'A big trauma': What made Chel Diokno decide to become a human rights lawyer

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 08 2021 04:21 PM

Chel Diokno delivers his introductory remarks during the Harapan 2019 Senatorial Town Hall Debate at ABS-CBN on February 17, 2019. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
Chel Diokno delivers his introductory remarks during the Harapan 2019 Senatorial Town Hall Debate at ABS-CBN on February 17, 2019. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - One fateful night of staying past his bedtime nudged Jose Manuel "Chel" Diokno to become a human rights lawyer.

He had stayed up to play with the friends of his siblings who came over, he said.

Chel was 11 years old when his father, former senator Jose Wright Diokno, was arrested shortly after martial law was declared in September 1972. 

"It was a big trauma kasi never ako nakakita ng ganun karaming sundalo tapos puro mahahaba pa ang dala nilang baril. Never ko rin akalain na huhulihin nila ang father ko. Kasi ang nasa isip ko 'What did he do?'" he told actress and host Toni Gonzaga in an interview.

(It was a big trauma because I've never seen that many soldiers carrying long firearms. I never thought they would arrest my father. I thought, 'What did he do?')

"I remember falling asleep on the floor of our main door, dun mismo sa sahig kasi di ko alam kung ibabalik ba siya the next day or kung ano pa ang mangyayari."

(I remember falling asleep on the floor of our main door, because I didn't know if he will return the next day or what will happen next.)

The Diokno family tried to visit their patriarch the next day but only got a wave from him as he rode in a bus along with other prisoners, according to Chel.

"Naging desisyon ko nun, siguro mga 12 years old lang ako, I want to be a lawyer like my father," he said.

(I decided, maybe I was 12, I want to be a lawyer like my father.)

"That was a really traumatic experience for me and it led me to question everything like about justice, the system that was happening in the country and about why they had to take him away from us."

The former senator was jailed for 2 years without any charges and founded the Free Legal Assistance Group of human rights lawyers after his release. 

"As a child of a senator, medyo may blinders ka eh. But when my father was released from prison and he met a lot of people who asked him for help, dun ko narealize na grabe pala ang pagkukulang ng justice sa'tin," he said.

(As a child of a senator, you kind of have blinders. But when my father was released from prison and he met a lot of people who asked him for help, that's when I realized how much our justice system lacked.)

"Nung narelease na yung dad ko, iba na yung pumupunta sa bahay, mga naka-tsinelas na lang, mga manggagawa, mga aktibista, mga pari," he added, noting a change in his father's list of clients.

(When my father was released, the types of people who came and went to our home changed, they only wore slippers, were workers, activists and priests.)

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Chel Diokno in 2019 made a bid for the Senate and finished the race ranking 21st. He has expressed his intent to run in next year's national elections but did not specify which position he would seek.

Watch the full interview below:

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