José Diokno

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José Wright Diokno (1922 - 1987) (nickname:Ka Pepe), was a Filipino nationalist, human rights advocate, lawyer, secretary of justice and senator. He was born on February 26, 1922 to Ramon Diokno, a former associate justice of the Supreme Court, and Eleanor Wright, an American who became a Filipino citizen. He graduated from elementary school with distinction, and finished his secondary education at De La Salle College (De La Salle University-Manila) as valedictorian in 1937. In 1940, he earned his bachelor’s degree in commerce summa cum laude at the same school. He topped the CPA board examination the same year with a rating of 81.18 percent. In 1944, without finishing his bachelor of laws degree, he took and topped the bar examination, with a rating of 95.3 percent.

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Secretary of justice

Immediately after passing the bar, Diokno embarked on his law practice, handling and winning controversial cases, including the corruption charges against Manila Mayor Arsenio Lacson. His uncanny ability to litigate and win such lawsuits brought him to public prominence. In 1961, President Diosdado Macapagal appointed him Secretary of Justice. He tried to prosecute the celebrated case of American businessman Harry S. Stonehill, who was suspected of tax evasion, bribery, and the corruption of public officials. When he ordered a search warrant to the businessman's offices, a howl of protests reverberated through the halls of both Congress and the senate, where it was believed many members' "palms were being greased" by the American. Because of Stonehill's wielded influence, and allegedly to save the political fortunes of many high-ranking bureaucrats, Diokno was ousted from office by then President Macapagal asking him to resign.[1]

Senator, nationalist, human rights activist

In the November 1963 elections, Diokno ran for senator and won. As chairman of the senate economic affairs committee, Diokno advocated and worked for the passage of pro-Filipino legislations, most notably the Industrial Incentives Law, which provides incentives to Filipino investors and entrepreneurs in order to place control of the Philippine economy in the hands of Filipinos. The Philippines Free Press consistently voted Diokno outstanding senator for his pro-people legislation and strong opposition to the legislation of laws which he considered inimical to the interests of Filipinos.

In 1968, while the Vietnam War was still raging, the Free Press named him and several of his colleagues--Jovito Salonga, Benigno Aquino, Jr.., and Tecla San Andrez Ziga--as outstanding senators for their staunch opposition to the “Philcag Bill,” which proposed the sending of Filipino troops to Vietnam and an annual appropriation of P35 million to maintain them while on their mission. Interviewed by the Free Press on his stand, Diokno said:

I cannot vote for the bill because it is an affront to our national dignity...I cannot agree to spend P35 million for another people when we cannot even provide for the most basic needs of our own. This amount of P35 million is not all that will be spent. These millions are for one year only...Is this fair to our people when we have not even released the appropriation of P50 million for our school building program and are, today, three years behind schedule?

When President Ferdinand Marcos proposed a bill appropriating, supposedly, a “political budget” of P2.8 billion, of which P100 million was to be doled out, without any designated program for its use, at P2,000 each to 31,000 barrios throughout the Philippines--which allegedly went directly to the pockets of local officials, Senator Diokno strongly objected. He not only opposed the proposed legislation, but without directly confronting the administration and calling it for what it obviously was--"grease money", he strongly advised Marcos to think twice before doing so, adding that”...If it is done, it will surely boomerang.” Consistent with his pro-people advocacy, Diokno proposed a humanized system of taxation. He said:

I don’t believe in imposing on our people more taxes that would burden the poor. But I believe in taxes for the rich, taxes they can afford...I am for imposing travel tax, for increasing taxes on real estate and private automobiles. But I don’t think taxes on petroleum products should be increased as the oil companies would just pass on the burden to the consumers and this would affect the masses.

In 1967, together with Senator Lorenzo Tanada, Diokno was voted outstanding senator by the Philippine Free Press for his in-depth studies on the Philippine petroleum industry which was an exposé of the industry's surreptitious control by foreign-owned companies--at a time when Philippine laws prohibit ownership by non-nationals. An offshoot of these studies was the passage of a legislation that has since regulated the nation's petroleum industry.

