Rodolfo Lagoc was the youngest and the only son among the four children of Leoncio Lagoc, a native of Pasuquin, Ilocos Norte and Aurora Gedang of Guimbal, Iloilo. He was born and raised in Manila, where the family resided in a modest house along Isaac Peral St. in Paco. On top of the residence was a sign: LANALR Battery Shop−his father's, which was on the ground floor. LANALR stood for the first letters of the family members’ names: Leoncio, Aurora, then the children's: Nelly, Asuncion, Linda and Rodolfo.
Rodolfo obtained his Bachelor of Laws degree from the Adamson University in 1959. He took and passed the bar exams the following year.
Not long after, he got married to a distant relative on his mother's side, Julia Carreon, whom he used to fetch most afternoons after her classes at UP Diliman. Soon, the couple was blessed with four children - Rose, Roderick, Randy and Raileen.
Atty. Lagoc worked as a labor arbiter at the National Labor Relations Commission for Region 6, based in Iloilo.
Familiarly called “Rudy,” his friendliness and generosity are traits well-known to friends, neighbors, relatives and colleagues. He was a very caring family man, his wife adds. He spoke Ilonggo very well. A wide reader, his favorite book was the iconic story about the poor and oppressed, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. “To him,” writes his wife Julia, “all of humanity are members of the great family of humankind, regardless of race, creed, color or nationality.”
History of political involvement
As protest against the government of then Pres. Ferdinand Marcos escalated nationwide in the late 1960's, Iloilo City experienced a similar surge of activism. Rallies, street demonstrations, labor strikes, boycott of classes, as well as various cultural presentations with political themes happened with increasing regularity in the provinces of Panay and Negros.
Atty. Lagoc’s wife belonged to a prominent political clan in Oton. But he became close to a nephew, Edmund Legislador (Bantayog martyr), a student activist who was a member of the Samahang Demokratikong Kabataan (SDK). He was soon drawn into Legislador’s circle of activists-friends. Already well-aware of the plight of workers and other poor clients from his daily encounters with them, he started to join discussion groups proffered by student activists and professionals. Oftentimes he was the only lawyer, the oldest, even, in the group, but he listened well and with a soft voice discussed keenly with the students. Fatima Alvarez Castillo, a colleague, writes: “I think the main topic of discussion then was the socio-political crisis in our nation at that time, the rising student unrest and the reports of arrests in Manila. It was one of my first DGs in Iloilo. But I cannot forget that I was very much impressed with the clarity of his views, the power of his analysis about the government being duty bound to respect the law and how Marcos was using the law against the law’s intent and logic. Even a high school student could have easily seen the basic but powerful reasoning, and the moral justness of it.”
Soon, he was one of the progressive lawyers often called to defend arrested activists - student demonstrators, striking workers and farmers.
In 1970, a constitutional convention was called to change the 1935 Philippine Constitution. Atty. Lagoc decided to run as a delegate to the ConCon. Although he did not have the financial means to run a campaign, he wanted to use this opportunity to talk to the people about the prevailing political and social issues. Of particular concern to the opposition then was that Marcos might use this constitutional convention to lay the legal foundations to extend his presidential ambitions, which was then limited to two terms of four years each. He lost his bid but those who were with him during sorties remember his strong leadership, patience, determination and hard work in reaching out to people from all walks of life.
Atty. Lagoc was instrumental in organizing among the professionals in Western Visayas to join the legal national democratic struggle. Even before martial law was proclaimed, he helped form a group, the Makabayang Samahan ng Propesyunal or Masang Prop, which drew in as members lawyers, teachers, engineers, businessmen, government personnel and other interested professionals. Masang Prop advocated for a nationalist education and industrialization, human rights and the economic empowerment of the working class. As chair of Masang Prop, he was unfazed as he spoke before crowds, in rallies and demonstrations, even in radio programs, in criticism of the inequities of the Marcos’ government’s policies and warned of an impending dictatorship. Many of Masang Prop’s members would later form the core of a strong opposition to the dictatorship in the Visayas.
As a labor arbiter, he contributed articles in a local newspaper, Kasanag, that shed light on many laws and legal issues that confront many who have no access to legal education or find difficulty in understanding legal parlance.
History of detention
On September 25, 1972, Atty. Lagoc was working in his office when he was “invited” by the military for a “few” questions. The invitation lasted for six months of detention in Camp Delgado and two months of provincial arrest. No charges were filed against him.
In an article which came out in The FilAm, a magazine for Filipino Americans in New York, his wife Julia wrote about how this was such a trying time for the family. The children were very young then and could not understand why their father had to be imprisoned. Further, Atty. Lagoc’s mother got very sick during this period, but his detention was kept a secret from his aged parents in Manila. Upon petition, permission to visit her was granted on the condition that he was to be accompanied by a PC escort. The family had to come up with the plane fare of the escort as well, but Atty. Lagoc was by his mother’s side when she died.
