Tributes pour in for Philippines' human rights icon

Former senator and human rights advocate Rene Saguisag
Former senator and human rights advocate Rene SaguisagPhoto from Senate PRIB

FILIPINOS mourned the death of Rene Saguisag, an ardent human rights lawyer and former senator who defended victims of rights abuses during the Martial Law regime, who died on April 24. He was 84.

“As we mourn his loss, we take solace in the enduring impact of his legacy. Rene Saguisag was a dedicated public servant, and his tireless endeavors as a human rights advocate, senator and writer stand as a testament to his unwavering commitment to justice, truth, and democracy,” the Saguisag family said on April 24.

The cause of his death was undisclosed to the public by his family.

"He may have just served one term in the Senate, but his entire life was devoted to pursuing justice and fairness for every Filipino, particularly through such initiatives as the Free Legal Assistance Group...While leaving an indelible mark as a true statesman, he also emulated and lived out the principle that those who have less in life should have more in law by giving free legal services to the poor and needy," said Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri in a statement.

The Philippine flag was flown at half-staff on April 24 in honor of the former senator, who rose to further prominence after the 1986 "People Power" revolution that brought the downfall of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr.

"Senator Rene Saguisag was an advocate for Human Rights! He was part of the batch of lawyers that were in the forefront in defending the underprivileged and political detainees during the Marcos Senior Dictatorship. He followed the lead of former Senator Lorenzo Tañada and former Senator Jose Diokno in visiting clients in the various jails and military stockades to offer his legal services as a member of both Flag and later on Mabini," the Tañada family said.

Saguisag was elected to the Philippine Senate in 1987 and became a fierce advocate of pushing accountability and ethics among state officials and workers.

On September 16, 1991, when the Filipinos were divided about the United States military bases in the country, Saguisag was remembered for his brand of nationalism.

"It is true that jobs and money may be lost; however, this expected consequence yields to time and effort. But no nation becomes great without being prepared to give up much more than these. Success as a nation can only come after effort, unity, hard work, and fervent prayer. And it crowns struggle, sacrifice, selflessness, self-reliance, and self liberates from the dangers of our own fears, insecurities, indifference, and timidity. "I vote YES to friendship. I vote YES to cooperation. I vote NO to the basing rights agreement - one thousand and one times NO," Saguisag said in his vote to close the US military bases.

Non-profit organization The Constantino Foundation remembered the late senator "as a symbol of the possible."

"He was sometimes called a patron saint of lost causes, because he persevered regardless of the power of his adversaries, and he won the fights that truly mattered not because his was the superior force but because he chose to fight regardless of the forces arrayed against him or outcomes that often seemed out of reach," said the foundation.

"Rene Saguisag was an inspiration to a generation of Filipinos and human rights defenders. As the Philippines continues to grapple with serious rights issues, his presence, wit, wisdom, and commitment will be greatly missed," said Carlos Conde, senior researcher at the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW).

In a statement, HRW honored Saguisag as a Philippine human rights icon.

“We request that our family be granted a few moments of privacy as we grieve. We will soon announce details of the service honoring his life, and we look forward to the opportunity to gather and pay tribute to a life lived with integrity and purpose. Papa/Lolo has passed on, but his spirit will continue to inspire us to strive for a more just world,” the Saguisad family said. (Ronald O. Reyes/SunStar Philippines)


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