Friday, August 11, 2006

Remembering Senator Roco

I was listening to the radio in the cab on the way to work earlier, and they were talking about moves by certain groups to try to abolish the Senate. The discourse was getting more and more stupid by the minute as my mind wandered back to a series of articles I read over the week about the late Senator Raul Roco, whose first death anniversary was last weekend. And it was only then that I was able to articulate the depth of his loss to someone like me, even though I never met the man.

"The absence of his presence is everywhere," laments his widow, Sonia, admitting she sometimes feels a "tampo" at her husband for passing away so soon. "You know, there are times I'm angry at Raul. I tell him that he left me so early which others who are in their twilight years are still alive. I just realized he died so young."

In an odd way, I'm sure that the sentiment among the nation of believers go along the same way. "Lord," you could imagine them saying, "you couldn't have taken Enrile?"

I was such a Roco fan, the type who would stay up late to watch a feature on him on a late-night public affairs show, who would get up early to watch his regular segment on the Studio 23 morning show Breakfast, who would scour the online papers for articles about the man. And after these, I would even spend hours talking to my mother, who was just as big a fan as I was, about our guy.

He was witty, candid, and brilliant, and refreshingly, unapologetically so. More than that, he was often logical and learned, and he always, always brought his shit with him.

Remember the Jasmine Banal episode during the Erap impeachment trial? Conrado de Quiros re-tells it best:

A young lawyer, Jasmin Banal, who had worked in a law firm that created dummy corporations for Erap, took the stand. Miriam Defensor-Santiago tried to demolish her credibility by asking her why she transferred from that firm to another one that offered lower pay.

Santiago said: "So you made the unusual deviation from the usual career path, since you and I and all UP law graduates virtually pursue the same career path after graduation. Isn't that so? We try and get the highest salary we can get... But in your case, you transferred from a law office with a higher salary to a law office with a lower salary. Is that correct?"

Banal replied, "Yes."

Santiago commented, "Remarkable."

When it was Raul's turn, he had this dialogue with Banal:

Raul: "We in San Beda Law, we were taught that law is a noble profession, it is not a business. Am I right to assume that you in UP Law were taught the same thing?"

Banal: "Yes, Your Honor."

Raul: "What is written on the UP Law School, engraved in stone?"

Banal: "The business of a law school is not to teach law but to teach law in the grand manner."

Raul: "We are brothers and sisters in the profession, we should always be motivated by a sense of idealism. Is this correct?"

Banal: "Yes, Your Honor."

Raul: "So when you transfer from a higher-paying job to a lower-paying job, that is not necessarily an erroneous career decision? In fact, it could be motivated by a sense of idealism?"

Banal: "Yes, Your Honor."

Raul: "Yes. I thought that should be elicited because I was surprised to learn that the usual career path of lawyers is going from lower-paying jobs to higher-paying jobs."

There's also this old story that never became popular but struck me. During the 1998 elections, Roco attended a forum sponsored by Coalition of Humanist Lesbians and Gays, and Danton Remoto related how Roco charmed the whole organization:

J. Neil C. Garcia, my co-editor in the Ladlad series of gay anthologies and a UP professor, came with knives drawn. He asked the senator one theoretical and two hypothetical questions.

The first is about the nature-nurture debate on the origins of homosexuality. The senator said he would rather focus on specific issues like the non-promotion and discrimination against homosexuals at schools and in the workplace.

The first hypothetical question was: If you have a gay son and he tells you he wants to live in with another man, what will you do?

The senator said if his son is 23 years old, he can do what he wants to do with his life.

The second question was: Will you allow your campaign manager, assuming he is gay, to bring along his lover to your banquet, assuming you will win?

The senator answered that if his campaign manager has a gay lover, the lover would have campaigned for him, and he is certainly welcome to the banquet.

In another column, written by Remoto last year after Roco passed away, he added:

Schooled in English literature and the labyrinths of law, Raul Roco knew the social and political movements of the 1960s – the ones that liberated the blacks, women, gays, lesbians and nations. He knew about feminism, for wasn’t he called an "honorary woman" in Congress for shepherding through the legislative mill the anti-sexual harassment and anti-rape bills? Thus, he saw LGBT rights through the lenses of human rights, the way they should be seen.

When he passed away, Edwin Lacierda, a former member of his law firm, talked about how Roco used his amazing intellect to defend our state:

On 1 December 1989, Col. Gringo Honasan launched his most deadly coup against the Aquino administration and nearly toppled her were it not for the US F-15 jets buzzing over Malacañang airspace. I finally went to work on December 9 which I distinctly remembered was a Friday. When RSR (as the lawyers called him) came to the office, he gathered all 11 lawyers and three underbars to a conference.

It was the day after the cessation of hostilities and RSR wanted to confer emergency powers on President Aquino. And so, he ordered us all to research available Supreme Court jurisprudence on rebellion, sedition, murder, the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, martial law as well the constitutionality of granting the president emergency powers. The reason why I knew December 9 was a Friday was because we were told to work over the weekend, to submit a memorandum of law to him by Sunday. The entire law firm finished the work and came Monday, he delivered a rousing sponsorship speech granting President Aquino emergency powers.

Despite numerous queries from the Floor on its constitutionality, RSR fielded all the questions with supreme confidence and aplomb. It was as though he literally threw his whole weight on the bill itself. The solons could hardly put up a decent opposition. The bill passed the House and eventually, it became known as the Emergency Powers Act.

And yet, it wasn't just about "serious" stuff. Roco always came off as a person who was passionate about knowledge.

JJ Disini passes along this anecdote of a very senior partner at a major law firm. The senior partner has a very unconventional approach towards interviewing new lawyers, having figured that the applicant was probably qualified to work for the firm if he made it all the way to the senior partner's office.

So he ends up playing a game with the applicant, where the applicant has to ask the senior partner a question in a field of the applicant's choice. If the senior partner answers correctly, he gets to ask the question correctly, and so it goes as they try to stump each other.

Anyway, when it was Roco's turn for the interview, he chose English Literature as his field, and quoted a line from TS Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. The senior partner answered accurately, but had a question:

SP: "Wait a minute. You said English literature. T.S. Eliot, that is, Thomas Stearns Eliot was an American, wasn't he?"

Roco: "True. Born in St. Louis, Missouri."

SP: "So it's American literature."

Roco: "No. He immigrated to Great Britain in the '20s and became a British citizen."

SP: "But he was an American when he wrote Prufrock."

Roco: "And a British subject when he won the Nobel Prize."

The Senator ran on an agenda of hope, and for his followers, he epitomized the very idea.

His was the hope we all shared for the nation. Not only was he a brilliant and articulate leader who could inspire people, he was also honest, decent, and had the best interests of the nation in heart. But more than these, he had faith in us as a people, a faith in what we could become and in what we are capable of.

And his faith and his example extends to the hope he casts for us as individuals as well. Raul Roco who never apologized for his talents, his passions, his principles, or his ideals. His was an example of what each of us can become, if we held life in an embrace as tight as he had.


I was, and still is, a Roco fan. I remember when I was a still a very naive freshie in college, I and a couple of groupmates went to the Senate hoping to interview one senator, any senator. Of all the senators we saw, Roco was the only one who accomodated us... it was an ambush interview but he took time to welcome us into his office, took time to talk to us about being a UP freshman and what it meant before actually sitting down for a taped interview.


di ba ang sabi ni miriam santiago:



Brilliant indeed.


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