(This is an excerpt of Boying Pimentel's essay on the unveiling of Pepe Diokno's monument last September 21, 2017 at the Commission on Human Rights. Read his full column at the Philippine Daily Inquirer.)
Yes, Ka Pepe is returning to the CHR, the institution now under siege from a government reviled worldwide for its brazen abuse of human rights. The timing of the statue is perfect. For now is the time to honor and remember a tireless, fearless fighter for freedom and human decency.
“I hope that this monument to him will inspire us to speak up to protect not just our rights, but the rights of all Filipinos – regardless of where we come from, how much or how little money we have, how we worship, and what we believe in,” Maia Diokno said.
Many young Filipinos probably don’t know much about or have never heard of Ka Pepe. The 1983 BBC documentary “To Sing Our Own Song” is an excellent introduction to his life of courage, to his strong commitment to human rights and justice.
You can easily watch it now on YouTube or on the Diokno Foundation website. During our time, we had to watch it on Betamax machines, usually during secret house meetings.
It was a dangerous time. Marcos was at the height of his power. And yet Ka Pepe agreed to be the narrator of a film that dared expose the brutality of the dictatorship.
If you want a quick introduction to the courage of Pepe Diokno, jump to the 4:00 mark of this video clip from “To Sing Our Own Song.”
This is the end of the documentary. In his closing remarks, Ka Pepe looks at the camera as he denounces the repression and injustice under Marcos.
“How can such a government stay in power?” he asks. “Because powerful nations principally the United States support it. And they support it because of my country’s strategic location and the profits that their multinationals make here….
“It looks impossible for my people and people of the Third World to get out of this trap. But we will,” Ka Pepe declares. “It would be a lot easier if you of the First World were to give us your sympathy and your understanding and prevail upon your governments to stop supporting repressive governments like the one in my country.”
The next part is the most memorable part of the film for me. I still like to watch it over and over again, feeling the power of Ka Pepe’s words.
“But whether your governments do or not, I know my people, I know other Third World people. I’ve worked with them I’ve lived among them.
“Whatever your governments do, whatever our own elites and our own rulers do, and even if we have to wade through blood and fire, we will be free, we will develop. We will build our own societies. We will sing our own songs.”
(The statue of Ka Pepe was unveiled on September 21, the 45th anniversary of the start of the Marcos dictatorship. The sculpture by artist Julie Lluch shows a defiant Ka Pepe appearing to march forward, with a raised right fist.)