But I can tell you the dream all Philippine nationalists share. It is the dream to be the first colony in Asia to achieve modernity, as it was the first to mount a revolution and the first to attain independence. It is the dream to join the modern world without sacrificing democracy to dictatorship, as others are doing; nor at the expense of the poor – who have paid the price elsewhere - but of those who reaped the benefits of colonialism and therefore can afford the cost of modernization. Philippine nationalism is determined to achieve this dream...
A fiery senator from the Philippines addressed these candid words to a mixed audience in New York. Every uttered word, every compass and stroke of his firm hands, his reverberating tone inside the hall could not escape the dense scrutiny of the adamant crowd, most of them whites, comprising of politicians, businessmen and others. It was like hearing an unheard revelation that deserved critical analysis of which it could irritate American sensitivity. But this did not deter the man in the platform. He might have thought about it, a day or months before, and his resolve was to deliver it as it was. No matter what would happen, the consequences he must bear. And he did. Now, as he approached the terminal part of his brilliant exposition on nationalism, here contained the coup de grace that would create his enemies. “... [T]o leave us alone,” came out from his uncouth mouth like a thunder as it roared and wildly shocked the disconcerted assembly. No one could ever spoke with such audacity and temerity before a peregrine throng except the man of his time - Jose Wright Diokno.
Jose Diokno, or Pepe as his colleagues called him, knew that what he had done would put him on the suspicious surveillance of the authorities. It was 1968 and President Ferdinand Marcos was now three years in office. Diokno’s public career reached the limelight when as Secretary of Justice he brazenly exposed anomalous deals involving Harry Stonehill, an American tobacco magnate and quite a number of government officials. The investigation uncovered the deadening corruption besetting the Macapagal government. Diokno’s stint as Justice Secretary came to an end when at the heat of the controversy the administration gave notice of his forcible resignation. Unperturbed by this momentary setback, Diokno achieved the zenith of his political career as he would become the bold senator from Batangas. Entangled in numerous political engagements around the country, the radical posture he has shown to the American public served only as a foretaste of his nationalism.
He lived in a turbulent decade of widespread corruption inside the bureaucratic limits of the government he served. Reelected in 1969, Marcos’ actuations hinted a furtive desire of usurping more powers. Diokno, on one hand, sensed the proximate probability of Marcos using his emergency powers to stay longer. In a speech delivered in the Senate in mid-June 1972, Diokno prophetically declared that “a throne of bayonets” was in the offing. Succinctly underlining the classical symptoms of an autocracy, he disclosed that “under the present constitution, therefore, there is no legal way which President Marcos may extend. He could only hold on to the presidency illegally.” His dire prediction arrived.
In September 21, more than two months after he delivered his speech, Martial Law placed the entire country under the soon-to-be repressive authority of Marcos and the military. Diokno was caught suddenly in a tight spot because of his political convictions. Marcos ordered his imprisonment together with fellow opposition leaders. Nothing could be more realistic and descriptive of a political prisoner than Diokno’s experience in a cell. Thus, when he spoke about human rights he elucidated with authority, not because he was a man of stature but a witness he was of how cruel and oppressive the militaristic rule he resisted.
After the sluggish years in detention when he was freed rather reluctantly, the inertia in him that was stored for years began to unfold. Indeed, the state of inactivity as he described it as “life of boredom, a life of frustration” would be eventually liberated by a buried energy, which would put him in the forefront of nationalist history. It was the history, which he tried to mold and reconstruct when all formidable obstacles were mounted against him. Despite the grave threat that would arise from his frank protestations and creed against Martial Law, he was determined to inform his people.
With sharp and perceptive dissection of events, he articulated his sympathy for the nation. Taking his cue from the great Claro M. Recto, he knew well the illness that has plagued his country. “The true believer in Recto,” Diokno asserted, “owes it to himself to come out of the shell in which he has hibernated during the last two years and a half, and speak out against the desecration of our democratic institution.” That he became a true believer of Recto is unquestionably true. He practiced what he preached. Recto’s nationalism acquired a new form and character as Diokno imbibed that ideology throughout his life and career.
Along with Tañada and Recto, he recognized the existence of US military bases as an obvious form of United States neocolonialism. He did not fail to invoke his sentiments about the external and internal menace that would arise when the military bases shall continue in Philippine territory. To him, full and plenary sovereignty required the exercise of such sovereignty without the impediments of colonial control. Dismantling the bases, he argued, was the first step towards attaining that ultimate goal.
Hence, he organized the Anti-Bases Coalition (ABC) together with other leading nationalists – a movement whose objective was to drive out the bases and return them to its rightful owners. Throughout his pronouncements, a thread could be traced between its lines - that of genuine nationalism, which pulsated poignantly in his heart. “Nationalism,” Diokno emphasized, “is more than patriotism. It is also the belief that, because the Philippines is our country, it is we who must have the power to direct its affairs, internal and external for it is we who bear the responsibility for its future.”
Because the people decide on their own government, it is the people who must bear the responsibility. Only an informed people could direct the path to freedom and progress. During his speaking engagements, his convictions did not waver about the need to continue the democratic struggle. Quiet submission to the use of force appeared to him as pusillanimity. He warned that such course “not only condemns our rights to death, we also condemn our hopes and our dreams, our present and our children’s future.”
While Pepe Diokno did not see the day when American soldiers withdrew from Subic and Clark, his convictions, more or less, contributed to the cause, which he espoused - the eviction of the military bases. Recto, Tañada and Diokno, the triumvirate as pillars of Filipino nationalism, belonged to a tumultuous era when being nationalist was equated with being communist; hence, an enemy of the state. But Diokno braved all the storms risking even his life to a meaningful end.
It is only right to pay homage to the man whose untarnished integrity remains an inspiration for all Filipinos. This inevitably brings us to the question: what was the impact of Diokno’s legacy today? It is similar in asking: did Diokno’s dream of a ‘nation for our children’ become a tangible reality? Pity because economic statistics answers with a resounding no! Four consecutive presidencies had come and went but a real democracy never existed. A burgeoning population with hungry stomachs, with no jobs and without the benefit of a decent home is still around. Disparity of income created a very wide chasm between the rich and the poor. Personality and traditional politics failed to restructure the government. Although American troops had left since 1991, both the Philippines and the U.S. – a little different from the former military agreement – signed new military pacts. Diokno might have been so uneasy in his grave learning that the military alliance he criticized is back again.
He struggled for the betterment of his beloved country yet treacherous circumstances foiled his attempts – the paradoxical realities after EDSA. Nationalism burned in his heart yet deceitful circumstances again tried to but failed to stifle that passion. More than ever, his nationalism still can wage war against such contradictions. While vestiges of colonialism stay and abetted by the status quo, Jose Diokno, the name resonates a call for nationalism. It did not die with him. It is only again about to begin. It is a challenge he bequeathed to his people for those who would dare.
[First published in People's Digest Newsweekly (Dagupan City) July 17-23, 2007]