Streetwise| In memoriam: Josie Lichauco (1935-2010)

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Former Department of Transportation and Communications Secretary Josefina “ Josie” Trinidad- Lichauco was a staunch ally of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) and a dear friend to many of us who had the privilege to work closely with her on many a protest action. We sat with her in innumerable meetings that preceded these actions to draw in and unite as broad an array of forces opposed to the regime of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as possible. Her sudden and untimely departure leaves a void, both personal and political.

Our relationship with Josie began in the Estrada Resign Movement that saw the likes of Josie, Nini Quezon Acancena, Sr. Christine Tan, Fr. Joe Dizon, Maan Hontiveros and Behn Cervantes taking the lead in the call for Erap to resign, be impeached or be ousted. She had resigned from the Estrada cabinet by that time.

To be frank we were a bit awed by her, knowing that she came from the ranks of “high society”, had graduated from the UP College of Law and other prestigious universities at a time when women lawyers were a rarity, and had a reputation for being a well-respected, hardworking, charming, and not to mention, handsome-looking former Cabinet official. We knew that in her university days, she was not just a campus figure because of her looks but was famed for her “beauty and brains”.

Notwithstanding such background, Josie was able to reach out and be in solidarity with the disadvantaged, exploited and oppressed among our people. Not only did she fight against corruption and abuse of authority in and out of government, she also took up the cudgels for victims of human rights violations, especially activists and ordinary people who were critical of or opposed the GMA regime. She signed petitions, joined prayer-rallies and demonstrations, visited activists unjustly imprisoned and joined campaigns to secure their freedom.

She also joined mass actions highlighting the demands of working people as on May 1, Labor Day, and March 8, International Women’s Day. She fearlessly and repeatedly ventured out of her comfort zone as she attended and spoke in rallies at Mendiola, Plaza Miranda, Liwasang Bonifacio, Roxas Boulevard and at Commonwealth Avenue for the yearly anti-State-of-the-Nation rallies that Bayan organized.

Josie never asked who were the other personalities who would be joining the protest action; it was enough that she thought it was important for her to take a stand on the issue and that there were familiar faces of fellow street parliamentarians like urban poor leader Ka Mameng Deunida, Gabriela’s Emmi de Jesus or student leader Alvin Peters.

Josie showed that she was willing and able to take the fight wherever and whenever necessary. She became a political activist not only in word but in deed, not only in meetings in air-conditioned board rooms but in hot, dusty and pedestrian venues where she brushed elbows with the “masa” and the “aktibista”.

Josie was the indispensable member of the troika of Betina Legarda and Marily Orosa who formed the core of the Concerned Citizens Movement. She and the CCM were Bayan’s key partners in the Oust GMA Movement. They were most helpful in ensuring principled unity among the disparate groups and individuals involved in this movement and in pushing protest actions that were broad, creative and caused a stir among the media and the public at large.

Starting out with forums held at the Manila Polo Club that touched on burning issues of the day, the CCM graduated to sponsoring protest actions like the march-cum-dialogue at the European Commission on the issue of human rights. They initiated or participated in countless other actions including protest motorcades that passed by military camps, holding vigils in Congress during impeachment deliberations against Mrs. Arroyo, picketing the Comelec office and facing the water cannons of police dispersal units at the Philippine International Convention Center where national canvassing for the 2007 elections was taking place.

Bayan acknowledges with gratitude Josie’s inestimable contribution to the building of the broad political alliances that spanned diverse, if not divergent, ideological and political orientations and cut across class and cultural divides. Her broadmindedness and understanding of the give-and-take dynamics necessary in such alliances helped to overcome the biases, bordering on sectarianism and sheer obstructionism, that threatened to undermine unification efforts.

Because of her social standing, her extensive reach through various professional and personal circles, her unsullied reputation as an upright government official, and her unquestionable sincerity and unassailable record in fighting for justice, human rights and good governance, she was able to help bring together those personages and forces that would not otherwise find themselves on the same side of a political cause.

We in Bayan never felt any prejudice nor apprehension on Josie’s part against the Left, neither the leaders nor individual members whom she met, worked and even became good friends with. In fact, she generously gave of her time, graciously hosted meetings at her residence, and forked out money from her own pocket to help pay for the expenses at rallies and also for the medical needs of some of the mass leaders.

Josie Lichauco was a Filipina who broke free of the confines of a privileged upbringing and the comfortable environs she had been accustomed to in order to find common ground with the rest of the oppressed and struggling Filipino people. She is someone to be both admired and emulated.

Mabuhay ka, Atty. Josie Lichauco! Di ka namin malilimutan. ###

*Delivered at CCM-sponsored memorial, “For the love of Josie”
10 March 2010, Makati City

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