Jose Wright Diokno (February 26, 1922 - February 27, 1987) was a Filipino nationalist, human rights advocate, lawyer, senator and government minister.
Born to Ramon Diokno, a former senator and associate justice of the Supreme Court, and Eleanor Wright, an American who became a Filipino citizen, Jose "Pepe" Diokno graduated from elementary school with distinction, and finished his secondary education at De La Salle College in Manila, now called De La Salle University (DLSU) as Valedictorian in 1937. In 1939, he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Commerce and finished summa cum laude from DLSU due to repeated acceleration at the tender age of 17. He topped the Certified Public Accountants (CPA) Board Examination the next year in 1940 with a rating of 81.18 percent, while he was in his second year of law school at the University of Santo Tomas (UST). In 1944, without finishing his Bachelor of Laws Degree, he took and topped the bar examination, with a rating of 95.3 percent.
Secretary of Justice
Immediately after passing the Bar, Diokno embarked on his law practice, handling and winning controversial cases, including battling corruption charges against Manila Mayor Arsenio Lacson. In 1961, President Diosdado Macapagal appointed Diokno Secretary of Justice. Diokno embarked on an investigation of the celebrated case of American businessman Harry S. Stonehill, who was suspected of tax evasion, bribery, and the corruption of public officials. When Diokno ordered a search warrant of the businessman's offices, protests came from the halls of Congress and the Senate. Due to Stonehill's apparent influence, and allegedly to save the political fortunes of many high-ranking bureaucrats, Diokno was ousted from office by then President Macapagal, who asked him to resign.
In the November 1963 elections, Diokno ran for senator and won. As chairman of the senate economic affairs committee, Diokno advocated and worked for the passage of pro-Filipino legislation, most notably the Industrial Incentives Law, which provides incentives to Filipino investors and entrepreneurs in order to place control of the Philippine economy in the hands of Filipinos.
The Philippines Free Press has consistently named Diokno as outstanding senator for his legislation and strong opposition to the legislation of laws which he considered inimical to the interests of Filipinos. In 1968, while the Vietnam War was raging, the Philippines Free Press Magazine conferred the honor on him and several colleagues, Jovito Salonga, Benigno Aquino, Jr., and Tecla San Andrez Ziga, for their opposition to the “Philcag Bill”, which proposed the sending of Filipino troops to Vietnam and an annual appropriation of P35 million to maintain them while on their mission. Interviewed by the Free Press on his stand, Diokno said:
I cannot vote for the bill because it is an affront to our national dignity ... I cannot agree to spend P35 million for another people when we cannot even provide for the most basic needs of our own. This amount of P35 million is not all that will be spent. These millions are for one year only... Is this fair to our people when we have not even released the appropriation of P50 million for our school building program and are, today, three years behind schedule?
When President Ferdinand Marcos proposed a bill appropriating, supposedly, a “political budget” of P2.8 billion, of which P100 million was to be doled out, without any designated program for its use, at P2,000 each to 31,000 barrios throughout the Philippines, Senator Diokno strongly objected. He not only opposed the proposed legislation, but without directly confronting the administration and calling the dole-out for what it obviously was -- "grease money" -- he strongly advised Marcos to think twice before doing so, adding that, "... [I]f it is done, it will surely boomerang".
Diokno proposed a more humane system of taxation, stating:
I don't believe in imposing on our people more taxes that would burden the poor. But I believe in taxes for the rich, taxes they can afford... I am for imposing travel tax, for increasing taxes on real estate and private automobiles. But I don't think taxes on petroleum products should be increased as the oil companies would just pass on the burden to the consumers and this would affect the masses.
In 1967, together with Senator Lorenzo Tañada, Diokno was again voted outstanding senator by the Philippine Free Press for his in-depth studies on the Philippine petroleum industry—an exposé of the industry's surreptitious control by foreign-owned companies at a time when Philippine laws prohibited ownership by non-nationals. An offshoot of these studies was the passage of a legislation that has since regulated the nation's petroleum industry.
Human rights advocate
A zealous human rights lawyer, particularly during martial law, Diokno believed in the sacredness and dignity of the human personality. Thus, when he learned about the so-called “Jabidah Massacre”, when 14 Muslim youth protesting for reform were gunned down in Corregidor by the military, he lambasted the Marcos administration. He said "No cause is more worthy than the cause of human rights ... [they] are what makes a man human. Deny them and you deny man's humanity."
