Thursday, August 14, 2008

Centerstage / UPI Asia Online
Alexander Martin Remollino

Manila, Philippines, August 14 — Last Aug. 10 marked the 110th birthday of a great Filipino, Lorenzo M. Tañada — nationalist, freedom fighter, and statesman. It is worth remembering him now not only because we are just four days past a time of year associated with his birth, but also because his life is rich in lessons that would serve us well in this time of crisis.

Tañada, who was born in Tayabas (now Quezon) in 1898, gave a hint of what he was to become very early in his life.

At 15, he dared to publicly speak his mind against an arbitrary proposal by the mayor of Gumaca, his hometown, to close down a parish church. When the mayor, in a town meeting to "discuss" the issue, challenged anyone in the crowd to speak out, it was he who stood up and spoke on stage — a mere boy, and a nephew of the mayor, Deogracias Tañada!

As a student leader at the University of the Philippines (UP), where he took his Associate in Arts and Bachelor of Laws, he showed the beginnings of a lifelong commitment to nationalism.

This was particularly manifested at an Armistice Day celebration during his third year at the College of Law. A cadet major of the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) at the time, Tañada was one of the speakers at the affair. When it was his turn to speak, he exhorted the students to take their military training seriously because they, he said, had to be prepared to make the "supreme sacrifice" for their country should the US refuse to grant the Philippines independence.

He went to Harvard University for his Master of Laws, but did not let his US education get in the way of his nationalist thinking.

He was involved in the underground resistance against the Japanese during World War II, working with a group that published an underground newspaper and gathered and gave intelligence information to the guerrillas. After the war, he worked with the People's Court which prosecuted collaborators — among them Teofilo Sison, the third highest-ranking official of the Japanese-sponsored government.

He was subsequently appointed solicitor-general and in this capacity, he fearlessly and competently prosecuted several corrupt high-ranking government officials.

As a senator for 24 years starting from 1947, Tañada authored several bills, a number of which managed to be signed into law, which sought to dismantle the US neocolonial stronghold on the Philippines. He worked closely with Sen. Claro M. Recto, who was a few years his senior, in crafting nationalist legislation. Their legislative thrust centered on national industrialization and independent foreign policy.

Tañada would go on to become chairman of the Movement for the Advancement of Nationalism (MAN), a united front of nationalists from various sectors, in the late 1960s. His increased exposure to grassroots sectors through MAN deepened his ideological footing, so that though he was initially opposed to land reform, he eventually came to recognize it as an indispensable component to any real nationalist program for the Philippines.

He was 74 years old when martial law was declared. Despite his advanced age, he was immediately at the forefront of the resistance against the dictatorship. The legal luminary was among the first personalities to take on the dictatorship, starting out by defending political prisoners in the courts.

In 1978, he became the general campaign manager of the Lakas ng Bayan (Laban or People's Power), a loose coalition of anti-dictatorship forces that fielded a number of candidates for the Batasang Pambansa (National Legislature) on April 7 that year. The Laban slate was badly defeated in a election marred by massive fraud, and Tañada led an indignation rally on April 9 and was detained together with more than 500 others. The image of Tañada peering from a military jeep as he was being hauled away, clenched fist up in the air while shouting "Laban, laban!" (Fight, fight!) has become immortalized.

After the assassination of opposition leader Beningno Aquino, Jr. in 1983, he chaired the Justice for Aquino, Justice for All Movement (JAJA) and, in 1985, he became the founding chairman of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance), an alliance of nationalistic and progressive forces.

He remained an ally of the Bayan forces after the fall of the dictatorship, and devoted his final years to the campaign against US military presence in the Philippines.

It is but proper to remember Tañada at a time like this in the country's history. He is a fine example of the kind of leadership that Filipinos need — especially in these times.

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