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Rm. N-411, House of Representatives, Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines
+63 2 931 5497, +63 2 931 5001 local 7370

(Speech of Rep. Edcel C. Lagman at the UPAA Mayon Chapter Reunion Honoring Rep. Edcel C. Lagman and Christmas Party at the Concourse Hall, Legazpi City on 29th December 2022)

Thank you so much for the tribute. It is akin to a masteral dissertation in pictorial presentation. It made me young again and much fulfilled. I truly appreciate also this Certificate of Recognition, coming as it does, on the heels of my selection as the “Most Distinguished Alumnus of the University of the Philippines for 2022”.

I shall treasure this Certificate of Recognition as a diploma bestowed by no less than the Albayanos of UP.

Receiving this Certificate makes me feel like I am graduating again, culminating almost six (6) decades successively serving as a legal officer in Malacañang under Executive Secretary Rafael Salas, as a legal assistant in the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Fred Ruiz Castro, as Chief Legal Counsel of the Senate Committee on Justice under Sen. Salvador “Doy” Laurel, as a law practitioner for many years including the dark age of Martial Law particularly for oppressed workers and marginalized unions, and almost three (3) decades now as a legislator.

I was informed by the UP Alumni Association that to its recollection, I am the first Bicolano who has been awarded as the Most Distinguished UP Alumnus. I earnestly hope more Bicolanos will follow suit.

Special thanks goes to Dr. Arnulfo Mascariñas, President of the Bicol University, who nominated me for the Most Distinguished Alumnus Award. It goes without saying that there will be no outstanding awardee without a credible nominator.

I humbly share this recognition with all of you, fellow UP alumni, the guardians of truth, the exemplars of excellence, the sentinels of freedom and the courageous warriors of reasonable dissent.

UP education has taught us the freedom to conform, but more importantly the right to dissent.

I have been known in the Congress as a daring fiscalizer during the few times I was with the administration, and as a steadfast and indomitable critic of the majority most of the time when I was, and still am, with the authentic opposition.

While in a democracy the majority rules, the majority could nevertheless falter. There is truism in the statement of the French political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville who stressed that “the majority makes the laws and may break them as well”. It is because of this eventuality that the minority must exist and flourish.

It is my political credo that the minority can prevail and triumph. And it does!

Except for the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL) which was passed during the Cory administration and the abolition of the death penalty which was legislated under the Gloria Arroyo administration, of which two laws I mainly authored when I was with the majority as a fiscalizer, all of the other landmark laws which I principally authored were enacted when I was with the opposition, namely:  

First, the triumvirate of human rights statutes consisting of (a) RA 9745 or the Anti-Torture Act, penalizing torture as a separate offense; (b) RA No. 10353 or the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012 which is the first of its kind in Asia and hailed as a model statute by Latin American countries; and (c) RA No. 10368 the “Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act” memorializing the sufferings and heroism of Martial Law victims and granting them or their families compensation.

Next, RA 10354 or the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law which is health-based, human rights-anchored and human development-centered statute. It helps assure that every child is born by choice, not by chance. It guarantees that no woman shall die giving life. It addresses the population problem as an indispensable component of the agenda for sustainable human development.

Finally, among others, RA No. 11596 which criminalizes early child marriage so that girls will be given the opportunity to enjoy their childhood rather than be burdened by premature motherhood which perpetuates poverty across generations.

Now, as virtually a one-man opposition army, I am spearheading the enactment of the (1) Human Rights Defenders Act; (2) prevention of adolescent pregnancy; and (3) the reinstitution of absolute divorce.

The emergence of human rights defenders (HRDs) is both an indictment and an aftermath of the failure and neglect of the government to fully protect, promote, and fulfill human rights. HRDs are surrogate defenders due to government’s default in its primary obligation as the official protector of human rights.

The tragic plight of Filipino HRDs as a result of the relentless persecution against them by the government shamefully aggravates the State’s culpable non-compliance with the constitutional mandate that the “State values the dignity of every human person and guarantees full respect for human rights.”

Hence, the critical urgency of enacting a law protecting human rights defenders.

Adolescent mothers should be relics of the past when early childbearing was the norm. But child mothers are still ubiquitous in the modern setting, not only in underdeveloped and developing countries but also in developed nations.

The United Nations Population Fund in 2020 reported that the “Philippines has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates among the ASEAN member states.” It documented that “more that 500 Filipino adolescent girls are getting pregnant and giving birth everyday” or in excess of 182,500 births annually. Thus, the urgency of enacting a law to prevent adolescent pregnancy, which ranks as the highest cause of maternal deaths, as well as to provide social protection to adolescent mothers and their children.

The following constitute the essence and import of the bill on absolute divorce:

  1. Since absolute divorce is not a foreign or new concept to Filipinos, the title is reinstituting absolute divorce. The pre-Spanish Filipinos practiced divorce which was available to both spouses. There was limited absolute divorce during the American era and the grounds for divorce were expanded during the Japanese occupation.

