The Last Good Senator: Lorenzo M. Tañada and Jose Diokno 2
Art by Gica Tam

The Last Good Senator: Lorenzo M. Tañada and Jose Diokno

Given what is presently going on in the country, as well as our general awe after the administration’s shocking position in the West Philippine Sea Dispute, Rene Saguisag writes about two icons, “Tanny and Pepe,” who fought, no matter the odds, during an equally baffling regime.
Rene Saguisag | Apr 08 2019

Six weeks before we head to the polls to vote for our senatorial bets, do we really know what we want out of the personalities we will elect? What does it really mean to earn a seat in our senate halls? In this series of ANCX essays, some of our distinguished journalists and opinion makers reflect on the careers of past and present senators whose careers have made the most impact, and created a significant difference.  

Senator Tañada declined the invitation of the Supreme Court that he act as amicus curiae (impartial adviser to a court of law) in the test case involving the judiciary revamp law. In a Manifestation dated September 30, 1981, he said in effect that he had more worthwhile things to attend to in these extraordinary times; he also lamented that the Batasan had `not redeemed itself. Hence, any measure issuing forth from [it] can hardly deserve the dignity of a serious inquiry into its constitutionality. No amount of discussion or deliberation can confer validity on its measures.'

The Last Good Senator: Lorenzo M. Tañada and Jose Diokno 3
Lorenzo M. Tañada. Photograph from

 When we first heard that Ka Pepe would accept a similar invitation, our initial thought was `Ka Pepe, how could you . . .?' In his Memorandum dated October 15, 1981, he answered our question; there he said in part:

"These are days when things are seldom what they are called, when even words are tortured `out of all semblance of meaning.' The Act in question is a fitting example. It is entitled The Judiciary Reorganization Act of 1980,  though it was, in fact approved by the Interim Batasang Pambansa only in 1981, and it is, as we shall show, not a reorganization but a subversion of the judiciary.


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Nevertheless, he decided to accept the appointment as an amicus curiae and to submit this memorandum because:

"1. The 1973 constitution is the only constitution the Court recognizes as in force today. Appeal to that constitution, then, is not a matter of acceptance, but of necessity.

2. Even under a de facto government, justice must be done. To allow injustice to prosper without protest, when the occasion to protest arises, is to compound the hardships and the sufferings of the people.

3. The task of the lawyer is to uphold the rule of law, and when law has been deposed, to restore it. To do so, it is the lawyer's duty to help the people regain freedom and recapture sovereignty. One step in this direction is to make those who usurp the powers of government face the illegitimacy and immorality of their acts at every turn, except for the gravest of reasons, it would be egregious to forego such an opportunity.

4. The role of an amicus curiae is not simply to submit legal arguments. It includes `instructing, warning, informing and moving the court' on any matter connected with the case under consideration (Bouvier's Law Dictionary, 1929 ed., p. 70) - not because the amicus curiae is wiser or better than the court but simply because, as the biblical story of Balaam illustrates, an ass may occasionally see more clearly than a prophet. (Footnote omitted.)”


They are like Picasso and the Supreme Court their dearly beloved Spain. It has been our uncommon luck to peer and look over their shoulders while they paint with unparalleled virtuosity.


Neither Tanny nor Pepe disappointed us, there being only a difference in emphasis in their respective approaches. Both in effect accepted and declined the invitation. It was too good an opportunity to pass up. And it is said that while a lady may forgive a man who forces the opportunity, she cannot forgive him who misses one. Tanny's Manifestation and Pepe's Memorandum evoke the feeling one gets in contemplating a thing of beauty which could be a joy forever, as the poet says.

Picasso never returned to Spain as a protest against Franco's dictatorship, decreeing that his Guernica not be taken to Spain until the restoration of `public liberties.' He expected `its return to the Prado Museum one democracy returned to Spain. Franco's death in 1975, free elections in 1977 and Spain's new democratic Constitution met Picasso's condition for `Guernica's return.'

In a sense, Tanny and Pepe are like Picasso and the Supreme Court is their dearly beloved Spain. In another, it has been our uncommon luck to peer and look over their shoulders while they paint with unparalleled virtuosity. We have learned much from them, with whom we shared frustration after frustration. They have manned the ramparts of a decent moral order which otherwise would have fallen without a struggle. We share with them an admiration for Compañero Mabini.

The Last Good Senator: Lorenzo M. Tañada and Jose Diokno 4
Jose W. Diokno. Photograph from @JoseWDiokno on Facebook

The two are approachable any time, within reason, and sometimes, even beyond. Tanny went with us at midnight to a prison once to visit the April 6 detainees who had just been cited for contempt. When five UP students were taken to Camp Crame one night during the boycott campaign, he was there with us. Ka Pepe, his body clock hardly readjusted after a trip abroad, rushed to Bicol when Tony Carpio, his FLAG coordinator there, was arrested last July.

Tanny would tell us how he and Pepe might not agree on something but that there is one thing Pepe would and could not refuse to give - his priceless insights and advice.

At Harvard Law, students got to read about a great Filipino Senator-Lawyer from Batangas, thusly:

It is pertinent to recall the wise words of Jose Diokno in rejecting what he termed "currently fashionable justifications for authoritarianism in Asian developing countries." One [justification] is that Asian societies are authoritarian and paternalistic; that Asia's hungry masses are too concerned with providing their families with food, clothing, and shelter, to concern themselves with civil liberties and political freedoms; that the Asian conception of freedom differs from that of the West; that, in short, Asians are not fit for human rights. [. . .This] is racist nonsense . . . . Authoritarianism promotes repression not development - repression that prevents meaningful change and preserves the structures of power and privilege. . . .

These lawyers' lawyers, tested in the crucible, comprise a natural resource to be cherished for all time. Both could exude Old World charm but then la cortesia no quita la valentia. (Our copy of Ka Pepe's Memorandum has this dash of noblesse oblige:`To RAVS - who could have done a much better job - Pepe.' He could really say the nicest, naughtiest things, a truly engaging blarneyer.

Most of all, to them, money is no object. How different from certain of our brethren today who dazzle you, to paraphrase someone, with their knowledge of the cost of everything but seem to know the value of nothing.