Diokno's activism on behalf of human rights so irked Marcos that when martial law was declared on 21 September 1972, Diokno was the first member of the opposition to be arrested. Like other political opponents of Marcos, Diokno was imprisoned without being charged and without legal recourse. Upon his release in 1974, he immediately organized the Free Legal Assistance Group, which gave free legal services to victims of military oppression under martial law.
From the time of his release, Diokno fought for the restoration of Philippine democracy. He was a towering figure in opposition rallies denouncing the Marcos regime from 1974 up to the EDSA Revolution in February 1986. During Ninoy Aquino's incarceration, Diokno was in constant communication with Ninoy through Corazon Aquino, Ninoy's wife, who acted as emissary for the two foremost oppositionists.
After the 1986 People Power Revolution, which effectively ended Marcos rule and was pivotal to Corazon Aquino's election to the presidency, Diokno was appointed to the chairmanship of the Presidential Committee on Human Rights, with the rank of minister, and led a government panel which tried to negotiate for the return of rebel forces to the government folds. However, after the “Mendiola massacre” of January 22, 1987, where 15 farmers died during an otherwise peaceful rally, he resigned from his two government posts in protest of what he called wanton disregard of human lives by an administration he had helped install.
Death and legacy
At 2:40 a.m., on February 27, 1987, the day after his 65th birthday, Diokno passed away at his home in New Manila, Quezon City lying beside his books peacefully. The cause of his death was acute respiratory failure due to cancer. Diokno was married to Carmen Icasiano, by whom he had 10 children.
President Aquino declared March 2–12, 1987 as a period of national mourning for Diokno. February 27 is celebrated in the Philippines as Jose W. Diokno Day. Although not a public holiday, on February 27 the flags of Filipino government buildings and installations throughout the country are flown at half-mast in his honor. Expressing her grief over the passing of Diokno, then-President Corazon Aquino stated that "Pepe braved the Marcos Dictatorship with a dignified and eloquent courage our country will long remember."
A newspaper editorial commented:
With his passing, Mr. Diokno left a void nearly impossible to fill. The Chairman of the Presidential Commission (sic) on Human Rights, he carved a niche in the national consciousness as a crusading senator, a brilliant lawyer, and a staunch nationalist who brought his insight and his expertise to bear (on) such crucial issues as human rights, the nuclear arms race, and American intervention in Philippine affairs.
The Bagong Alyasang Makabayan honored him with this statement:
During much of his lifetime, Ka Pepe Diokno was a driving force behind the nationalist and democratic movement in the country. Ka Pepe is dead and we deeply mourn his loss. But we do so with a knowledge that his was a life that was not led in vain. He had been an effective sower of the seeds of nationalism and democracy in the country. We owe it to him to nurture his efforts until these bear fruit in a truly just, free and democratic society.
Writer Frank Quesada wrote that Diokno was a "firm believer of what is just, what is right, and what is lawful." Commentator Conrado de Quiros wrote that Diokno was "... the purer, the more heroic, and more dedicated fighter for freedom among his peers".
A Nation for Our Children
A Nation for Our Children — a collection of Jose W. Diokno’s essays and speeches on human rights, nationalism, and Philippine sovereignty — was published in 1987 by the Diokno Foundation. The collection is named for of Ka Pepe's most popular speeches, in which Diokno says,
There is one dream that all Filipinos share: that our children may have a better life than we have had. So there is one vision that is distinctly Filipino: the vision to make this country, our country, a nation for our children.
The Diokno family decided to publish the entire collection online.
By virtue of Republic Act No. 9468, the main Bay City highway, which is from Pasay City to Parañaque City, was renamed in his honor. Diokno Boulevard runs from Roxas Boulevard in Manila, passes by the World Trade Center, and connects the Senate to the SM Mall of Asia complex. It will eventually extend from Metro Manila all the way to Cavite.
- Tony Joaquin. To reach the unreachable star. Philippine News Online, 3/02/05 edition.
- Jose W. Diokno and Priscila Manalang. A Nation for our Children: Human Rights, Nationalism, Sovereignty: Selected Writings of Jose W. Diokno, Jose W. Diokno Foundation, Philippines
- Mydans, Seth (1987-03-01). "Jose W. Diokno, ex-Senator; Headed Manila Peace Panel". New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9B0DEFDE163EF932A35750C0A961948260. Retrieved 2008-01-08.
- Jose W. Diokno official website