Ka Pepe: Chel Diokno’s father-hero
Who’s afraid of being yellow? Not me. Despite the current political climate, I felt my commemoration of the 33rd Edsa People Power Revolution need not be muted. It did not matter that we did not gather at a Holy Mass this year and that former president Fidel V. Ramos could not even do his ceremonial jump. I still wore yellow—and will continue to proudly adhere to yellow not as a political color but for the history and the courage it evokes.
What an uplifting experience it was, using the week to talk to people we encountered about the day’s significance. For many of those we talked to, Feb. 25, 1986, really seemed already a distant historical event.
Never mind, too, the continuous bickering by the usual suspects about the pseudo-revolution that it was. Wasn’t the ouster of an overstaying corrupt dictator our seemingly insurmountable goal? Pray tell, who else could have provided the leadership that Cory, the woman proudly in yellow, did? And if only for that, I remain very grateful.
I was still in People Power mode when I went to the Ka Pepe Diokno Human Rights Awards ceremony at De La Salle Taft the next day, also what would have been his 97th birthday. I had always thought it a remarkable coincidence that the highly respected senator and courageous freedom fighter—let us not forget that, along with Ninoy Aquino, Diokno was one of the first to be rounded up by the military for detention in 1972 on the night martial law was declared—would have a Feb. 26 birthday, the day after the historic Edsa day. He would also leave us on Feb. 27, 1987.
Listening to Senator Diokno’s eloquence in the short video capturing his words— which still ring true today, decades after—one realized once more the high caliber of debates and public discussions then in the Senate hall, a rarity today. Acknowledged as the father of human rights in this country, Diokno is remembered to have said again and again, “No cause is more worthy than the cause of human rights… they are what makes a man human. Deny them and you deny man’s humanity.”
What would Ka Pepe have said were he in our midst today? He would have remained hopeful, because even in the darkest hours of martial law and the dictatorship, he had said: “Law in the land died. I grieve for it but I do not despair over it. I know, with a certainty no argument can turn, no wind can shake, that from its dust will rise a new and better law: more just, more human, and more humane. When that will happen, I know not. That it will happen, I know.”
This year’s Diokno Human Rights awardees are Bishop Virgilio “Ambo” David and journalist Maria Ressa, both selected long before their front-page prominence. Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno, Ka Pepe’s son and the founding dean of the De La Salle University College of Law, opened the ceremony: “Today we honor two persons who have love and hope and faith, and tremendous courage. And in honoring them, it is our family’s deepest hope that their example sparks the same love, the same hope, the same faith and the same courage in the Filipino.”
Bishop David could not be present for security reasons, and had asked his elder brother Randy to pinch-hit at the eleventh hour. He did prepare his “speech,” but had requested his brother as the writer, “Bahala ka na.” Big brother was an impressive substitute. Maria Ressa had no prepared speech (“I have heard myself so often these days”) but was no less eloquent and convincing about the ongoing struggle against disinformation.
Chel Diokno, his father’s son, is one of the country’s leading human rights lawyers. While he has giant shoes to fill, he is no less worthy or equipped, having graduated magna cum laude in Juris Doctor of Laws from the Northern Illinois University. In a ceremony marked with dignity and decency, there was no hint of his being on the Otso Diretso senatorial team. That is my kind of public official.
Neni Sta. Romana Cruz (nenisrcruz@ gmail.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.
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