Oddly enough there’s a tenuous cultural connection between the long ago days of the Philippine anti-Marcos underground and Auschwitz. Back in the day I went to see Jose Diokno about getting someone in trouble with the regime off the hook. Martial law was still in force and Diokno’s willingness to meet with a nobody from the shadows under doubtful circumstances says a lot about his willingness to run risk for the cause, especially since he himself had just been released from two years in prison.
I should explain to my readers and anyone born in the last 30 years, that former Philippine Senator Jose Wright Diokno was in 1975 locally regarded as the equivalent of Clarence Darrow and Nelson Mandela rolled into one. Diokno listened courteously to my quixotic appeal but told me, through clouds of tobacco smoke, which he inhaled from a cigarette clenched in nicotine-yellowed fingers, that taking the case I proposed would be fatal to the interests of the expectant clients.
“Anyone I represent will be found guilty,” he declared with finality. “There are some things one just has to tough out.” But perhaps sensing that he could not send me away totally empty handed, he opened his drawer and took out something.
“But I can give you this,” he said. ”I found it a great comfort in prison, as did many others.” He handed me a paperback edition of Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning” a 1946 book based on his experiences as an Auschwitz concentration camp inmate during World War II.” For those who haven’t read it, it is basically a manual for building an inner fortress of liberty in a situation where your body is in bondage.
It talks about meaning, love and survival, nothing that would interest a twenty something year old fool. I had hoped for more than words. In fact, I had hoped for magic. The reputation of Jose Wright Diokno as a larger than life character had been built up in my mind, not simply by his public reputation — which everybody knew — but by a private conversation I had with a gentleman who had been his classmate from grade school onwards. They had an academic rivalry from childhood, a short version of which he related.