This column has been absent for some time due to health issues confounding its writer. The prolonged leave from political and social activism and the lengthy pause from writing a weekly column in this paper had given rise to an unfamiliar ennui.
The untimely and completely unexpected demise of human rights lawyer, Atty. Eduardo G. Araullo, last January 19 – a person who had been held in esteem by his co-workers, friends, relatives and even acquaintances, as an upright man, a patriot and a social reformer – prompts me to once more string words together, to find meaning, and draw comfort and not a few lessons, from his uncommon life.
Ed Araullo could be compared to the proverbial elephant whose nature several blind men had been trying to figure out by touching different parts of its body but in the process missing out on the whole.
For it seems there is a piece of him there for his very wide social circle that includes high government officials and functionaries; revolutionaries (current and ex-); bishops, priests and nuns; and ordinary folk he had been able to extend a helping hand to at one time or another. They gathered at his wake – an interesting mix of people high and low, cutting across social classes, philosophical orientations and political persuasions and pretensions.
Ed came from a middle-class family, the seventh in a brood of nine children. He and his siblings were raised in Guagua, Pampanga and Malabon by unassuming parents who put a premium on honesty, hard work, discipline, frugal living and clan solidarity to achieve success in life.
He studied in De La Salle University from elementary to high school where he formed his bonds with lifelong friends and imbibed Christian and humanitarian ideals.
Upon entering the University of the Philippines, Ed became a Marxist student radical in the late sixties and early seventies. He was an indefatigable recruiter of students into the Nationalist Corps who then went on to become more mature national democratic or “ND” activists in Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan and Kabataang Makabayan.
He was a well-known fixture in student politics, an indomitable behind-the-scenes figure helping to engineer the victories of “ND” activists in the hotly-contested student council elections.
Ed joined the underground movement upon the declaration of martial law. He was arrested, tortured and illegally detained like thousands of other youth during that time. When he was released he continued his law studies and went on to become a labor lawyer in the true sense of the word, lawyering for and in behalf of workers and trade unions.
As the resistance to the Marcos dictatorship intensified and became more widespread, human rights violations by state security forces mounted. Professionals such as teachers, lawyers and doctors began to stir from their apolitical slumber to defend peasants, urban poor and workers who were bearing the brunt of the fascist dictatorship’s attacks.
Atty. Araullo, together with other young progressive lawyers, joined hands with stalwart nationalists and civil libertarians such as Senator Jose W. Diokno, to establish the first lawyers’ human rights organization FLAG (Free Legal Assistance Group). Thereafter Ed co-founded and chaired the more political lawyers’ organization MABINI (Movement of Attorneys for Brotherhood, Integrity and Nationalism) together with such leading lights as Atty. Rene Saguisag and Atty. (now Vice-President) Jejomar “Jojo” Binay.
Among those who took the time to express their grief and condole with Ed’s family were his pro bono clients, many of them victims of political repression not just under the Marcos dictatorship but also during the so-called democratic regimes that followed.
When the dictatorship fell, Ed helped MABINI lawyer Bobbit Sanchez who was appointed Labor Secretary, and was himself appointed to a post in Geneva, Switzerland. Subsequently, he returned to private life and concentrated on building his law practice and raising his young family.
By some twist of fate, he became the lawyer and friend of Fernando Poe Jr or “FPJ”, the man who would be president of the republic but was cheated of the chance by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
He also became one of the unconventional campaign managers of Makati Mayor Binay when the latter undertook an uphill run for the vice presidency in 2010. (Ed liked to say that he used “united front” tactics in cobbling together the “Noybi” movement that supported “Noynoy” Aquino for president and Binay for vice president.) Mr. Binay achieved an electoral upset to become the current second highest official of the land.
Subsequently, when asked what position he was interested in, Ed refused any government appointment.
Until he was asked to help Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) Chair Margie Juico clean up that government agency in order for it to become more effective in delivering charitable aid from state-controlled lottery revenues to the poor and needy. Ed’s deeply-ingrained social reforming streak became agitated and challenged by the offer of public service. He took it on with gusto.
As PCSO board secretary, Ed not only became involved in rooting out corrupt practices ingrained in the agency but in putting in place institutional reforms that would help it become more effective, transparent, and less prone to wastage and graft and corruption.
He became a key witness in the plunder case filed against former President Gloria Arroyo, a job he did not relish but which he dutifully accepted, in order to demonstrate to the PCSO rank and file that the new leadership was running after the big-time crooks that stole the monies intended for charity and not just the small fry.
Ed had expressed several times his desire to be of help in breaking the impasse in the peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the revolutionary National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). In fact he said that if this had been the job offered him from the beginning, he would have given it priority. Whenever his help was sought in trying to find ways to overcome obstacles, he readily took discrete steps but unfortunately, the Aquino government’s hardline stance could not be overcome.
In the last years of his life, Ed revealed himself more and more as a staunch patriot, a persistent social reformer, and a helpful and caring friend to his legion of friends and “friends” of friends. He also uncovered his growing spirituality as he invoked biblical references and his faith in a just and kind God to spur on the reforms the new PCSO management was undertaking.
Fortunately, Ed also had the chance to be a loving husband and an inspiration and role-model to his three children – Sarah, Sandino and Joshua – on what it means to be an upright man, in an unconventional, out-of-the-box sort of way.
It is hoped that his life story and example can be shared to other young people so that they may begin to appreciate the kind of meaningful, if unheralded, life one can live as a Filipino and as a human being. #
Published in Business World
26-27 January 2013