(Eulogy delivered by Atty. Pablito V. Sanidad during the Necrological Services for Atty. Haydee Yorac on Sept. 18, 2005 at the Snactuario de San Antonio, Makati, Metro Manila, Philippines)
Tonight, the members and friends of the FREE LEGAL ASSISTANCE GROUP (FLAG) gather to pay a final farewell to our beloved colleague — HAYDEE.
We have just lost one of those who were the guiding lights of this organization during the darkest days of the struggle to restore democracy in this country. She leaves us, as we are again struggling to keep that democracy alive.
It’s hard to accept that Haydee is gone. Most of us took it for granted that she would always be there to turn to when we needed her. How indeed can one imagine this country without Haydee?
It is a little belated and how I wish we could have said this when she was alive, but in behalf of FLAG, may I extend our heartfelt thanks–Haydee–for all the guidance and leadership, the encouragement and inspiration, the sacrifices and the lessons learned.
If FLAG feels a special kinship for Haydee, it is because we were lucky to know her as few other groups perhaps had the privilege to know her. We came to know her up close, as a colleague and as a friend, for many years. And those were difficult years when the bonds between friends and even relatives were tested to the extreme. We got to know her as a real human being long before she would become the icon that she would be regarded years later.
And it is also because of this, that we in FLAG feel a special, personal, intimate sense of loss. The country may have lost one of its ablest public servants. FLAG has lost one of its dearest friends and leader.
As a law professor she responded quickly to the call of the late Sen. Jose W. Diokno to join in a revolt against a feared dictatorship. A difficult revolution because Ka Pepe asked that it be waged, not by arms, but by the law. And most of the time that meant the constitution and the law of the dictator.
While it could have been tempting to resort to other less peaceful means, FLAG tried hard to work within those parameters.
FLAG would not win many court victories with such a mandate. But much of its success came as they grabbed the law of the dictator and used it to demonstrate that they were not instruments of justice, but of oppression. They were not guarantees of freedom, but chains of control. And the oppressiveness of the law would be used to open the eyes of the people to their bondage and with that knowledge create unity and empowerment.
And Haydee was ever in the forefront. She was the Regional Coordinator of FLAG for Metro Manila for many years until Marcos fell in 1986. She was just at home arguing cases before the courts, as she was marching in the parliament of the streets, or delivering lectures to human lawyers and advocates, or consoling victims of tyranny and abuse.
For the cause of FLAG, during the dark night of martial law, with little regard for personal safety, she would travel to the mountains of Northern Luzon, to Southern Tagalog, to the Visayas, to Mindanao to serve as a reminder and a continuing inspiration for the struggle that many of us thought could not be won.
It was in the course of all those visits that members of FLAG came to know her as a friend and endear her to them as one of their own. While those times had more days of danger and even death, because many FLAG lawyers fell by the wayside in the search for freedom, there were also its light moments.
While many people would perhaps have an image of Haydee as a strict, stern, no-nonsense individual, that was not the complete picture. She had a soft, a funny and a human side.
We came to know that quality because we traveled with her, ate with her, worked with her and even drank with her. She could hold her drink better than most of us. She enjoyed exchanging news with FLAG lawyers. They would laugh and joke with her. Her familiar throaty laughter during evenings of fellowship in many a far-flung part of the country, would serve to make many young FLAG lawyers momentarily forget the perils of those times. If she was not afraid, why should we be afraid?
She would even allow them to tease her about her hairstyle. Something which Presidents, Senators, Generals and Cabinet members would perhaps not dare do, for fear of being nailed with that famous glare of hers. She saw very little need to use that glare in FLAG. FLAG was a home of sorts for her.
And whatever may have been said about her hairstyle, to most members of FLAG she was one of the most beautiful memorable persons we ever had the honor and the privilege to meet and to know. And for that we are grateful.
She was beautiful in her sincerity and courage. She was beautiful in her simplicity. She was lovable in her integrity, in her dedication, in her selfless commitment and in her incorruptibility. And she was beautiful above all because she devoted all of those God given virtues, not for herself, but for her country.
