How can one summarize the life of a man who has done so much for the people?
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – One needs to spend hours reading about the achievements of Romeo T. Capulong, the people’s lawyer who passed away Sept. 16 after battling a rare bone marrow disease. He was 77.
Over the week, hundreds of his clients and colleagues flocked to his wake, honoring their RTC, Romy Cap or Romy.
For the past four decades, he handled numerous high-profile cases, defending human rights victims, political prisoners, peasants, workers, indigenous peoples, victims of sexual violence, teachers, migrants and immigrants.
In the courtroom and in street protests, he was known to be relentless against oppressors. To his family, colleagues, clients and comrades, Romy was gentle and loving.
Younger generations of lawyers who had the opportunity to work with Romy expressed gratitude for teaching them what people’s lawyering means.
“We learned that human rights lawyering is never that simple but difficult, complicated,” Rachel Pastores of the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) said. “It entails changing, improving, overhauling one’s core values and traits.”
Pastores said that every year, during their assessment at PILC, which Romy founded in 1989, Romy would ask them the traits of a people’s lawyer. “He told us we must not only have the commitment but also the competence to defend our clients and creativity to apply legal and political tactics,” Pastores said.
The woman lawyer said Romy taught them to analyze correctly and in every case they handled, they would discuss the “legal, judicial and political terrain.” “He would always tell us that our principal consideration is the people’s interest,” Pastores said.
Edre Olalia, secretary general of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), described Romy as meticulous and very thorough. “He would consume tons of yellow pad, always editing, reformulating, revising,” Olalia said. Romy never used the computer.
Romy also had sharp memory, Olalia said, one that was “down to the last detail.”
Rolando Rico Olalia, son of slain labor leader Rolando Olalia, described Romy as a human lie detector. When a witness to the murder of the late labor leader came forward, Romy interviewed him for four months. “He concluded that the witness was telling the truth,” Rico Olalia said and it led to the filing of a case against the perpetrators. Sadly, however, the case remains unresolved to this day, with hearings still going on at a local court in Tanay, Rizal.
Rommel Quizon said that Romy invented the marathon.
Quizon described the six years he spent with the PILC as a young lawyer as a “typhoon.” “Everything was fast. We had many sleepless nights,” Quizon said. “When we thought we were just practicing how to jog, RTC was preparing us for a marathon.”
“We were fighting the big names in government and the military,” Quizon said. “Looking back, I would never be able to sign the petitions we filed if RTC’s signature was not there.”
Despite the old man’s stature, it was humbling to work with him. “He had respect for the younger lawyers and never introduced us as associates or assistants but as colleagues,” Olalia said.
Olalia said that Romy was very particular about the process of decision-making. “He valued consultations and struggle of ideas but he would always respect the consensus,” Olalia said.
Romy knew how to accept criticisms and never found any difficulty in criticizing himself, Olalia said. While Romy was generous in praising others, he also did not hesitate to criticize others for a reason.
Although Romy was a hard worker, he was like a father to his colleagues.
“I was broken-hearted then when I entered PILC,” Pastores confessed. “He told me, ‘Rachel, you should treat your problem as an opportunity to bring out the best in you.’”
Quizon said Romy invented the Fear Factor. “He would treat us to all sorts of delicacies such as adobong dagang bukid, adobong salagubang,” Quizon said.
They learned to eat goat and sheep, cooked as papaitan, sinigang and other dish.
Rolando Rico Olalia said Romy was an animal lover, treating the animals well and giving them names.
With fondness, he named his German Shepherd Mao and his carabao, Kalakihan. The carabao is taken for a walk every morning.
One time, Rolando Rico Olalia recalled, Romy gave them fresh milk straight from Kalakihan. “It felt awkward because the source of the milk was staring at you straight in the face.”
Romy’s daughter Pia said his father would always talk about his colleagues at the PILC. “He loved you all. He loved you not as lawyers or friends but more like his children,” Pia said during one of the tributes.
Romy had a good sense of humor, Olalia said.
Dr. Carol Pagaduan-Araullo, chairwoman of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), said that even in a painful, exhausting physical state, Romy never lost his humor.
When Dr. Araullo visited him at the hospital, Romy’s doctor (who is also Araullo’s doctor) said that she is proud of her patients who are newsmakers. “I told Romy that unlike him, I am a good patient. He told me, smiling, ‘Abogado na, Sigma Rho pa.”
“He was very human, very ordinary and at the same time, inexplicably ordinary,” Araullo said.
Pia said her father was a loving grandparent to her two sons, aged ten and four.
He was especially close to Sean, the eldest. Sean is a varsity basketball player at San Beda and Romy would take time to watch him play.
“Every time he got good grades, Papa would reward him – shoes and basketball gear,” Pia related.
When Pia’s family stayed with Romy, Pia said, grandfather and grandson would talk for hours every morning during weekends at their favorite spot, a small terrace.
“My son told me his Lolo talked about his childhood. He told my son that his father, my lolo, a poor farmer, taught him valuable lessons in life,” Pia said.
Romy was so thoughtful. “He scolded me whenever one of my children was sick and I did not bring them at once to the doctor,” Pia said, smiling.
“If I would not be able to call him every day, he would resent it,” Pia said.
During his final days, Pia said, he told his father, “Papa, I love you” and his father always replied tenderly, “I love you.”
Hero of the people
Araullo said Capulong wanted to live longer, not for himself but for the people and for his family.
“One time, he told his son, ‘I know I am already at the departure area but I will fight with all my might not to be given the boarding pass.’ Up to the last minute, he was thinking about his clients and wanted to spend quality time with his family,” Araullo said.
Olalia said Capulong seemed to be tireless. “He said that to struggle is like riding a bicycle. If you become static or if you stop moving, you will definitely fall,” Olalia said.
Rey Claro Casambre, executive director of Philippine Peace Center (PILC) said Romy fulfilled his tasks without any sense of self-aggrandizement.
“For the past ten years, we had been persuading him to agree to publishing a book about his life; he did not want it. He said, ‘I do not want any book about me. If you want, you can write about people’s lawyering, about the principles, the lessons,’” Casambre quoted Romy as saying, while his voice was breaking.
In a previous video interview with Kodao Productions, Romy said: “We, the outgoing generation, must not expect to see victory [of the people’s struggle]. It is enough that we have given our share with all that we could for the advancement of the cause.”
In their dedication, Romy’s most popular client, Jose Maria Sison and his wife Julie, said: “We salute your greatness, for taking more than your share of burden in defending and advancing the people’s revolutionary cause.”