Pagpupugay at pasasalamat kay Rene Saguisag

By Fides Lim, Kapatid – Families and Friends of Political Prisoners

Yesterday (April 30), (former senator) Rene Saguisag, human rights lawyer, nationalist and servant of the people was laid to his final resting place beside his beloved wife Dulce. Our support organization of Kapatid – Families and Friends of Political Prisoners, and my husband Vic Ladlad and I would like to thank Rene with all our hearts for every help that he extended to us and for his legacy of nationalism, honesty, dedication and service. There is no counting his good deeds particularly for victims of human rights violations, which include the political prisoners, from the period of martial law until his last breath.

One indelible memory of Rene was when he would join us during court hearings on the “Case of the Traveling Skeletons” in RTC Branch 32 at the Manila City Hall. That case about corpses that literally sprung out of one grave in 2000 and surfaced in another graveyard in another town in Leyte six years later is straight out of the martial law dictionary of legal hocus-pocus. Vic was a political prisoner in Camp Nakar, Lucena throughout the time period of that case.

“This is martial law all over again,” Rene remarked, similar to what his contemporary Joker Arroyo (who also became a senator) said in open court. Joker, Vic’s chief counsel during his political imprisonment in martial law, was Vic’s principal witness for the Leyte case.

What particularly drew Rene’s attention were Wilma and Benito Tiamzon (reportedly top leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines) during those court hearings he attended in 2016. Both had been arrested and brought to court. Rene was delighted to find out that, like him, the Tiamzons were products of the Rizal High School. I noted that Wilma and Benny were at the top 3 of their graduating batch, which I read in a Bulatlat article. Benito finished salutatorian and Wilma was the first honorable mention.

Rene was most impressed. “Ang galing! Alam mo ba, pinakamalaking high school yan sa buong mundo,” Rene said. Indeed, no mean feat in what the Guinness Book of World Records lists as the “largest secondary school in the world” until 1993 (current population: over 14,000). “Dito rin nag graduate si Uncle Jovy,” Rene proudly told us, referring to former Senator and another fierce martial law opponent whom he considers his “idol,” Jovito Salonga. (Saguisag was related to Salonga.)

Rene had his differences with the Left but he respected and admired them for their bravery and idealism, not unlike his. In one column, he wrote how he and Joker and the human rights lawyers tapped by (President) Cory Aquino to join her Cabinet after the fall of the Marcos dictatorship in February 1986 moved to immediately release ALL political prisoners, overriding military objections. “The Left must have a place under the sun,” he told Vic, who was one of those released from jail.

It must have pained Rene to learn that in August 2022, his co-Rizal High alumni, Wilma and Benito, were arrested by military forces and murdered somewhere in Leyte. Their captors tried to make it appear that they were killed in a boat explosion during a military operation. But according to accounts, they were tortured first and then executed. Their lifeless bodies were dumped on a motorboat which was detonated.

In tribute to Atty. Rene Saguisag, following are statements from Vic Ladlad and from Rene himself for the Kapatid re-founding assembly. Rene’s statement is a mirror of his own life and “purity of commitment.”

Statement of Vicente P. Ladlad, MMDJ-4, Bicutan

I will always remember Rene Saguisag and will forever be grateful to him.

Atty. Saguisag did not know me personally when I was arrested during martial law on February 21, 1983. But he did not hesitate to join Joker Arroyo and Fely Aquino and other lawyers from the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) in filing a petition for habeas corpus at the Supreme Court on my behalf.

It had been more than a week after my arrest (at that time) by the Southern Tagalog Philippine Constabulary, but the authorities flatly refused to even acknowledge that I was in their custody.

Upon order by the Supreme Court, the PC presented me in an en banc session. It was there that I first met Rene.

Attorneys Joker Arroyo and Rene Saguisag argued my case in that Supreme Court hearing. Consequently, my mother and lawyers were able to see me in Camp Nakar, Lucena City.

I was among the many victims of human rights violations who benefited from Rene’s human rights lawyering. Mabuhay ka Atty. Rene Saguisag. Ang iyong huwarang tapang, katapatan at dedikasyon ay ang pinakadakilang pamana mo.

Your exemplary courage, honesty and dedication to the poor and oppressed are your greatest legacy. #

Rene Saguisag to Kapatid

(On the re-founding assembly held at the CHR, June 15, 2019)

It’s tough to lose a loved one, as I did in 2007, but at least there was some kind of closure. Not so in the case of desaparecidos, where one hopes that the next shadow in, or knock on, the door is that of the missing beloved.

In the case of political detainees, I can only admire the purity of their commitment, and the reminder that they continue to be ready to give their all to the Motherland, the physical and psychological torment notwithstanding. They continue to love Her with that kind of passion that whips the blood, and hang the costs and consequences.

Keep going.

As Ted Kennedy said in 1980, “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream, shall never die.”

Here’s wishing the event every success. #

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About the featured photo:

Former Senator Rene Saguisag (extreme right)shares a light moment with Makabayan President Satur Ocampo and NDFP consultants Wilma Tiamzon, Benito Tiamzon, Adelberto Silva and Vicente Ladlad during a short break at the Manila RTC Branch 32 hearing on Aug. 10, 2016. Ocampo and the NDFP consultants were included in the DOJ’s terror-listing petition. (Photo by Ronalyn V. Olea/Bulatlat)