With Haydee, there was little pretense. There were no hidden agendas, no selfish personal motives, no malice, and no ambitions for personal gain or fame. She would, if she could, do what needed to be done, if it was country.
That perhaps is why she had such tremendous credibility. That is why she was so respected, not only by her friends, but also by those who had the misfortune of finding themselves on the other side in the many battles that she had waged.
Despite her strong and seemingly stern public image, few harsh words were ever said against her from those to whom she may have directed her wrath and indignation. That was because they knew that the positions she took were never due to any personal rancor, they were for love of country. And it is difficult to quarrel with that.
And the qualities of Haydee were tested not only by the battles she waged against government during the time of the dictator, but also by the efforts she exerted to lend credibility to the administrations that came after the fall of the dictator.
When Haydee joined the government many had serious misgivings. We feared that her will and idealism would not stand, and she would soon be swept away by the currents of intrigue and corruption that plague our government. But she proved us wrong.
She, by herself, was such a powerful force that all Presidents after martial law tried to borrow from that credibility and enlist her help.
She joined the Commission on Elections, and her COMELEC was definitely far more credible than the Comelec that we have today. With her there, it would have been impossible to produce a “Hello Haydee” tape. Woe would befall anyone who would have dared call Haydee by phone and tell her what to do in an election contest. Among her favorite stories in FLAG meetings was how she tamed even the much feared Ali Dimaporo.
When she agreed to head the PCGG, many thought it was a dead-end. The ghosts of the Marcos regime continued to haunt the corridors of the agencies looking for his wealth and were determined to thwart every effort. Again she proved us wrong. What she achieved there would be difficult to equal. It earned her the Ramon Magsaysay Award.
I was about to say Haydee is a true Filipino patriot. But two nights ago, I was watching television and I saw Ping Lacson. He said that Aragoncillo and Michael Ray Aquino are patriots. If that is the new definition of patriotism, from someone who wants to be President, then Haydee does not belong in that company.
The irony of Philippine politics is that people who are admittedly less qualified than Haydee find it easier however to get to the Senate.
It is unfortunate that we lose Haydee at this stage of our journey. The country is clearly in turmoil. Our people are as anxious, as they are confused. The future is not clear. We live today without any clear idea of what may come tomorrow. Our highest ambition is the hope that tomorrow we will survive.
We are in search of someone or something to lead us out of this forest of misery. In the countryside there is disenchantment. They look at our leaders, from all sides, with skepticism. They see one side trying hard to hold on to power by using all means, fair and mostly foul. They see the other side trying very hard to take that power without however any hint or promise of any real and meaningful change. They see unrepentant and arrogant remnants of the regime that Haydee fought against. In the end, the choices look suspiciously similar to each other and many find no strong reason to unite under one, or the other.
It is during times like these that we miss people like Haydee. From her we would have listened. Not only because she was gifted with a special clarity of mind and objectivity of intellect, but more importantly because what she would have said, would have been accompanied by a moral tone, as credible as it is unquestionable, because it is anchored upon an impeccable record of public service reflective of a true and honest concern for the country.
Perhaps it is that element of moral trustworthiness more than anything else that our people seek in the present crisis. It is perhaps because they fail to recognize it in any of the present aspirants to power and leadership that we continue to drift in uncertainty and discord.
Only the Supreme Law Giver can explain why He would pluck Haydee from our midst, just when we needed her again. Is it because her death would make us understand and appreciate better the message she was trying to convey by her life and by her examples?
Only the Almighty would really know. But it would be a pity if we would not allow Haydee, and the life she led, to guide us in the search for solutions to the problems of our nation. A nation she loved above anything else and even at the sacrifice of her health.
We should not ask her for anything more. She has done her part. She has done more than enough. She deserves her peace.
It is for us to honor her memory by keeping alive the principles she stood for in public service and use them to judge those who may wish to lead this country and claim that they have the best interests of our people at heart.
There is one effective test for all of them.
Can they pass the glare of a HAYDEE YORAC?