diokno

“Tagalogs, Ilongos, Cebuanos, and Pampangos use a common word for justice, katarungan, derived from the Visayan root tarong, which means straight, upright, appropriate, correct. For us, therefore, justice is rectitude, the morally right act; and because it also connotes what is appropriate, it embraces the concept of equity for which we have no native word, and for which on the rare occasions that we use the concept, we employ the Spanish derivative ekidad.

For “right,” we use karapatan, whose root is dapat, signifying fitting, appropriate, correct. The similarity in meaning of the root words for “right” and “justice” indicates that, for us, justice and right are intimately related.

On the other hand, for “law” we use batas, a root word denoting command, order, decree, with a meaning disparate from that of the roots of our words for “justice” and “right.” Our language then distinguishes clearly between law and justice; it recognizes that law is not always just.“

—  Sen. Jose W. Diokno
from “A Nation for our Children”
(Selected Writings of Jose W. Diokno, edited by Priscilla S. Manalang)
Copyright 1987 by the Jose W. Diokno Foundation, Inc
Co-edited and printed by Claretian Publications
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Intramuros, last weekend

Went looking for hidden gems in Intramuros last Saturday and was not disappointed. Found beautiful pieces of street art, discovered that the old Banco Sentral building has been taken over by dogs, and in some off-limits corners, got transported to a different time.

Our city is not the cleanest of places, but I’d take soul and character over sterility any day.

I chronicle my life on Instagram: pepediokno

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For all its imperfections (sometimes its circus-like sessions, the drama, the anger), the Philippine Senate, the upper chamber of the Congress of the Philippines, has always been an institution that safeguarded freedom. I know it is hard to look at it that way, but if one views it from the impartial lens of history, one sees a trend.

Every time the Senate is padlocked, or abolished, the Legislature of the country would be ridden with corruption (easily pressured by the Executive branch), oligarchy, herd mentality, and would be resistant to reform. That’s not to say that the current congress doesn’t have these problems, or that unicameralism (a one chamber legislature, as opposed to bicameralism of two chambers) is bad. For a type of Legislature may work best on a certain country or nation which has its own cultural and historical context, but another type may not.

The Philippines has tried a unicameral legislature (that is, without a senate) several times: under the un-amended 1935 Constitution (from 1935 – 1941), under the 1943 Constitution of a Philippines under Japanese Occupation (from 1943-1945), and under the 1973 Constitution of the Marcos regime (from 1973 to 1986), and in those three instances, the two latter set ups had the people’s voice repressed and/or silenced.

So what gives? The Senate, as compared to the House, is elected nationally, unlike in the House wherein representatives are elected by the regions they represent (thru legislative districts). As such, the Senate has a national view of things. Seeing however its shortcomings by missing the forest for the trees, the House of Representatives balances it. The Senate’s edge is its national outlook, hence, it is the testing ground for those who aspire for the highest government office in the land–the Presidency. The Senate is best seen in the spectrum of the past. Let’s look at it from the very colorful political life we had after World War II. 

The post-war Senate was legendary, in that, as intended by the framers of the 1935 constitution, it became the foremost venue for debate on national policy. In fact, the Senate would attract a large following (media and political analysts) in its sessions. And the senators then were very good with the arguments. These senators were not totally incorruptible, but reading the news articles of that time would give one the sense that these senators had the experience, the bravado, and the training to engage an impressive intelligent public discourse. The debates in the Senate and the exposé made by senators on the senate floor created waves in the media. And the people reacted and interacted.

The Senate has therefore been naturally on the forefront of opposition when the Chief Executive committed excesses. Take for example the bombing of Plaza Miranda on August 21, 1971, where in the Liberal Party’s miting de avance, several people were injured, including some senators. President Marcos immediately suspended the Writ of Habeas Corpus nationwide. The Senate opposed the move saying it was uncalled for since the bombing was not national in scope. Public opinion at the time said it was President Marcos who planned the bombing. It was Senator Eva Estrada Kalaw who urged the public to wait a little longer for the next presidential election lest the violent demonstrations that resulted be used as an excuse for martial law. In the 1971 midterm elections, the opposition won the majority seats in the Senate, a fitting reflection of public opinion that had swung against Marcos.

Seeing that the only recourse for extension of presidential term was for the Senate (a thorn in Marcos’ side) to be derailed or abolished, President Marcos planned to declare martial law, in the guise of preserving peace and order, on September 21, 1972, the date of the supposed adjournment of both Senate and House of Representatives. It was Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. in his famous privilege speech on the Senate Floor days before the 21st that revealed a secret plan of the administration, called “Oplan Sagittarius,” to use the military to take control of the country and impose martial rule. Marcos denied the allegations, not even telling his close associates the plan.

On the last minute, Congress scheduled a special session on September 21, moving the adjournment to September 23, 1972. And thus it was only on the midnight of September 23 that martial law was implemented, beginning with the arrests of key senators: Senators Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., Jose “Pepe” Diokno, Ramon Mitra, and Francisco “Soc” Rodrigo. Senator Salvador “Doy” Laurel was one of those on the list of arrest but was out of the country when it happened.

As the imprisoned senators, with approximately 8,000 individuals (composed of journalists and opposition leaders) clamored for the unconstitutionality of Marcos’ martial law declaration, initially Marcos promised never to supersede the 1935 constitution. But this was only lip service. Before the opening of congress on January 22, 1973 as set by the 1935 constitution, Marcos engineered the process of the creation of a new constitution, the 1973 constitution, which was quickly (minadali) ratified before the said date. The new constitution gave him almost absolute dictatorial powers, and it abolished Congress. Thus, when the legislators arrived on January 22, at the Legislative Building, the Senate and House Session Halls were found padlocked.

Martial law ended that era of that verve of political life for the country. Perhaps there is truth in the thought that the Senate today is but a specter or a shadow of the Pre-Martial Law Senate. But the institution, no matter how imperfect, is still a reflection of public opinion, and of our aspiration as an independent people of democracy.

Thus, on its 99th year since it was established via Jones Law in 1916, let us give a virtual/digital toast to our Senate, wishing that they would live up to the trust we have given them.


Photos above:

(1) Senators Doy Laurel, Eva Estrada Kalaw, Ramon Mitra, Gerry Roxas, and Jovito Salonga in 1973, outside the padlocked Senate Session Hall. (Photo from the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office, PCDSPO)

(2) The pre-war interior of the Senate Session Hall in the Legislative Building (now the National Art Gallery of the National Museum of the Philippines). The room was not used during the Martial Law Period. In 1987 the reestablished Senate opened again its session here. The Senate eventually moved to the GSIS Building in Pasay in 1997. (Photo courtesy of the National Museum of the Philippines)

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Featuring:  Martin Diokno

This is the first photoshoot that I worked on after my long hiatus. I got my mind in photography up and running again. This is a photo collaboration with Kenneth Constantino and Kevin Arellano. We only have one hour to do everything we want to do. These are the teasers. More to come.