Jose Wright Diokno

MANILA, Philippines — Not too long ago, I attended a Holy Mass celebrated by a well-known archbishop who delivered a stirring homily. He said, “In the Old Testament, there are Ten Commandments, but in the New, our Lord Jesus Christ reduced them to two: love thy God and love thy neighbor. And how does one love thy neighbor?”

Citing Scriptures (Matthew 25), Archbishop Oscar Cruz proclaimed the Christian answer: we show love when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the prisoners.

Beyond the Gospel. But the sagacious prelate went beyond the Gospel and asked: Shall we just feed the hungry but not punish the greedy who deprived them of food? Shall we just provide clothing without chasing the robbers who stole the clothes? Shall we just visit the prisoners without bringing to justice the tyrants who jailed them?

Reflecting on these questions after I arrived home that evening, I thought of Jose W. Diokno whose 85th birthday was observed last Feb. 26, and 20th death anniversary, a day later on Feb. 27.

To commemorate these dual occasions, the De La Salle Professional Schools conferred the “3rd Ka Pepe Diokno Human Rights Award” posthumously on Augusto “Bobbit” S. Sanchez.

At the same time, it also launched “Diokno on Trial: Techniques and Ideals of the Filipino Lawyer” authored by Jose Manuel I. Diokno. This book compiled the elder Diokno’s strategies on how to win a case “all the way.”

As the keynote speaker, I spoke not so much of Ka Pepe’s fight for human rights or advocacies as a great lawyer. Mainly, I remembered him as the answer to Archbishop Cruz’s questions.

Ethical and competent. Jose Wright Diokno was a celebrated justice secretary and senator who certainly knew the law and practised the ethical standards expected of attorneys and public servants. He easily exemplified the “EC, ethics and competence” that I “as Chief Justice” had asked from every lawyer.

JWD topped both the CPA and the bar examinations. With special permission from the Supreme Court, he took the bar tests without having formally graduated from law school. To this day, his feat remains unsurpassed.

During his time—and, maybe, even during our time—the country was besieged by officials who arrogated absolute power to themselves, plundered the treasury and used their public offices to amass ill-gotten wealth.

There were, however, a handful who—even while serving under abusive regimes—kept themselves personally pure, discharged their functions efficiently and refused to join the corrupt in raiding the public treasury. Moreover, they contributed to charity and helped the destitute.

Integrity, not mere honesty. While these few good men and women could be described as honest public servants who followed Scriptures, they did nothing to stamp out the evil around them, contented as they were with distancing themselves from the evil conspiracy.

Honesty is a virtue taught in grade school. I am not critical of those who sincerely exemplify it. But beyond honesty, the country needed—and still needs—men and women of integrity, who will not merely refuse to tell a falsehood, but who possess the moral courage to punish the greedy, chase the robbers and prosecute the tyrants.

Senator Diokno twice supported the presidential candidacy of Ferdinand E. Marcos in 1965 and 1969. But after it became clear that Marcos was veering away from the straight and narrow path, Ka Pepe did not hesitate to part from him and to denounce his excesses.

He could have kept quiet and tolerated the abuses. After all, his place in history was secure. He was brilliant, honest, eloquent and well-respected. However, he chose not only to keep himself clean and pure; he worked fervently?at the risk of his own safety, health, earthly possessions and career?to restore freedom in our land, to denounce the plunderers, to vindicate the poor and to make truth and justice prevail. For these pursuits, he was incarcerated and kept under solitary confinement without being charged or tried, much less convicted.

More than being honest, Jose Wright Diokno was a person of moral courage. He was moved by immutable values and principles, not by pettiness or convenience. Indeed, he was a visionary leader of exemplary integrity.

Bantayog heroes and leaders. Aside from JWD, are there others who measure up to the imperatives of visionary leadership by example? Certainly. Many of them are memorialized in the Wall of Remembrance built by the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation at Quezon Avenue near the corner of Edsa, Quezon City.

These heroes include Ninoy Aquino, Cesar Climaco, Roberto Concepcion, Evelio Javier, Raul Manglapus, Jaime Ongpin, JBL Reyes, Jaime Sin, Lorenzo Tañada, Claudio Teehankee and several others, all of whom, however, are already in the Great Beyond.

Sen. Jovito R. Salonga, Bantayog founder, has said that “a nation is measured by the quality of the men and women it honors.” In our midst, are there living government leaders whom our people can look up to because of their vision, mission, core values and personal example?

Let the readers, especially the Ayala Young Leaders Congress (AYLC) delegates whom I met last Feb. 7, answer this question. Should there be worthy living choices, I will?space permitting?acclaim them in this column at some future time. How about it, AYLC?

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