Upon his release, Atty. Lagoc went on with his work as labor arbiter at the NLRC. He remained a staunch critic of the Marcos dictatorship and a strong advocate for human rights. He joined the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) that was founded by Sen. Jose W. Diokno in 1974 to provide counsel to the many victims of political repression at the time.
Despite the risks to their own security, he and his family supported the anti-martial law resistance. He was not wealthy but his house was a sanctuary for activists needing a place to meet, to rest, to sleep.
In the early 80’s, along with five other lawyers, he found the Iloilo Legal Assistance Center (ILAC) which provided free legal services to many activists in court trials. Farmers and other poor litigants also sought their help.
As the dictatorship lay dying in 1986, he was appointed Director of the NLRC for Region VI. He retired in 2000.
Circumstances of death and impact on family and community
In the early 1990s, there was a move for victims of human rights abuse under martial law to file for claims under a class suit. Atty. Lagoc never filed for compensation because he felt strongly that the case should have been tried right here in the country where the crimes were committed, and not in Hawaii, or any other foreign country for that matter.
Not one to sit around, he also became a consultant of the National Union of People’s Lawyers - (NUPL) Iloilo chapter which in 2011 defended the indigenous people of Panay, the Tumandoks, whose ancestral lands were being threatened by the entry of commercial mining, dam construction and other projects.
He and his wife would also spend time to visit children and grandchildren in the United States. He was in Oakland, California, when he passed on February 7, 2012, of complications from heart failure and diabetes. His remains were brought home to Iloilo in July of the same year.
Known and respected as a “Peoples’ Lawyer’” the municipal government of Oton honored him with funeral ceremonies. Government officials and many of his colleagues and former comrades in the anti-dictatorship struggle came and spoke in his honor. Many can still remember his ringing challenge to them years ago, that if one loves ones’ country, then one has to defend it too, without counting the cost.
Fellow activists attest that Atty. Lagoc indeed was not stingy when it came to serving the cause of democracy and freedom.The narrative of the nation’s struggle against the Marcos dictatorship will not be complete without recognition of his contribution. Those who were with him during those turbulent years submit these testimonials in his honor:
“In the history of the first quarter storm activism in Western Visayas, RG Lagoc contributed directly or indirectly, consciously or unconsciously to the education and development of cadres who led the national democratic struggle in Western Visayas. He also made an important contribution in giving free legal assistance to those who were in need, using their house as sanctuary of comrades coming from faraway places, and supporting labor cause in his NLRC mediation work. In the chronicle of national democratic struggle in western Visayas, the name Rodolfo G. Lagoc will always be in the heart of every cadre who participated in the liberation of the masses as one of the “leading mentors of the struggle”!”
- Excerpt from the testimony of Eduardo Carilimdiliman, co-member of MakabayangSamahan ng Propesyunal Organization in the 70’s
“A bayani does not necessarily have to die during the martial law years because exploitation, injustice, perpetuation and abuse of power did not end with the lifting of martial law. More forms of these are perpetuated in a society under a ruling class. Atty. Rodolfo Lagoc, for his dedication to serving the underprivileged sectors of society during his lifetime deserves to be recognized as such. His determination to make the professional sector be politically aware and resist some forms of oppression urged to make it sustainable by putting up an organization which answered this need. Doing this at a time when the perpetrators of a dictatorship will do all means to destroy any form of opposition, he went on with the task, thus risking his work, his family and even his freedom. Atty. Rodolfo Lagoc deserves to be in the list of the Bantayog ng mgaBayani.”
- Excerpt from the testimony of Rosario Asong, PhD, professor, University of the Philippines- Visayas, co-member of MakabayangSamahan ng Propesyunal Organization in the 70’s
“…He must be recognized as one of the nation’s heroes. A hero is not being honored only for what he actually did but also for what his deeds and life symbolize; how much it can inspire; for the significance of these across generations and centuries.
Atty. Lagoc epitomizes, by his deeds, words and writings a Filipino who was steadfast in his principles; whose vision of good and bad was so clear there was no difficulty choosing for what and for whom he will offer his talents, intellect, time and knowledge. This is not common; the more common is for brilliant lawyers to choose career (with its economic and social perks) for isn’t the measurement of legal success one’s material possessions?
Atty. Lagoc chose doing what every Filipino ought to have done for their country - when it was difficult, dangerous and unpopular: take the side of righteousness.”
- Fatima Alvarez Castillo, co-member of MakabayangSamahan ng Propesyunal Organization in the 70’s