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)

Groups mourn passing of nationalist senator Rene Saguisag

Groups mourn the death of human rights lawyer Rene AV Saguisag, part of the “Magnificent 12” group of senators who voted against the extension of the US-Philippines Military Bases Agreement in September 1991.

A stalwart of the legal profession, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) described Saguisag as a “Filipino patriot, staunch human rights lawyer and civil libertarian, indefatigable fighter for justice, nationalism and democracy.”

“We join the nation in giving thanks and paying tribute to Sen. Saguisag, an activist who never lost his bearings through the twists and turns of the people’s struggle. From taking the cudgels for human rights victims during the Marcos dictatorship, voting against the US Military Bases Agreement in the Senate, to opposing Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Rodrigo Duterte’s fascist regimes, Sen. Saguisag’s long life of service to the nation and the people will always be cherished,” BAYAN said upon learning of Saguisag’s death on Wednesday, April 24.

 Arrested due to his opposition to Ferdinand Marcos Sr.’s declaration of martial rule in 1972, Saguisag joined the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) of Senators Jose Diokno and Lorenzo Tanada upon his release from prison.

He later co-founded the Movement of Attorneys for Brotherhood, Integrity and Nationalism, Inc. (MABINI) in 1980 with Tañada, future Senator Joker Arroyo, future Labor Secretary Augusto “Bobbit” Sanchez and future Vice President Jejomar Binay, among other civil libertarians.

After Marcos Sr.’s ouster in 1986, President Corazon Aquino appointed Saguisag her first presidential spokesperson who also encouraged his successful run for the Senate. Aquino reportedly referred to Saguisag as her possible successor to the presidency.

He however went against Aquino’s wish for an extension of the military bases agreement and honored his campaign promise to only become a one-term senator.

Saguisag (center) with former Senate colleagues Leticia Ramos-Shahani (+) and Victor Ziga (+). [Kodao file photo]

‘Magnificent until the end’

Fellow lawyers paid tribute to Saguisag, saying their colleague had been unswayed by power, “chasing away the darkness from Marcos Sr. to Marcos Jr.”

“We mourn alongside his children and family the loss of an indefatigable, incorruptible, and principled Filipino,” the group Concerned Lawyers for Civil Liberties (CLCL) said in a statement yesterday.

Saguisag co-founded CLCL in 2006 to help combat the spate of extra-judicial killings under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and was a founding convenor of the Manananggol Laban sa Extra-judicial Killings, set up at the height of the killings and abuses under President Rodrigo Duterte.

It counts among its members Binay, Bayan Muna chairperson Neri Colmenares, former De la Salle University Law Dean Chel Diokno, Ateneo de Manila University Law Dean Antonio La Vina, former Quezon Rep. Erin Tanada, and other human rights lawyers.

CLCL pointed out that even in his advancing age and deteriorating health, Saguisag stood against the return of US troops through the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Enhanced Development Cooperation Agreement.

Saguisag also insisted in joining the petition against the Anti-Terror Act of 2020.

“Through the years, Sen. Rene with his signature wit and humor was a core of movements for free and impactful legal aid, for the rule of law, against disinformation and revisionism, and against all assaults on human rights,” CLCL said.

“Sen. Saguisag showed us how to recognize the insidious approach of anything dangerous or evil, and more importantly, how to slay it. He led by example, and there is no other way to honor his enduring legacy but to continue his work for the poor and the disenfranchised inside and outside the courtroom,” the group added.

But Saguisag once earned criticisms even from among his friends for pointing out the “unconstitutionality” of President Joseph Estrada’s ouster in 2001.

He however led investigations on the rigging of government contracts under Estrada who requested his participation in the probes. He also once described Estrada as a “substandard president.”

BAYAN said that even while Saguisag remained true to his legal profession, he remained their warm friend despite political and ideological differences in the pursuit for common aspirations such as people’s rights and welfare.

Despite old age and ailments, Saguisag also became an active convenor of the Movement Against Tyranny (MAT), the No to Cha-cha Coalition, and the Pilipinong Nagkakaisa Para sa Soberanya (P1NAS) that opposed China’s bogus claims over the West PH Sea as well as the US’ increasing role in stoking the PH-China conflict.

“May Sen. Saguisag’s life serve as a shining example and inspiration to our fellow Filipinos in their continuing struggle for freedom, justice, and democracy,” BAYAN said.

Bar topnotcher, top-notch journalist

Born in a poor family on August 14, 1939, in Mauban, Tayabas (now Quezon Province), Saguisag grew up in Pasig City where he graduated from Rizal High School (RHS) with honors. He was schoolmates and friends with the late Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria, reported top leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines he described to Kodao as two of the brightest RHS alumni ever.

Saguisag earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from San Beda University in 1959, graduating cum laude while serving as editor-in-chief (EIC) of its college student publication The Bedan.

The Bedan eventually honored Saguisag by naming him as its EIC emeritus.

He earned his law degree from the same school in 1963 and placed sixth in the bar examinations of the same year. He went on to earn his Master of Laws from Harvard University as a scholar in 1968.

While building a successful career, he was invited to teach at his alma mater where he eventually became its law college’s assistant dean from 1971–1972.

It was while he was dean-in-charge that he recommended Duterte’s dismissal from the school for figuring in an in-campus shooting incident.

In the Senate, Saguisag was one of only two who lodged perfect attendance in all 415 session days from July 1987 to June 1990.

He co-authored the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees (R.A. 6713) with his uncle and former Senate President Jovito Salonga and was the main author of the Ombudsman Act of 1989 (R.A. 6770).

After his Senate stint, Saguisag became a long-time columnist for The Manila Times and build a loyal following for his witty column “TGIF”. He also authored several books, notably “Saguisag Wit-1” and “Saguisag Wit-2.”

Saguisag was married to Dulce Quintans who later became Department of Social Work and Development secretary. They had five children.

Saguisag and wife figured in a vehicular accident on November 8, 1997 that killed Dulce and seriously injured the lawyer. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)