Already well into his 80s, the silver-haired grandfather needed to use a cane, but he was more than willing to join the protest rally against the Marcos dictatorship. He had only one condition:
“Ayaw ko na tatakbo tayo pag dumating ang pulis,” he told the organizers who had come to see him. “We will stand our ground!” Lorenzo M. Tañada chose to fight very big battles, and he never ran away.
In his younger days, he was much admired for his fight against top government officials whom he accused of graft and corruption. Then he went on to defy big-money politics in his 24 years as an independent senator, serving only the people and not the interests of any major political bloc. The struggle against the Marcos dictatorship was the one that called on his entire being as a Filipino, a nationalist, a lawyer, a politician.
When martial law was declared, Tañada was vacationing abroad – only months earlier, he had retired from public office, saying that younger people should also have a chance to serve – but he chose to return to the Philippines and fight what he declared was an illegal act, a usurpation of power by Marcos.
He represented political prisoners being tried before military tribunals (foremost among them Benigno Aquino Jr.), counselled and defended the rights of the many who were being detained, gave comfort to their families, encouraged everyone to resist the dictatorship, gave speeches, signed petitions, endured tear gas and water cannons as he walked the streets at the forefront of the many mass protests that erupted after Aquino was assassinated.
Because he identified so completely with the people’s movement, the one occasion when he got arrested and detained for one week was a high point of his involvement. He leaned out of the police van that was carrying him away, raised a clenched fist, and shouted, “Laban! Laban! Laban!” (Laban, or People’s Power Party, was the name of the political party he organized in 1978 to campaign for Aquino.)
But Tañada – by this time fondly known by all as Ka Tanny – was also deeply aware that without the support of the US government, the Marcos dictatorship would not have happened nor be able to continue oppressing the Filipino people. He campaigned against the continued presence of American military facilities in the Philippines through the Anti-Bases Coalition which he headed. He was also adamantly opposed to the Bataan nuclear power plant, with its destructive event on the environment, potential for harm to the people, and linkage to corrupt dealings by Marcos and his cronies.
The Marcos dictatorship fell in 1986, Marcos died in exile in 1989. In September 1991 the Senate voted to reject the Philippines-US military bases treaty. Before he passed away in 1992 at the age of 93, Ka Tanny witnessed both historic events in which he played a key role. His son Wigberto (Bobby) observed:
“(He) outlived the dictatorship and the dictator and saw the last American soldier leave Philippine soil. In many ways, his life exemplified how the impossible could be made possible through determination, strength of conviction and love of country.”
PARENTS Vicente Lopez Tañada and Anastacia Martinez
SPOUSE / CHILDREN Expedita Z. Ebarle / 9
EDUCATION University of the Philippines, Harvard University (USA), University of Santo Tomas