Tribute to Ka Bobby Tañada – Miriam Coronel Ferrer

Against his wishes, and therefore without his knowledge, friends and family of former senator Bobby Tañada organized a birthday party to celebrate his 75th year. Held on 19 August at the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement penthouse where Ka Bobby is a board member, the gathering brought former and future legislators, NGO workers, and activists (mostly aged 45 to 80), who shared the many causes Ka Bobby staunchly espoused in his public life. These “protracted” causes which he took up, and with them the assemblage of people left-of-center that now toasted him, included human rights, the peace process, and fair trade.

Not to be forgotten was the campaign against the US bases that culminated in the September 16, 1991 historic vote in the Senate against the lease renewal of the military facilities. Twelve senators – Ka Bobby, Victor Ziga, Teofisto Guingona, Aquilino Pimentel Jr., Rene Saguisag, Butz Aquino, Orly Mercado, Sotero Cosme Laurel, Ernesto Maceda, Juan Ponce Enrile and Joseph Ejercito Estrada – voted against the treaty. Senate President Jovito Salonga broke the tie for a total of 12 No votes, enough to shut down the most-telling incursion on Philippine sovereignty*. It was a fitting climax to the long fight carried by Bobby’s father, Lorenzo “Ka Tanny” Tañada, Jose W. Diokno, and the older Claro M. Recto, three stellar senators of the pre-martial law decades. Oddly, it was an issue that saw the Marcos opposition stalwarts ranged against the woman they all respected, then president Corazon Aquino. Cory had campaigned for the renewal of the Americans’ lease on the military bases.

After each testimony during the night of remembering, praise and laughter, what enriched us most were not what Ka Bobby has done, but what we learned about him as a person: simple, even-tempered, a good son, a faithful husband and loving father. He is, in many ways, the opposite of the stereotypical politician: boisterous, media savvy, extravagant. Underneath this humility nestled the quiet courage and firm determination needed to fight the good fight.

The testimony of indefatigable Concepcion “Chit” Asis said it all. Chit worked with Ka Bobby for 17 years, including serving as his chief of staff in the Senate. With her permission, I am excerpting portions of her heartfelt speech here to share with readers.

His political career

“Ka Bobby is no traditional politician. He ran and won as senator in 1987 as a representative of the ‘nationalist bloc.’ He did not have a political party. It was only the day after the US bases rejection that he joined the Liberal Party, upon invitation and insistence of then LP President Salonga. Ka Bobby then succeeded him as LP president for a year.

From being an exemplar of untainted service as Commissioner of Customs, that government agency that rhymes with corruption, Ka Bobby became a senator in the first election under the 1987 Constitution to serve from 1987-1995. … As senator, Ka Bobby’s first order of the day was what news items to react to or make a statement on, or even draft a resolution or bill. Then what national issues to bring to the floor. What reforms or policy position of government were urgently needed.

Then he was Quezon’s 4th District representative from 1995-2001. That shift (saw Ka Bobby) spending time and holding meetings with barangay captains, school teachers, and health workers in obscure and remote barangays. …He then saw and felt how little the government did for the people amid billions only wasted and lost through graft and corruption. He often said, ‘In the Senate, we see the forests. In the District, we have to see the tree, the roots, the twigs and the leaves.’”

On Ka Bobby as a boss

Said Chit: “His ways are simple. To the everlasting testimony of love to Nanay Zeny, he wears no jewelry except his wedding ring. A meal of noodles, especially pancit canton, with ice-cold beer or a bottle of Coke already make his day. You really do not worry about a single thing when you play host to ka Bobby. …

I seldom saw him angry. Disappointed, yes at times. Even then the worst thin you heard from the man, was ‘Oh, my gum.’ But when he said ‘stupid,’ without referring to any particular person but almost always to the situation, then he really was ‘angry.’

No wang-wang. No red carpet. No security except Badong. No theatrics. No tantrums. No paper-throwing. No shouting. No cursing. If you could set back the hand of time, would you not have him as your boss? How many are fortunate to get paid for a job you truly enjoy, with a boss you respect, and with an opportunity to fulfill some of your personal advocacies and causes?”

As leader and advocate

“Ka Bobby is a leader. And his advocacies, policy issues and legislative agenda were always clear from day one. These he pursued tirelessly. He champions human rights and civil liberties and is biased for the poor and the oppressed. His guidepost has always been, ‘Ano ang mabuti para sa tao? Ano ang nararapat para sa kanila? Ano and tama?’ And we , his staff, would then act accordingly.

That brought him to battle with many vested interests. His human rights and peace advocacies did not sit well with the military. Business and industry opposed his views during the GATT-WTO treaty debates….”

Like father, like son

“Even before he became senator, Ka Bobby, as a lawyer joined Ka Tanny as a member of MABINI [a lawyers’ group], and was active defending students, farmers and workers charged with rebellion and subversion by the Marcos regime. He hiked to sites of mass burials and witnessed exhumations of deceased mass leaders and farmers suspected o being supporters or members of the CPP-NPA-NDF. It was therefore logical that he became chairman of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

He was a quintessential model-leader for ‘cause-oriented groups.’ That phenomenon of people’s participation to non-violently confront the apparatus of martial law saw him emerge, like his father before him, yet along with him, as a nationalist par excellence. .., Who can forget the picture of Ka Bobby holding Ka Tanny with Ed Garcia at the Welcome Rotunda drenched wet to their bones after being bombarded with water from fire engines rained on them by the police?”

A GENERATION AFTER, the son truly shines. Former legislator Oscar Santos, now in his 80s, offered this praise, “Isa siyang dakilang anak ng isang dakilang ama.” But as son Representative Erin Tañada duly noted, this event is a tribute mainly for the man in his own right. And much as he shied away from the public show of affection, Ka Bobby cannot but bask in the glow of love and admiration of friends, colleagues and family.

To Ka Bobby who belongs to a rare breed of men and legislators: Mabuhay .

* The 11 senators who voted in favor of the US bases treaty were: Heherson Alvarez, Edgardo Angara, Neptali Gonzales, Ernesto Herrera, Joey Lina, John Osmena, Vicente Paterno, Santanina Rasul, Alberto Romulo, Leticia Ramos Shahani, and Mamintal Tamano.

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