By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
STA. MARIA, Bulacan – It has been 40 days since the demise of one of Central Luzon’s beloved people’s lawyers, Emil Bermas.
“You are a hero in my heart, in your children’s hearts, and to the rest of the Filipino people,” Caridad, Bermas’ wife, said during the tribute.
Bermas suffered a heart attack last March 27 while he and his wife were travelling in Bicol. He was 66.
In a tarpaulin posted at his wake, his loved ones described him as a people’s lawyer and a revolutionary hero who served the country.
“My heart is full of joy. My husband is blessed to have so many friends,” Caridad said.
Caridad said she was always supportive of the path chosen by Bermas. But at times, she advised her husband to take things slow.
“Daddy, maybe you should stop for a while. Bullets, not money, will come for you,” she once told her husband. To this, the lawyer replied, “Do not worry, Mommy. If I die, you will see that I have so many friends who love me.”
Caridad, teary-eyed, said Bermas was able to prove it during the tribute.
“I really wanted everyone to see our house. He was a lawyer for 40 years but look at our house,” she said, pointing at their wooden home, “My family did not steal.”
“I will live even with just a peso in my pocket. And it will be the same when I die. But I am a millionaire with the friends I have,” the late lawyer would always tell his family.
His fellow lawyers from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers also paid tribute to Bermas, whom they described as a jolly person and who would always vividly narrate his experiences, as if it were only yesterday.
For instance, NUPL secretary general Edre Olalia shared during the tribute that Bermas once narrated in a recent gathering of lawyers that his dog was poisoned and that he was threatened with a gun poked at his mouth. Olalia said they were surprised that such ordeals were not reported to NUPL – only to find out that these happened during the martial law days.
“He is noisier than the judge,” Olalia jested of his late colleague, adding that one should never share a secret with Bermas unless it was meant to be of public knowledge.
In a statement, Olalia said that apart from the “fond memories too many to mention,” Bermas “tirelessly helped the downtrodden and many a political prisoner from Northern to Central Luzon to Bicol even before most of us were born or even before many learned what people’s lawyering is.”
Human rights lawyer
His clients, who are mostly detained peace consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and activists, also paid tribute to the late human rights lawyer.
“He always brings with him his old attaché case. It does not only contain documents. It is also packed with his lunch,” detained NDFP peace consultant Hilario Guio said in a message read during the tribute.
Bermas served as Guio’s lawyer twice – first, when he was arrested in 1989 along with nine others from Nueva Ecija, and when he was again arrested in 2014. The first time he stood as Guio’s lawyer, Bermas worked with Supreme Court Justice Marvic Leonen, who was then just a young lawyer. Bermas, along with a battery of human rights lawyers from the region, successfully got Guio and his companions acquitted in 1990.
In a joint statement, detained political prisoners in the Special Intensive Care Area in the Camp Bagong Diwa said Bermas would never be forgotten by those whom he helped.
“This justice system does not provide a fair playing field to the ‘small people.’ This is the reason we are thankful that we had Atty. Emil on our side,” Fr. Rolly de Leon of the Alyansa ng Mamamayan para sa Pantaong Karapatan said during the tribute.
A guerilla fighter
Bermas, known for being loquacious, seemed to have missed sharing an important moment in his life and left his colleagues surprised during his tribute when they learned he was once a guerilla fighter of the New People’s Army.
“He was very tough when it comes to our enemy, but has a soft heart for the masses,” a message of a former comrade from the NPA read.
He was a student activist at the Manuel L. Quezon University before he went underground. But after martial law was lifted, those who are not considered as “mainit” were advised to return to their families. He was one of the six fighters who left for the city. Unfortunately, one of the six fell victim to extrajudicial killing while another was disappeared.
Fresh from the days of being a guerilla fighter, Bermas studied law. He balanced his studies with his then growing family. Ed Sabiosa, his former neighbor, shared Bermas’ perseverance to finish his studies. At times, they look after Bermas’ children when the late lawyer has classes.
David Musni of United Farmer-Gitnang Luson admitted that with the passing of Bermas, “napilayan kaming magsasaka.”
“From the highest form of struggle, he went down to use his knowledge and profession to help. I hope many others would follow his lead and stand with farmers,” Musni said.
Sr. Cecil Ruiz of Karapatan-Central Luzon told Bulatlat that Bermas was deeply dedicated to defend those whose rights have been trampled upon. The human rights group said most, if not all, of the cases that the late lawyer handled were all dismissed.
“He is very good in court, especially when it is his turn to cross-examine the other party’s witness. He knows the questions to ask to paint the witness into a corner,” Sr. Ruiz added.
Bermas lived in Bulacan but had a law office in Metro Manila. At the time of his death, he was handling cases in Bicol and Central Luzon, as far as Aurora province, San Jose City and Cabanatuan City in Nueva Ecija, Zambales and in Muntinlupa City in Metro Manila.
His dedication has made him earn the ire of state security forces, including now retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan. Sr. Ruiz said he was under intense surveillance and was among those listed in the notorious military hit list called, “Order of Battle.” Plain-clothed soldiers posted outside his house to track Bermas and anyone who came to see him.
Sr. Ruiz said the late lawyer would be missed not just by his family – but the Filipino people whom he has chosen to serve until his last breath.