A zealous human rights lawyer, particularly during martial law, Diokno believed in the sacredness and dignity of the human personality. Thus, when he learned about the so-called “Jabidah Massacre”, where 14 muslim youth protesting for reform were gunned down in Corregidor by the military, he lambasted the Marcos administration. He said in his speech, "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." [2] [3]. Diokno was again voted outstanding senator in 1969 and 1970, earning the distinction of being the only senator so honored for four consecutive years beginning in 1967.

Martial law: a dissenting voice among many

At the time when President Marcos was swelling the military budget and fortifying the armed forces in preparation for his eventual dictatorship and ultimately the declaration of martial law, Diokno, seeing a corresponding increase in human rights violations by the government, bolted from the Nacionalista Party (Marcos' party). His crusade for human rights so irked Marcos that, when martial law was finally declared on 21 September 1972, he was among the first members of the opposition to be arrested. Like the rest of Marcos political opponents, he was imprisoned without being charged and without legal recourse. Upon his release in 1974, he immediately organized the Free Legal Assistance Group, which gave free legal services to victims of military oppression under martial law.

From the time of his release, he fearlessly and resolutely fought for the restoration of Philippine democracy. He was a towering figure in opposition rallies denouncing the Marcos regime from 1974 up to the “EDSA Revolution” in February 1986. During Ninoy Aquino's incarceration, Diokno was in constant communication with Ninoy through Cory Aquino, Ninoy's wife, who acted as emissary for the two foremost oppositionists.

After the 1986 EDSA Revolution, which effectively ended the Marcos rule and was pivotal to Cory Aquino's election to the presidency, Diokno was appointed to the chairmanship of the Presidential Committee on Human Rights, with the rank of minister, and led a government panel which tried to negotiate for the return of rebel forces to the government folds. However, after the “Mendiola massacre” of January 22, 1987, where 15 farmers died during an otherwise peaceful rally, he resigned from his two government posts in protest of what he called wanton disregard of human lives by an administration he had helped install.

A nation's loss

At 2:40 a.m., on February 26, 1987, Diokno died at his home on 3rd Street, New Manila. The cause of his death was acute respiratory failure due to cancer. Diokno was married to the former Carmen Icasiano, by whom he had 10 children: Carmen Leonor, José Ramón, María de la Paz, María Serena, María Teresa, María Socorro, José Miguel, José Manuel, María Victoria, and Martín José. President Aquino declared March 2-12, 1987 as a period of national mourning for Diokno. Today the Philippines celebrates February 27th as Jose Diokno Day [4]. Although not a public holiday, on this day flags of all government buildings and installations throughout the country are flown at half-mast to honor him. Expressing her grief over the passing of Diokno, Aquino said: “Pepe braved the Marcos dictatorship with a dignified and eloquent courage our country will long remember.”

A newspaper editorial commented: "With his passing, Mr. Diokno left a void nearly impossible to fill. The Chairman of the Presidential Commission (sic) on Human Rights, he carved a niche in the national consciousness as a crusading senator, a brilliant lawyer, and a staunch nationalist who brought his insight and his expertise to bear (on) such crucial issues as human rights, the nuclear arms race, and American intervention in Philippine affairs."

The Bagong Alyasang Makabayan honored him with this statement: "During much of his lifetime, Ka Pepe Diokno was a driving force behind the nationalist and democratic movement in the country. Ka Pepe is dead and we deeply mourn his loss. But we do so with a knowledge that his was a life that was not led in vain. He had been an effective sower of the seeds of nationalism and democracy in the country. We owe it to him to nurture his efforts until these bear fruit in a truly just, free and democratic society."

Writer Frank Quesada wrote that Diokno was a "firm believer of what is just, what is right, and what is lawful." [5] Commentator Conrado de Quiros summed it best when he eulogized that Jose Diokno was "...the purer, the more heroic, and more dedicated fighter for freedom among his peers." [6]

External links

References

Tony Joaquin. To reach the unreachable star. Philippine News Online, 3/02/05 edition.

Jose Diokno and Priscila Manalang. A Nation for our Children: Human Rights, Nationalism, Sovereignity: Selected Writings of Jose W. Diokno, Jose W. Diokno Foundation, Philippines

Original Source

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