Good Governance
Review of "A Sense of Nationhood: The Bobby Tañada Reader"

Renowned journalist, Ms Marites Vitug delivers her review on the book, "A Sense of Nationhood: The Bobby Tañada Reader"
A Sense of Nationhood: The Bobby Tañada Reader
A Sense of Nationhood: The Bobby Tañada Reader © FNF Philippines

Good morning to everyone.

Reading this book reminds us that the problems of years ago remain to this day. It’s as if time has stood still. The country froze.

This tells us that Bobby Tañada devoted his years in politics and as a human rights lawyer, to enduring causes, to issues that strike at the roots of our problems.

Bobby Tañada marched on the streets against the Marcos dictatorship and became a legislator, both in the Senate and the House of Representatives, when democracy returned. Bobby tried his best to follow in his father’s “giant footsteps,” as he writes in the preface of his book.

And he himself has made his own mark. We wish we could have more leaders with conviction especially now as the disgusting speakership battle at the House unfolds. But that’s an aside.

The book puts together his privilege speeches in the 2 houses of Congress as well as those he delivered in various events after he left politics, from 1988 to 2005.  While these speeches were delivered many years ago, the themes reverberate to this day.

These are:

  •       The struggle for national sovereignty.
  •       The primacy of human rights.
  •       The imperative of a just peace.
  •       The quest for social justice.
  •       An economic paradigm that puts the country’s interests above all else.

This book brings back memories. It is always helpful to look back to prepare us for the future, armed with lessons from the past.

Let me focus on human rights because it is in this area where we’re racing to the bottom today, where impunity rules. Extrajudicial killings are rampant and President Duterte protects law enforcers who break the law, who only know the language of violence. These are as close to state-sanctioned killings as they can get.

Let me quote from the book: “The human rights issues during the Marcos era included the abduction and murder of persons suspected of being part of the underground movement…”

Isn’t this the same thing happening today? Red tagging and killing of activists are happening under Duterte.

Senator Tañada also wrote: “Repression during the dictatorship saddened me a lot and this worsened because whatever Marcos said was law. But I was encouraged by the people’s resistance to that repression.”

I can imagine the former senator returning to this state of sadness because the similarities between Marcos and Duterte are eerie. But the question is: Are we seeing encouraging signs of popular resistance to Duterte? That’s for another book.

A Sense of Nationhood: The Bobby Tañada Reader
A Sense of Nationhood: The Bobby Tañada Reader © FNF Philippines

Senator Tañada also took on the issue of death penalty. He wrote: “I voted against the death penalty bill. I cited several reasons for this: the death penalty works mainly against the poor who are usually deprived of the services of competent lawyers; the penalty can be used as an instrument of political repression; and the penalty denigrates the value of human life.”

Duterte wants the death penalty back. The younger anti-death penalty advocates can find some help from this book.

And there’s a quote from the book that rings to this day: “We must continue to pursue reforms in the country’s criminal justice system; [fight for] an upright and decisive political leadership; a clean and effective police force; an efficient and impartial justice system; and a graft-free and competent penal system.”

This task ahead is addressed to the young to whom Senator Tañada dedicates his book and I quote:

It is now your generation that is at the helm to bring our country to a better place.

May you learn from the lessons of our past as you move forward in these very challenging and complicated times.

Indeed, in these perilous times, when the flame of democracy is buffeted by strong winds of authoritarian rule, the book reminds us of what we stand to lose: adherence to human rights, sovereign rights, and liberal values. A Sense of Nationhood powerfully speaks to the present while bringing us back to the recent past when Bobby Tañada eloquently advocated and fought for these causes.

Thank you for listening.

Marites Dañguilan Vitug is an author and editor-at-large of Rappler.

Marites Vitug on A Sense of Nationhood: The Bobby Tañada Reader