Sponsorship Speech of Sen. Joel Villanueva : Proposed Senate Resolution No. 1009, taking into consideration PSR No. 1010, Expressing the Profound Sympathy of the Senate on the Death of Former Senator Rene Saguisag

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Mr. President, my dear colleagues:

I rise today with great sorrow and grief, but also with gratitude, to honor the life and express the profound sympathy of this august chamber on the death of the Honorable Senator Rene Saguisag.

This representation is fortunate to have encountered Senator Saguisag in this lifetime. My advocacies were inspired by his work and his compassion for ordinary Filipino workers. Like Senator Saguisag, his son and our good friend Atty. Rebo, who is also the UAAP Executive Director, and I also share the same passion not just for public service but also basketball and sports development.

We thank his children for accepting our invitation to be with us today. We extend our sincere condolences to Atty. Rebo, Sir Nonoy, Ms. Lara, Sir Laurence, and Ms. Caissa, and to the entire family. The Senate of the Philippines and the entire nation are with you, as we mourn the loss of your father – an extraordinary public servant whose courage and commitment never wavered. 

They say the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. I say, I have never seen anyone who fought as hard and as fiercely as (Tito) Sen. Rene in bending this proverbial arc to bring justice to the oppressed, the down-trodden, and the poor and disenfranchised Filipinos.

He is the gold standard in the legal community – an honest and good natured lawyer and human rights defender. He provided legal assistance to victims of human rights abuses during the Martial Law period. Sen. Rene was a prominent member of the Free Legal Assistance Group, founded in 1974 by distinguished Senators and legal luminaries, Jose W. Diokno and Lorenzo Tañada. They handled various cases against law enforcers accused of killing peasants, activists, and journalists. They would eventually start the Movement of Attorneys for Brotherhood, Integrity, and Nationalism, Incorporated or MABINI, whose cases have led to landmark Supreme Court decisions. He was also generous with his time and talents as he helped shape the legal minds of young Filipinos through his work as a professor of Constitutional Law and Human Rights Law at San Beda. 

Sen. Saguisag lived a modest and principled life, from which the ordinary Filipino can draw inspiration. While attending his undergraduate and Law classes at San Beda College, he worked as a checker, a laborer, a construction site guard, and a messenger to make ends meet. His brilliance and determination landed him a full scholarship to the prestigious Harvard University where he earned his Master of Law degree. The ordinary boy from Pasig and Mauban, Quezon went on to become one of the best legislators that our beloved institution has ever had. 

Senator Saguisag has gone home to our Lord; he is no longer with us, but he left the Filipino people an enduring legacy – to learn from, to aspire, to abide by, and to pin our hopes on. He authored two landmark legislations to uphold the integrity and highest standards in public service — Republic Act No. 6713 or the “Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees” and Republic Act No. 6770 or the “Ombudsman Act of 1989.” 

Allow me to share excerpts of his sponsorship speech on the Ethical Standards for Public Officers bill in 1987:

“(The Bill) elevates the commitment to public interest, justness, and fairness, political neutrality, responsiveness to the public, nationalism, commitment to democracy, and simple living as ethical principles which must be upheld by all public servants. It also imposes penalties on violations of the act…to serve as a constant reminder to those who may be tempted to betray the public trust, and find meaningless the truism that public service, to a greater extent, is indeed its own reward…The hope is that this bill will help effect structural, as well as attitudinal or behavioral changes; the hope is that it will help lay down the proper moral infrastructure in a long and rocky road; the hope is that it will provide a moral compass, an ethical fixed star to help us find our way.”

Mr. President, Senator Saguisag embodied these words throughout his life. He started his career in public service without having to spend a single centavo during the election. While in office, he never allowed himself to be consumed or tempted by power. He said in an interview, “it was not hard to give up power” because he told himself and even his staff, and I quote, “we are only here for a short visit.” And even when he was no longer a legislator, he never stopped serving the public. The Honorable Senator Saguisag was, indeed, in every sense of the word, Honorable. This enduring legacy, this example that he set, will serve as a beacon to current and future public servants. To paraphrase him, his life and legacy will always be a “fixed star” to guide us and help us find our way. 

In closing, Mr. President, let me share to the body one of the phrases that Senator Saguisag liked to use in his speeches and interviews. The beautiful Spanish phrase, “Amor con amor se paga.” Love is repaid with love. He believed that he was elected by the Filipino people out of love and gratitude. And he repaid this with love, as best exemplified by his work and commitment to serve. 

Today, we commit to repay the love and devotion he has shown to his country and his people by honoring his memory and his legacy, and following his example. 

Again, we offer our deepest sympathy to his family. Thank you, Atty. Rebo, Sir Nonoy, Ms. Lara, Sir Laurence, and Ms. Caissa, for sharing your father with us and with the whole nation. 

Thank you, Mr. President, and may God bless us all.

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