Sunday, October 10, 2010

My Father's Hero

For the 175th Anniversary of the founding of the Ateneo de Manila, my father, among other alumni, was asked to write about his particular Ateneo hero. What follows is the article he submitted:

I am writing this to satisfy myself that at least I am speaking for a worthy Atenean who in my personal evaluation was a major contributor to the downfall of the Marcos dictatorship. He was an authentic hero of what we now know as the EDSA revolution.

So very few remember him now, especially Filipinos of the present generation who in a recent poll cited Ferdinand Marcos as second to Cory Aquino as the most beloved president of the Philippines. Hence it is appropriate to present Renato E. Tanada as one of the Unknown Soldiers of Philippine history, forgotten patriots who sacrificed their lives for us to live in freedom.

No one in my generation, the men and women who fought the dictatorship could question the courage, valor, dedication and love of country of Nats Tanada.

Jovito Salonga, Nap Rama, Jake Almeda Lopez, Lorenzo Tanada Jr., Ed Olaguer among the few I can remember still living, with whom he worked and fought and struggled against the dictatorship will testify to this fact.

Ninoy Aquino himself was well aware of Nats's heroism.

My memory has faded with the years but there is one episode I remember well.

Marcos was at the peak of his absolute power. He wanted to celebrate and display the peace and stability of the Philippines in the manner of North Korea. He invited the international diplomatic corps to Imelda's convention center. But the travesty was shattered by an explosion in the midst of his invited guests.

The dictator was livid with rage. Who had the gall to embarrass him? A full military alert was sounded and its vast intelligence network uncovered the master mind: Renato E. Tanada. An immediate shoot-to-kill order was issued.

Some nights later, a man with a heavy mustache, hair held down by thick pomade came to see me. It was Nats Tanada in disguise. I did not recognize him because the man in disguise was in no way like the Nats Tanada I had known for decades.

I knew, respected and admired him for his inner strength. Deeply principled, he never ran away from a just fight. But more than a committed man of action he was a brilliant lawyer with a wide ranging interest in the Humanities and Arts.

And there he was that night in my living room, looking like Charlie Chaplin with a glint in his eyes I had never seen before. It was a flicker of fear. For the first time, Nats was afraid. But as he explained he was afraid not for himself but for his eldest daughter Karen, a well known anti Marcos activist herself.

He had been told through the grapevine by an Imelda Blue Lady that he must surrender or face the consequences. "Surrender, apologize and make amends to Marcos or be captured, tortured, killed and your daughter abused in detention by the military."

Nats did not surrender. He went into hiding with Karen, constantly pursued by the dictator's men but but he eluded them until the people power victory at EDSA.

But personally for Nats, EDSA was a Pyrrhic victory. His long struggle against the dictatorship had taken its toll. Physically, he was a broken man. He died a few months later.

In hindsight I can say that most of the EDSA freedom fighters have been recognized and rewarded. Not so for Nats Tanada.

This is why I write about his heroism with the hope that perhaps, Nats's Alma Mater might honor his memory in a manner both fitting and enduring.

Or else just to say that there was a Renato Tanada, an Atenean.

Andres S. Bautista . ADMU : H.S. '48; Litt.B '54; LLB '55