LAST week, as I went over my mail, I came across my daughter Trisha’s message, which commemmorates
the life of one of the greatest Filipinos of our generation -- Jose W. Diokno.
The message quotes a letter of Jose W. Diokno to his son, Popoy, written a month after the
declaration of Martial Law in 1972.
My daughter met Ka Pepe only once, a month before she entered Ateneo as a college freshman. But
Ka Pepe made such a deep impression. In her young eyes, he was one of the bravest and most eloquent
leaders who opposed martial law.
We quote in full Ka Pepe’s letter as reminder to many of us who, with the passing of years, may
have turned cynical or perhaps shed our idealism.
When you asked me about a month ago, for a list of books that you could read to start studying
law, I was loathe to prepare the list because I felt that you would be wasting your time studying law in
this “new society.”
I am still not sure that it would be worth your while to do so.
A few days ago, while chatting with a soldier, he asked, in all seriousness and sincerity, “Pero
sir, kailangan pa ba ang mga abogado ngayon?” And in a way that perhaps he did not intend, he raised a
perfectly valid question.
A lawyer lives in and by the law; and there is no law when society is ruled, not by reason, but
by will-worse, by the will of one man.
A lawyer strives for justice; and there is no justice when men and women are imprisoned not only
without guilt, but without trial.
A lawyer must work in freedom; and there is no freedom when conformity is extracted by fear and
criticism silenced by force.
A lawyer builds on facts. He must seek truth; and there is no truth when facts are suppressed,
news is manipulated and charges are fabricated.
Worse, when the Constitution is invoked to justify outrages against freedom, truth and justice,
when democracy is destroyed under the pretext of saving it, law is not only denied -- it is perverted.
And what need do our people have for men and women who would practice perversion?
Yet the truth remains true that never have our people had greater need than today for great
lawyers, and for young men and women determined to be great lawyers.
Great lawyers -- not brilliant lawyers. A scoundrel may be, and often is, brilliant; and the
greater the scoundrel, the more brilliant the lawyer. But only a good man can become a great lawyer: for
only a man who understands the weaknesses of men because he has conquered them in himself; who has the
courage to pursue his ideals though he knows them to be unattainable; who tempers his conviction with
respect for those of others because he realizes he may be mistaken; who deals honorably and fairly with
all, because to do otherwise would diminish him as well as them -- only such a man would so command
respect that he could persuade and need never resort to force. Only such a man could become a great
lawyer. Otherwise, “what you are speaks so loudly, cannot hear what you say.”
For men and women of this kind, our country will always have need -- and now more than ever.
True, there is little that men of goodwill can do now to end the madness that holds our nation in its
grip. But we can, even now, scrutinize our past; try to pinpoint where we went wrong; determine what led
to this madness and what nurtured it; and how, when it ends, we can make sure that it need never happen
For this madness must end -- if not in my lifetime, at least in yours. We Filipinos are
proverbially patient, but we are also infinitely tough and ingeniously resourceful. Our entire history
as a people has been a quest for freedom and dignity; and we will not be denied our dreams.
So this madness will end; the rule of force will yield to the rule of law. Then the country will
need its great lawyers, its great engineers, its great economists and managers, the best of its men and
women to clear the shambles and restore the foundations of that noble and truly Filipino society for
which our forefathers fought, bled and died.
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