"The fruit does not fall far from the tree."
Three of the 63 candidates allowed by the Comelec (Commission on Elections) to seek Senate seats in the May 13, 2019 election have two things in common. One of the things is that their fathers and paternal grandfathers were senators. The other point of similarity is that they have established excellent track records as professionals either with the government or in the private sector.
The three candidates who are the subjects of this column are Jose Manuel ‘Chel’ Diokno, Lorenzo ‘Erin’ Tañada III and Serge Osmeña. Chel Diokno has never held a government position, Erin Tañada was a three-term member of the House of Representatives representing the 4thDistrict of Quezon and Serge Osmeña served three terms as a Senator (1995-2007; 2010-2016).
When people hear the name Jose Manuel Diokno, they tend automatically to think of the late, memorable Jose Wright ‘Pepe’ Diokno, who was elected to the Senate after a stint as President Diosdado Macapagal’s Secretary of Justice and was jailed and placed in solitary confinement, along with Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr., by President Ferdinand Marcos in 1972. What most of today’s Filipinos do not know is that Jose W. Diokno was not the first senator in Chel Diokno’s family. Chel’s grandfather Ramon was duly elected to the Senate in the 1946 election, which would have been held in 1945 were it not for World War II. When elected, Chel Diokno will thus be the third senator in the Diokno family, whose roots are in Taal, Batangas.
Chel Diokno’s life thus far may be summed up by two phrases—human rights and law-school running. His passion for human rights is perfectly understandable, considering the experience of his father at the hands of Ferdinand Marcos. There can be no doubt about the depth of the trauma that Chel Diokno—then a young teenager—suffered as a result of the long incarceration of Sen. Jose Diokno. Chel Diokno is in every respect his father’s son: he is to be found at the head of every pro-human-rights action against the government of the day and he is one of the leading figures of the human rights organization FLAG (Filipino Legal Action Group). If he were alive today, ‘Ka Pepe’ Diokno would be exceedingly proud of his son.
Members of the judiciary and the legal profession know that Chel Diokno’s other major professional preoccupation is running a law school. Sen. Jose Diokno’s son is the Dean of De La Salle University College of Law. DLSU’s law school is only a few years old, but under Chel Diokno’s leadership it has, in such a brief period, made its mark in the world of Philippine legal education.
Erin Tañada’s political pedigree is equally formidable. His grandfather, Lorenzo Tañada, was a parliamentarian par excellence and was one of the finest men ever to have walked the halls of the Senate. One of the prosecutors at the war crimes trial of Japanese general Tomoyuki Yamashita, Lorenzo Tañada would, three decades later, fiercely oppose the dictatorial regime established by Ferdinand Marcos. Erin Tañada’s father Wigberto, a Manuel Luis Quezon University-trained lawyer, joined the family’s patriarch in opposing the Marcos’ dictatorship, making the Tañadas a father-and-son anti-Marcos machine. Before winning a Senate seat in 1987, Wigberto Tañada served as Commissioner of Customs in the administration of President Corazon C. Aquino.
Erin Tañada inherited every bit of the passion for human rights protection and national sovereignty enhancement of his grandfather and father. During and after his days as an Ateneo student Erin Tañada was a fixture at rallies and marches protesting violations of human rights, and government shortcomings vis-à-vis farmers, urban workers, women and other disadvantaged groups. Grandfather, father and grandson: how many families in this country can claim to have had three generations of street parliamentarians?
Sooner or later Erin Tañada would have to follow his forebears into the world of politics. That time came in 2004. In the elections of that year Erin Tañada was elected Representative of the Fourth District of Quezon, the district in which Gumaca, the Tañada family’s hometown, is located. During the course of his three-term stay in the House of Representatives Erin Tañada was elected Deputy Speaker. He authored or co-authored numerous bills of national significance. The ones for which he will almost certainly be best remembered are the bills—in due course enacted into law—relating to universal health care, the coconut levy, anti-torture, human rights victims’ compensation and micro, small medium enterprises promotion.
The identity of the third 2019 senatorial candidate whose grandfather and father were both Senators is given away by his first name—Serge. Sergio Osmeña III’s grandfather was Senator Sergio Osmeña, who went on to become President of the Philippines. Serge Osmeña’s father, Sergio Osmeña Jr., was elected to the Senate in the 1959 election after having served the Osmeña family’s home province, Cebu, as governor and Representative. Sergio Osmeña Jr. made history in 1960, when he was expelled from the Senate for disorderly conduct after making a “one million reasons” accusation against President Carlos P. Garcia. Serge Osmeña narrowly missed re-election to the Senate in 2016 after having served three terms.
Three illustrious grandfathers, three worthy grandsons. As the saying goes, the fruit does not fall far from the tree.