From the Eyes of a Friend

From the Eyes of a Friend
Extract from an Introduction
by Atty. Rhoneil Fajardo
before the Banker’s Institute of the Philippines

21 February 2006

I first met Alex 15 years ago. We were both freshmen at the UP College of Law and I was then being invited to join the Alpha Phi Beta fraternity, which he had joined 3 years earlier. He was a little older than me and carried himself with a quiet dignity. Even then, he had struck me as a decent and idealistic young man, one that anyone would be proud to call Brod.

While at law school, our speaker was a working student and would often rush from Congress to catch his evening classes. Still, he managed to engage in extra-curricular activities and in 1992, we both were members of the UP Debate Team which became champions after winning the Debate Tournament sponsored by the Association of Law Students in the Philippines, defeating the Ateneo Law School in the finals.

In that same year, he was elected Lord Chancellor of the Fraternity, and I again had the honor to work with him as his Vice Chancellor. Leadership, however, has its price and, because of rumbles involving the frat, which, of course, we did not start, we were both suspended by UP.

There were of course, other, more pleasant events during law school. It was during this time that he met the love of his life. Brods were amazed at his audacity. How can a young man of humble origins from Kabankalan, Negros Occidental, even dream of pursuing Pia who is, not only the proverbial beauty and brains, but also comes from a prominent family. To many, it seemed an impossible dream. But not to Alex. Soon after he took the bar exams, they wed. Nine months later, my godchild, Jose Teodoro Peña Lacson, the first of their 3 children, was born.

So by 1996, Alex was a new lawyer and a young father. Soon enough, the contrast between the nobility of the legal profession and the harsh, if not ugly, realities of the legal practice, confronted him.

Though he has a growing family to feed, he kept to his principles to the point that when he had his own law firm, he asked paying clients to look for another lawyer if what they really wanted was a fixer.

He kept true to the reasons why he became a lawyer and handled cases for the poor and disenfranchised, such as the victims of toxic waste contamination in the former US bases in Clark and Subic. He was also legal counsel for the United Nations Development Program and a columnist at BusinessWorld, where he shared his advocacies.

Our speaker has many causes, but he has a particularly soft heart for the people of his birthplace. In 2001, soon after EDSA II, frustrated at how his province mates remained impoverished, he decided to take his crusade a step further and ran under the People’s Power Coalition, against the incumbent Congressman of the 6th district of Negros Occidental.

Our guest speaker fought valiantly and won by a landslide in the city proper and another town. Unfortunately, however, patronage politics was still deeply entrenched in other parts of his district and the lack of poll watchers proved detrimental. But while he didn’t get enough votes to win as congressman, he was able to offer to a substantial number of his constituents a viable alternative, a hope and vision of how different things could be.

By now, many of you must be familiar with the rest of his story: how his family had seriously discussed about migrating; why they chose to stay; and how our guest speaker decided to write a book on the little things that every Filipino could do to help the country.

Last December 15, just moments before our speaker saved the day for Mr. Max Soliven, he was at my office at Deutsche Bank to visit and to give me a copy of his book. After some kamustahan, he asked if I can help him and join a movement which promotes good citizenship among Filipinos around the country. He spoke with much passion, that in the end, all I can say was “just tell me what I need to do”.

And now I have a confession to make. Many would reluctantly agree to introduce a guest speaker because it is such a daunting task. But I confess that I volunteered to do the part today.

And it is because I wanted to ensure that our guest speaker was not simply introduced by way of enumeration of his achievements, and ending with him being a bestselling author.

There is a history to all this. This is about a brilliant young man who struggled through life fighting for what he believes in; this is about a lawyer who discovered himself and what he is not willing to do to win a case; this is about a father who has big dreams for his family and for our country but not at the expense of his principles; this is about a Filipino who found his voice and a message to share.

Related Articles:
A Filipino of Faith, by Max Soliven
A Heart of Gold, by Marsha Ledesma
World Vision & My Family, by Maureen Miclat