Former senator Rene Saguisag, 84

Cecille Suerte Felipe - The Philippine Star
Former senator Rene Saguisag, 84
Rene Saguisag.
STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — Former senator Rene Saguisag, a freedom fighter and human rights lawyer who contributed to crafting the code of conduct and ethical standards for public officials and employees, died late Tuesday at the age of 84.

In a Facebook post yesterday morning, his son Rebo Saguisag said: “It is with profound sadness that we announce the passing of our dear Papa and Lolo.”

The younger Saguisag did not mention the cause of his father’s death.

“As we mourn his loss, we take solace in the enduring impact of his legacy. Rene Saguisag was a dedicated public servant and his tireless endeavors as a human rights advocate, senator and writer stand as a testament to his unwavering commitment to justice, truth and democracy,” the statement read.

Saguisag was elected senator in 1987 in the first post-EDSA people power polls and served until 1992. He was chairman of the Senate committee on ethics and privilege and ad hoc committee on the Bataan nuclear power plant.

Born Aug. 14, 1939 in Mauban, Quezon, Saguisag has four children with his late wife Dulce Maramba Quintans, who died in a car crash in 2007 which the former senator survived.

Rebo’s post added, “For him, expertise in law was a means to serve the poor and disenfranchised, and he provided free legal aid to those in need. We are grateful that, in his final months, he was able to spend time with relatives, friends and countless supporters. He passed away knowing that he was much loved and respected.”

Rebo said, “We request that our family be granted a few moments of privacy as we grieve. We will soon announce details of the service honoring his life, and we look forward to the opportunity to gather and pay tribute to a life lived with integrity and purpose. Papa/Lolo has passed on, but his spirit will continue to inspire us to strive for a more just world.”

As the Philippine flag at the Senate compound was flown at half-staff, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri joined “the country in mourning the passing of Saguisag, a man of true honor, dignity and integrity.”

“He may have just served one term in the Senate, but his entire life was devoted to pursuing justice and fairness for every Filipino, particularly through such initiatives as the Free Legal Assistance Group,” Zubiri added.

Zubiri said that as a member of the Senate, Saguisag co-authored laws that up to now uphold the highest standards in public service, such as the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees (Republic Act 6713) and the Ombudsman Act of 1989 (RA 6770).

“While leaving an indelible mark as a true statesman, he also emulated and lived out the principle that those who have less in life should have more in law by giving free legal services to the poor and needy,” the Senate President said. “Sen. Saguisag leaves behind a legacy of service and excellence that continues to be a benchmark for many young lawyers and public servants.”

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III said he and his wife Kat “joined our nation in mourning the passing of a remarkable leader and human rights lawyer.”

“I fondly recall the moments we shared with Senator Saguisag, particularly during the wake of my father, (former senator Aquilino) Tatay Nene Pimentel, his friend and contemporary. Senator Rene sang ‘You Are My Sunshine’ during the wake with such sincerity. He deeply touched us all,” he said, at the same time recalling how Saguisag asked his father to deliver a message to Dulce. “I am certain that Tita Dulce and Tatay Nene await your arrival in heaven.”

Sen. Grace Poe said Saguisag “devoted his time and brilliance to many, especially the disadvantaged in society,” remembering how he stood by her in her “citizenship battle with the courts.”

Sen. Francis Escudero expressed his condolences and prayers to the family and loved ones of the former senator. In a statement on X, Escudero described Saguisag as a patriot, nationalist and an honest public servant.

During the martial law years, Saguisag was a prominent opposition figure, working as a human rights lawyer. He played a crucial role as the first spokesman for president Corazon Aquino following the 1986 people power revolution.

A longtime resident of Bigasan Street in Palanan, Makati, Saguisag is best remembered as a dedicated public servant and his advocacy for justice remains significant to this day. He was one of 12 senators who voted against the extension of the US military bases treaty in 1991.

Sen. Robinhood Padilla also extended his “deepest sympathies to the family and loved ones of Ka Rene Saguisag,” who he considered a mentor not only in law but in life.

“Ka Rene is not only smart, he was ‘very smart.’ If he wrote an opinion, you need to read it carefully and repeat it to make sure you understand his writing correctly. Thank you very much for the wisdom you shared with us. We will never forget you,” he said.

Senate President Pro-Tempore Loren Legarda said “more than a lawmaker, Senator Rene served as a voice of the voiceless, fearlessly speaking up in a time when people were afraid to and defending them with all his might at risk of his own life.

“I also admire him for continually standing up for human rights up until his final breath – wanting to make every Filipino viewed the same under the 1987 Constitution.”

In a post on X, former senator Leila de Lima said the Liberal Party mourned the passing of Saguisag.

“As a lawyer, he was among those who stood up against abuses during martial law. As a member of the Liberal Party, he raised the bar for those in public service, not only through the laws he authored but also through his personal fulfillment of his sworn duty. As a writer, he used his deep understanding of the law and long experience to criticize what he saw as wrong in government, including the wanton erasure and alteration of our history,” De Lima said.

Former Senate president Vicente Sotto III also paid tribute, describing Saguisag as a humble public servant and true advocate of justice.

“He used his legal background to provide free legal services to the masses (and that included me then) and also authored legislation that helped shape our nation,” he said.

Saguisag worked as a checker, laborer, construction site guard and messenger from 1959 to 1962. From 1962 to 1972 he became a student researcher, then an associate and eventually part-time in Ledesma, Guytingco, Velasco and Saguisag law office. He became a member of the San Beda College of Law faculty (assistant dean 1971-1972) from 1961 to 1972. From 1972 to 1986 he practiced law and was a human rights lawyer, later becoming the spokesman for candidate and president-elect Cory Aquino on Jan. 22, 1986. He also once wrote a sports column for a broadsheet newspaper.

Saguisag finished his primary at Makati Elementary School in 1951, then his secondary course at Rizal High School in 1955. He obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1959 with honors and Bachelor of Laws in 1963 cum laude both at San Beda College. He acquired his master of laws as full scholar at Harvard University in 1968.

The Makabayan bloc at the House of Representatives mourned the death of Saguisag, “a staunch advocate for human rights and democracy in the Philippines.”

In a statement, party-list representatives France Castro of ACT Teachers, Raoul Manuel of Kabataan and Arlene Brosas of Gabriela expressed their condolences to Saguisag’s family.

“Saguisag’s unwavering commitment to upholding justice and defending the rights of the Filipino people has left an indelible mark on our nation’s history,” they said.

Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) is also mourning the passing of the former senator, who the militant fisherfolk group lauded for championing the rights of ordinary Filipinos.

“We lost a brave patriot in the midst of the rampant violations of our sovereign and territorial rights by several foreign powers, including China and the United States,” Pamalakaya chairman Fernando Hicap said in a statement yesterday.

Labor group Federation of Free Workers (FFW) considered Saguisag a champion of human rights and advocate of the labor community.

“His departure marks the loss of a monumental figure in Philippine society and labor history, but his enduring legacy will continue to inspire generations,” the FFW said in a statement. – Sheila Crisostomo, Emmanuel Tupas, Mayen Jaymalin

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