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Romeo T. Capulong: human rights lawyer extraordinaire, beloved champion of the masses

Posted on 17 September 2012 by admin

Press statement

Reference: Dr. Carol Araullo, Chairperson

We deeply mourn the passing away of our beloved people’s lawyer and champion, Attorney Romeo T. Capulong. He was a human rights defender extraordinaire, described by admirers as having the “rare combination of brilliance and skill, fearlessness, and an unwavering commitment to serve the poor and downtrodden”. Indeed, a person like Ka Romy comes only once in a generation.

While we are saddened by his demise, we are nonetheless grateful for having the chance to work with him; for being guided in countless times by his sharp insights not only on the legal issues, but more importantly, on the political aspects of the many cases and campaigns that Bayan had faced and handled.

The long list of high-profile cases he had handled speaks volume about the character and caliber of the man, and by themselves are indisputable testament to the legacy of Ka Romy as a people’s lawyer, human rights defender, a Filipino patriot and champion of the masses. One of the last cases he handled was the Morong 43 that forced the military to release the detained health workers.  But before that, he was also the counsel of thousands of Martial Law victims who filed a landmark case against the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos.

He also lawyered for Prof. Jose Ma. Sison, Satur Ocampo, the late Ka Bel Crispin Beltran, murdered labor leader Rolando Olalia and numerous other victims of state terrorism and repression from Martial Law up to the time he fell ill. He handled controversial cases that underscored the sorry state of the nation like those of OFW Flor Contemplacion, AFP General-turned-NPA Raymundo Jarque, the Payatas dumpsite tragedy, Hacienda Luisita, and union struggles in PLDT, Meralco and countless banks, among others. He led efforts questioning the constitutionality of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and handled consumer issues as well like privatization and water and power rate hikes.  And this is just a partial list.

Meanwhile, as counsel for the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in its peace negotiations with the Philippine government, Ka Romy’s “sharp legal expertise, unwavering standpoint for the fundamental interests of the Filipino people and outstanding negotiating skills” are credited for the forging of landmark agreements between the NDFP and the government. Furthermore, his vast experience as a human rights lawyer earned him an appointment as a member of the United Nations (UN) International Criminal Tribunal. He was also a member of the 1970 Constitutional Convention before he was arrested when Marcos imposed Martial Law.

Ka Romy was regarded as a lawyer’s lawyer, highly respected by his peers in the legal profession – both allies and adversaries. He was a master of the justice system in this country even if his attitude and approach to practicing under such a reactionary body of laws and judicial processes was nothing short of radical, if not heretical. Still, he had one of the highest batting averages in terms of winning cases, including the seemingly unwinnable ones.

Many bear witness to the fine qualities and sound approach to his work that are keys to his success as a lawyer, in both the conventional sense of winning legal battles, and in the unconventional sense of gaining the moral and political high ground for continuing struggles and eventual victories. Even when the cases do not prosper in the courts, Ka Romy made sure that in the bar of public opinion and in terms of the struggle to uphold human rights, freedom, democracy and social justice, panalo pa rin.

Ka Romy had developed an unusually keen political sense honed through years of rich practice as a trial lawyer and as an outstanding progressive political leader. He had a vast network of friends, allies, colleagues and supporters domestically and internationally, from which he was able to draw the most useful information and assistance. He was a stickler for a careful and methodical mustering and documentation of the facts and circumstances; of an assiduous study of the applicable laws; and of a very deliberate and all-sided analysis of the political and other relevant factors impinging on each and every case.

But what really set him apart was his unshakable faith in the masses. He used to always remind young activist-lawyers and even experienced mass leaders about the importance of listening to and then organizing the aggrieved, the victims of human rights violations, to fight for themselves and help win their own legal and political battles. Time and again he had pointed out that without the people’s movement, there can be no people’s lawyers; that the people’s movement is the secret weapon, if not equalizer, in an existing justice system biased for the exploiter, the oppressor, the unconscionably rich and the ruthlessly powerful.

Our dear Ka Romy will be missed but his legacy will forever live in our continuing and unwavering struggle to serve the people and end oppression and injustice. ###

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