  2. All countries worldwide have their statutes on absolute divorce in varying degrees of liberality, including all of the Catholic countries except the Vatican City State which has a population of only about 800 residents, mostly priests and nuns. The Philippines is now the only country which has not legalized absolute divorce. Considering that divorce is worldwide, there can be no blunder in unanimity for its global legalization.

  3. Absolute divorce is not for everybody. The overwhelming majority of Filipino married couples have happy and enduring relationships. They do not need a divorce law.

  4. Absolute divorce is urgently necessary in exceptional cases for couples in inordinately toxic and irreparably dysfunctional marriages, particularly the wives who are abused or abandoned.

  5. The State has the responsibility of rescuing couples and their children from a house on fire.

  6. Studies in progressive countries show that children of divorced parents are more resilient, more loving, and independent as they are liberated from daily exposure to the bickerings of their parents.

  7. Under the proposed law, a divorce petition will undergo a judicial process where proof of the cause for the divorce is established and that the marriage has completely collapsed without any possibility of reconciliation.

  8. Quickie, notarial, email and other speedy drive-thru divorces are prohibited.

  9. The State continues to recognize marriage as a social institution and the foundation of the family. For this purpose, the State conducts prenuptial and post nuptial seminars; there is a cooling off period of six (6) months after the filing of the divorce petition wherein the judge shall exert earnest efforts to reconcile the parties; the public prosecutor is mandated to conduct an investigation to assure that there is no collusion between the parties; and at any time during the proceedings, if the parties agree to reconcile, the petition is dismissed; or even after the issuance of an absolute divorce decree, when the parties decide to reconcile, the divorce degree shall be nullified.

  10. There are harsh penalties for those who collude to secure a divorce decree or of one spouse coercing the other to file for divorce. The penalties consist of an indivisible punishment of five years imprisonment and a fine of P200,000.00.

  11. In a divorce proceeding, no marriage is destroyed because the union in fact has long perished. According to the Supreme Court in Te vs. Te, the dissolution of a marriage is a decent interment of a long-dead marriage.

  12. An absolute divorce law is constitutional. There was unanimity in the Constitutional Commission of 1987 where the Commissioners led by Fr. Joaquin Bermas, said that the Congress has the power to enact a divorce law.

  13. Divorce is not against the Catholic faith. Even the bible cites instances when Jesus Christ allowed divorces. All Catholic countries, except the Philippines, have legalized divorce. Even the Catholic hierarchy has its own matrimonial tribunal which dissolves marriages similar to a divorce. 

  14. Divorce is an option. An aggrieved party can seek in the proper cases annulment of marriage, legal separation or dissolution of marriage based on psychological incapacity under the Family Code, all of which are expensive and lengthy unlike in a divorce proceeding which it is mandated to be inexpensive, affordable and expeditious. Incidentally, in legal separation the judicially separated spouses cannot remarry unlike in a divorce decree. In annulment and dissolution of marriage based on psychological incapacity, the causes must exist before or contemporaneous with the celebration of the marriage, while in reality the overwhelming grounds for divorce occur after the marriage and during cohabitation.

If all of these bills are enacted in the 19th Congress, I will be ready to retire from the House of Representatives, but not from politics where there is no retirement.

I would like to make a soft disclosure, but hold your breaths and cross your fingers because it is not yet certain. I talked with incoming UP President Jijil Jimenez about establishing an Albay UP Campus, possibly in Tabaco City, or at least having a UP institutional presence in Albay. His message to us is it is possible. You and I will make it possible. 

The year 2022 has been very fruitful for my family. The three of us, Krisel, Grex and I won our electoral bids; Grex is now Governor of Albay, an incidental but legitimate and fitting beneficiary of a case of which he is not a party; I have been elected President of the Liberal Party of the Philippines, one of the oldest political parties in the country with iconic legacies; I received the prestigious award as the 2022 Most Distinguished UP Alumnus. We also share all of these blessings with you.

The year should be completed and capped with the strengthening of the UPAA Mayon Chapter.

The Mayon Chapter of the UPAA can undertake the following activities:

  1. Recruitment of active and dues-paying members;

  2. Sponsoring fora  on important   local and national issues, cultural presentations, art exhibits, and debate, oratorical and literary contests;

  3. Publication of a roll of members, which should be regularly updated;

  4. Conducting review classes for those who want to take the UP College Admission Test (UPCAT). This will assure a greater percentages of passers for Albay students;

  5. Holding youth leadership trainings and capacity-building seminars; and

  6. Registration with the Securities and Exchange Commission of the Constitution and By-Laws of the UPAA Mayon Chapter so that it could have a legal personality to receive donations and disburse funds, among other corporate powers.

I am donating P100,000.00 as seed money to fund your initial activities as soon as our Alumni Association is SEC-Registered.

Warmest greetings of love, peace and joy this Yuletide season and beyond.

Dios mabalos tabi sa indo gabos.