JOSE W. DIOKNO
Renowned Street Parliamentarian
Jose W. Diokno, or “Ka
Pepe,” as he was popularly known, 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 as valedictorian in 1937. In
1940, he earned his bachelor’s degree in commerce summa cum laude also at La
Salle. He topped the CPA board
examination in 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
Immediately after passing the
bar, Diokno embarked on his law practice, handling controversial cases, like
the one of Manila Mayor Arsenio Lacson, that brought
him to public prominence.
In 1961, President Diosdado
Macapagal appointed him Secretary of Justice.
A celebrated case he handled as
Secretary of Justice involved the American businessman Harry S. Stonehill, who
was suspected of tax evasion and other crimes.
In prosecuting it, he issued an order to have the businessman’s offices
searched. The case became too
controversial because of the tremendous influence that Stonehill wielded on
both Americans and the Filipinos.
Fearing for the life of his crusading justice secretary, President
Macapagal asked him to resign from the office.
In the November 1963 elections,
Diokno ran for senator, and won.
As chairman of the economic
affairs committee in the Senate, Diokno advocated and worked for the passage of
pro-Filipino legislations, like the Industrial Incentives Law, which provides
incentives to Filipino investors and entrepreneurs in order to place the
control of the Philippine economy in the hands of the Filipinos.
The Philippines Free Press
consistedly voted Diokno as an 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 there.
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…because 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 right, 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 a “political budget” of P2.8 billion, of which
P100 million was to be doled out, at P2,000 each, to
31,000 barrios throughout the Philippines
without any apparent program for the use of the amount, Senator Diokno reacted
strongly. He not only opposed the
proposed legislation, but also advised the administration to think twice about
going through it, 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. That is why 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 on account of his serious studies local petroleum industry which led to
the discovery that the said industry was fully controlled by four refineries
owned by foreigners. An offshoot of
these studies was the passage of a legislation that has since regulated the
petroleum industry in the land.
zealous human rights lawyer, particularly during the martial law period. Diokno
believed in the sacredness and dignity of the human personality. Thus, when he learned about the so-called
“Jabidah Affair” on Corregidor, he
lambasted the Marcos administration.
Diokno was again voted
outstanding senator in 1969 and 1970, thus earning the distinction of being the
only senator so honored for four consecutive years beginning in 1967.
At that times,
President Marcos was bending towards dictatorship in preparation for the
declaration of martial law. Diokno,
seeing the increase in human rights vilations in the Marcos regime, bolted from
the Nacionalista Party in the early part of 1972. His crusade for human
rights so irked Marcos that, when martial law was finally declared on September
21, he was the first member of the opposition to be arrested. He was imprisoned without any charges being
filed against him.
Upon his release in 1974, Diokno
immediately organized the Free Legal Assistance Group, which gave free legal
services to the victims of military oppression under martial law.
From the time he was released
from prison, Diokno fearlessly, and with grim determination, 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 the incarceration of Ninoy Aquino,
Diokno was in constrant contact with him through Mrs. Aquino, who acted as
confident of the two foremost oppositionists of the Marcos regime.
After the EDSA Revolution,
President Corazon C. Aquino appointed him chairman of the Presidential
Committee on Human Rights, with the rank of minister, and chairman of the
government panel which tried to negotiate for the return of rebel forces to the
folds of the law. However, after the
“Mendiola massacre” of January
22, 1987, where 15 farmers died during an otherwise peaceful rally, Diokno
resigned from his two government posts in protest of what he called “warson
disregard” of human lives by an administration he had helped install.
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, Jose Ramon, Maria de la Paz, Maria Serena, Maria Teresa,
Maria Socorro, Jose Miguel, Jose Manuel, Maria Victoria, and Martin Jose.
President Aquino declared March 2-12, 1987 as a period of national mourning
for Diokno. During this period, flags of
all government buildings and installations throughout the country were flown at
Expressing her grief over the
passing of Diokno, the President 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.”
Roces, Manila Chronicle publisher and street parliamentarian, said of Diokno:” Although his death
was expected, it is unfortunate at this time to lose a true Filipino. I hope he will always be remembered by the
people. I’m very sorry that he was not
given enough time to serve the people.”
For its part, the Bagong
Alyansang Makabayan made 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.”
BAYBAY, JONATHAN DATIVO