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Chel Diokno who?

There is little the general public knows about Chel Diokno aside from being dean of the De La Salle University (DLSU) College of Law and a first-time senatorial candidate. He’s not a politician; neither did he star in an action film nor become a host of a radio show. His name has never been plastered on boxes of relief goods; his picture hasn’t even graced a can of sardines, or been used in other textbook Filipino campaign stunts in an era when stamping one’s name and face on ambulances and other public vehicles is a must.

But there are other reasons why Diokno isn’t well-known.

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He talks slowly, carefully enunciating the importance of each phrase, instead of making quick, bombastic statements about, say, how big his armory of guns is (I don’t think he carries any). In fact, the only things he is armed with are pen and paper, what he’s learned from books, and his lifelong experience of helping the poor and disadvantaged — for free. As the head of the Free Legal Assistance Group, he has dedicated a great deal of his adult life to helping ordinary Filipinos. But to become a successful Filipino politician, you must (1) be endorsed by people in power or individuals who are famous; and (2) carry a war chest from either personal savings or funded by people, yet again, in high places.

Disclosure: I was part of the pioneer batch of the DLSU College of Law, and I was under Diokno’s care throughout my law school days. One day after a final exam in moot court, he asked me to help him carry some test booklets to his car. That’s when I saw that he drove an old beat-up sedan that looked even more worn-out lodged between two sports cars owned by some DLSU undergraduate students who were probably younger than 20. I know that a man’s car doesn’t define him, but it was a stark reminder that choosing a career in the academe and helping people out for free doesn’t make one rich. It does, however, make someone humble and passionate about things that do matter.

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Dedicating most of his life to people who can’t protect themselves hasn’t granted Diokno access to the network of powerful people he needs to dominate the election chatter, and that places him at a serious disadvantage. This is the reality in a culture where some people vote for public officials because they are good-looking and have the means to present themselves as trustworthy, despite evidence to the contrary. While I’m sure Diokno was a knockout with the girls in his heyday, he isn’t exactly rocking the charisma and looks of a Bong Revilla or Erap Estrada.

Public officials who are accused of stealing from the people, who get acquitted and slapped with new charges a couple of years later but who get reelected again, have the advantage of making waves in the media because they make for juicy headlines. Diokno’s problem is that he offers no moral ambiguity for the media to chew on. He is a teacher and a champion of the poor who has, until this moment, stayed out of the limelight. He is content to help those who can’t help him.

We were only 60 or so students and a dozen law professors in the entire college when it first opened. Law school is a cutthroat and merciless course, but Diokno’s door was always open. He made time even when students would come by his office without prior appointment. Even if he was the dean and didn’t have to answer to puny students, he would conduct meetings and listen to us first and foremost. He never lost eye contact and nodded his whole body along with his chair until we had checked off everything we needed to say. Only then did he make a systematic reply.

While it was his law school, it always felt as though we helped make it together, and he made sure we felt that—from the first day of classes in 2010 up until he shook hands with us individually while calling us by our nicknames, as we disembarked the bus to take the bar examinations in 2014.

Google “Chel Diokno” and read up on the other candidates. Vote for candidates because you did your homework and because they align with your sense of dignity and morality. I am voting for Chel Diokno because he is a humble man, a listener, a leader and, most importantly, because he is not a politician.

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Rafael Lorenzo G. Conejos is a lawyer and former professor of literature and law at De La Salle University. He was part of the first batch of students of the law school headed by Chel Diokno.

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TAGS: 2019 elections, 2019 senatorial candidates, Chel Diokno, Inquirer Commentary, Rafael Lorenzo g. Conejos
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