Indefatigable Sr. Mariani (A Tribute to Sr. Mariani Dimaranan)
Volume 20 Number 1
Wednesday, 30 September 2009 17:23

by Maria Socorro I. Diokno
Secretary General
Free Legal Assistance Group
Quezon City, Philippines

22 December 2005

No obstacle, no fear, stopped Sr. Mariani from doing what was right and just, not for herself, but for the people she loved the most-the poor, the defenseless, the vulnerable-the political prisoners.  Sr. Mariani, herself a political prisoner, recognized that political detention symbolized the ugliness of martial law.  To know Sr. Mariani, to honor her, is to remember martial law.  For Sr. Mariani represented everything that martial law was not.

Martial law used the power that flowed from the barrel of the gun.  Sr. Mariani courageously used the power of truth.

Under martial law, one man ruled the nation; he exercised all executive, legislative and judicial powers; he banned all organizations. But Sr. Mariani recognized that genuine strength and power come from people working together, so she sought like-minded people, and organized.  She found lawyers in remote places of the country, and encouraged them to work against human rights abuse.  The growth in the membership of FLAG is largely due to Sr. Mariani’s efforts.  Many FLAG lawyers were-and still are-TFD lawyers.  

Under Sr. Mariani’s leadership, TFD flourished.  Many other organizations were born of-or with the active support of-Sr. Mariani.  Sr. Mariani saw her role not so much to solve the many problems of political prisoners, but more importantly, to arouse and heighten the consciousness of political prisoners and their families, the military, professionals, and the people to come together and oppose martial law.

Under martial law, tens of thousands were arrested upon one man’s whim; many of those arrested were brutally tortured; many of them never charged.  Sr. Mariani championed the cause of political detention.  She exposed the wretched conditions of detention, the widespread and systematic use of torture on political prisoners, and the rampant violations of their basic rights.  She made sure that all cases of injustice and abuse were fully documented with as much care and thoroughness as possible.  

On two occasions Amnesty International visited the Philippines.  The first fact-finding mission in 1976 was rather dangerous.  Despite the danger, Sr. Mariani  helped organize that mission; she helped arrange many clandestine interviews and meetings.  Towards the end of that mission, the AI delegation’s hotel rooms were ransacked; so the delegation quickly terminated their mission for fear for their own lives and safety.  This danger did not prevent Sr. Mariani from organizing a second AI mission in 1981.

Under martial law, all mass media were controlled and free speech and peaceful assembly were forbidden.  But Sr. Mariani challenged the forbidden.  She not only attended-but also spoke-at the first mass action against martial law-the via cruces in Intramuros in an afternoon in April 1975.  Sr. Mariani spoke against political detention, forcefully, angrily, righteously.  Shortly after her talk, the mass action was violently dispersed by policemen wielding truncheons.  Rallyists ran towards the Manila Cathedral, but the parish priest shut the doors.   

Following this first mass action, Sr. Mariani continued to organize, attend and speak at numerous mass public prayers and mass actions throughout the fourteen years of martial law, and beyond.

Sr. Mariani learned a crucial lesson about martial law-power based on fear is weakest when it appears strongest.  Fear had no power over Sr. Mariani because she conquered fear.  Sr. Mariani taught many of us to conquer our own fears, and do what we must.

We met Sr. Mariani more than 30 years ago, through Sr. Helen Graham.  In mid December 1974, Sr. Helen brought Sr. Mariani to our house at Magallanes Village; that’s how she and dad met.  Sr. Mariani came to see dad to ask him to render legal services to 21 political prisoners who were arrested, severely tortured and detained at Camp Olivas, Tarlac.  Sr. Mariani brought us our very first FLAG case.

From this first case grew a special, much treasured, relationship between my dad and Sr. Mariani, between Sr. Mariani and my family, between Sr. Mariani’s TFD and FLAG.  A relationship based on respect, trust and admiration; a relationship sometimes shaken-but never broken.

Many a twilight afternoon, Sr. Mariani would visit with dad and mom, share information, discuss cases, bring new cases, analyze the situation, plot and plan steps to take.  She would tease dad a lot about his Tagalog; in fact she actually tutored him.  When there were unjustifiable moves to oust Sr. Mariani from TFD, Sr. Mariani would unburden her pain and anger.  She never once asked for my parents’ help, but they gave it willingly, because Sr. Mariani inspired their respect and friendship.

It has been said: “Not everyone slept through the darkness of the night.”  Sr. Mariani did not sleep through the darkness of the night.  Sr. Mariani was the star that illuminated our common-yet unfulfilled dream-of a dawn of a better, more just, more human, more humane, free Filipino society.  Sr. Mariani was truly the valiant and indefatigable woman of cloth who fought the dictatorship.

Quezon City, Philippines, 22 December 2005.

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