posthumously conferred the Order of Lakandula with the rank of Supremo—the Philippines' highest honor. February 27 is celebrated in the country as Jose W. Diokno Day and this was declared by former President Corazon C. Aquino. I have no inkling about it but Yobhel shared it to me.  My old book “Nation for our Children” edited by Priscila Manalang, a compilation actually of Diokno’s speeches, taught my son this words from the great man himself : "Reality is often much more beautiful than anything that we can conceive of. If we can release the creative energy of our people, then we will have a nation full of hope and full of joy, full of life and full of love — a nation that may not be a nation for our children but which will be a nation of our children." With this, Diokno’s legacy to us is indeed “no joke”. A little book that has a special space in our little bookshelf at home and it’s a tenant there for more than 22 years now.

On February 27, hopefully my son and I again clink our glasses not only for Jose W. Diokno but also for them, my children, and the rest of the children of this great but impoverished nation of ours….

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