Former Filipino senator and human rights attorney Rene Saguisag dead at 84

 April 24, 2024

A prominent former politician and human rights attorney in the Philippines, Rene Saguisag, has passed away, GMA News reported.

The news of Saguisag's death was revealed in a statement from his family that was shared on Facebook by his son, attorney Rebo Saguisag, though no cause of death was revealed.

Family in mourning

"It is with profound sadness that we announce the passing of our dear Papa and Lolo," the statement from the grieving family said. "As we mourn his loss, we take solace in the enduring impact of his legacy."

"Rene Saguisag was a dedicated public servant, and his tireless endeavors as a human rights advocate, senator, and writer stand as a testament to his unwavering commitment to justice, truth, and democracy," the family stated. "For him, expertise in the law was a means to serve the poor and disenfranchised, and he provided free legal aid to those in need."

"We are grateful that, in his final months, he was able to spend time with relatives, friends, and countless supporters. He passed away knowing that he was much loved and respected," the statement continued.

The family asked for privacy during their time of mourning and promised that details would eventually be forthcoming about a "service honoring his life, and we look forward to the opportunity to gather and pay tribute to a life lived with integrity and purpose." The statement concluded, "Papa/Lolo has passed on, but his spirit will continue to inspire us to strive for a more just world."

Human rights attorney and senator

According to his profile with the Philippines' Senate, Saguisag was born in 1939 in Quezon, earned a bachelor's degree with honors in 1959 and a law degree in 1963 from San Beda College, and then topped that with a master's in law from Harvard University in 1968. He was married to Dulce Maramba Quintanas and left behind four children with her.

He worked a variety of entry-level jobs before becoming a student researcher and then a lawyer in the 1960s, followed by a stint as a law school faculty member and dean in the early 1970s, after which he was a practicing attorney and human rights advocate through the mid-1980s, when he was elected to the Senate and also served as a spokesman for the Filipino president-elect, Cory Aquino.

During his single term in the Senate, Saguisag served as chair of the ethics committee and an ad hoc committee that governed the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant.

Condolences and praise

The Philippine Star reported that Saguisag, 84, was heralded as a "freedom fighter" and human rights advocate who gained national fame as an outspoken opponent during a period of martial law.

Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri ordered the flag lowered to half-staff at the Senate building in Saguisag's honor and said he joined the nation "in mourning the passing of Saguisag, a man of true honor, dignity, and integrity. He may have just served one term in the Senate, but his entire life was devoted to pursuing justice and fairness for every Filipino, particularly through such initiatives as the Free Legal Assistance Group."

"While leaving an indelible mark as a true statesman, he also emulated and lived out the principle that those who have less in life should have more in law by giving free legal services to the poor and needy," he added. "Sen. Saguisag leaves behind a legacy of service and excellence that continues to be a benchmark for many young lawyers and public servants."

Several other current and former senators who were acquainted or served with Saguisag also issued statements of condolences for the loss and praise for his accomplishments and brave stance in defense of human rights during periods of oppression.

Former senator and Liberal Party leader Leila de Lima said of Saguisag, "As a lawyer, he was among those who stood up against abuses during martial law. As a member of the Liberal Party, he raised the bar for those in public service, not only through the laws he authored but also through his personal fulfillment of his sworn duty. As a writer, he used his deep understanding of the law and long experience to criticize what he saw as wrong in government, including the wanton erasure and alteration of our history."

" A free people [claim] their rights, as derived from the laws of nature."
Thomas Jefferson
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