In memory of Luis General Jr., a century hence

(Editor’s Remarks at the book launching of LUIS GENERAL, JR. (1921-2021): A CENTENNIAL MEMORIAL on 27 November 1971 by the University of Nueva Caceres Press)


By Soliman M. Santos, Jr., Judge, Regional Trial Court Branch 61 Naga City


President Fay Lauraya, her able UNC team, led here by VP Nora Maniquiz and which includes Law Dean Atty. Bong Rivero, my good friend Atty. Ruben General, guests, including “Mama Judge” Zeny Bragais (actually “Lola Judge” na yan), media persons present, mambers of the UNC family, other friends, ladies and gentlemen, marhay na aga saindo gabos. The word “historic” is sometimes overused and worn out. But we can use it on this occasion without any feeling of guilt. To celebrate the centennial of a great Nagueño, Luis General, Jr. – who was a truly bemedaled soldier for resisting the Japanese Occupation of the Philippines during World War II from 1941 to 1945, and who was an excellent peryodista and human rights lawyer fighting for the restoration of democracy during the dark period of martial law and the Marcos dictatorship from 1972 to 1986 – cannot but be replete with history, both recent and distant. And for this great University of Nueva Caceres, founded in 1948, to now baptize its own publishing house, the University of Nueva Caceres Press, by way of this maiden book, which is a centennial memorial to a most outstanding alumnus and former faculty member Luis General, Jr., is certainly a historical landmark in the continuing progress of UNC as an institution of higher learning worth its name. I am happy to have contributed to these two historical events, shall we say, for the greater glory of General and of UNC through this book.


In my Introduction to this book, I however apologize to General for not quite doing full justice to his full measure as a Renaissance Man of his time -- soldier, lawyer, teacher, writer, old-fashioned singer, community leader, Bikol historian and culturist, and peryodista par excellence, all rolled into one. Fay calls him “a hidden treasure of the Bicolano heritage.” We believe that the value of this treasure is not only for the region but also for the nation. Let this treasure therefore no longer be hidden in old local newspapers in some obscure corners of some libraries. Let it be known that there are people like him, promdi the province such as Naga and Bicol -- including but not limited to UNC Law graduates -- who are actually prime exemplars for the nation in terms not only of good and meaningful work done but also, more importantly, by the example of their character and how they went through life and its tests.


My own personal knowledge of him was as my law professor and as a fellow but more senior lawyer, he was my idol on both fronts and my model as a lawyer. Others like his much closer lawyer contemporary and friend, Atty. J. Antonio M. Carpio -- whose farewell sonnet to General is reprinted in lieu of the usual blurbs in the back cover of the book -- said “‘Twas as a writer, he was the best in the land.” To the local journalists covering this book launch or elsewhere, let me say General ought to be your idol and model as a peryodista in the best sense. The wide range of topics in history, Bikol culture, religion, political science, law, sports and current events that he covered in his prodigious writing of editorials, column pieces and, yes, news stories in three successive and best local newspapers Naga Times, Balalong and Handiong spanning about five decades, from the 1950s to the 1990s, would easily amount to a good number of volumes, if fuller justice would be done to this written legacy.


Instead, with the admittedly limited time that Ruben, my legal wife Doods and I had from earlier this pandemic year 2 to meet the General centennial time frame of 2021, we settled for what we believed to be the best possible sampler of his writings, even if of this more limited scope -- his acclaimed English translation of Rizal’s “Mi Ultimo Adios” and note on the translation, his Balalong series on the Bikol Martyrs (Naga’s iconic “Quince Martires’’), his Naga Times series on reforms for the 1971 Constitutional Convention, followed by a longer series on his “guerrilla” electoral campaign for Con-Con delegate, and selected Balalong editorials and column pieces on martial law and human rights lawyering, with some focus on the Daet Massacre and the subsequent arrests and detentions of Atty. Carpio and civic leader Grace Vinzons-Magana in 1981. And what better way to end this centennial memorial than with Carpio’s eulogy for his close buddy General, “Louie, the Just.”


General’s series on the Bikol Martyrs is how Philippine history should be written and presented, in an engaging manner, one that engages the readers or students to ponder critical questions, especially about missing links and explanations needed in the historical narrative. His “Way Ahead” special series on constitutional reforms shows his thinking way ahead of his time and his contemporaries. He predicted 12 years ahead the 1972 Marcos martial law dictatorship. He recognized the fundamental problem of the inequitable distribution of wealth, and to solve this espoused what he called the “Christian concept of private property” or alternatively “Christian socialism” which admits the right to private property but also propounds the social nature of property. These ideas paralleled but predated more than a year Pope Paul VI’s social teachings in his great 1967 papal encyclical Populorum Progressio (“The Development of Peoples”). General’s “Way Behind” special series on his 1970 “guerrilla” electoral campaign for Con-Con delegate can be said to be the best, or at least the most interesting, chapter in the book. If there is anything to learn and good to do from reading this chapter, it is to not be once again condemned to repeat the predominant history when it comes to elections. But even just for the interest in the life and times of General, this is the most autobiographical part of this book. It is also the part where his character and integrity best shine forth. The book’s last major chapter is on on martial law and human rights lawyering. The relatively few but representative selections here show a living history of the Marcos dictatorship that put on the record what it actually was, not a Marcosian “golden age.” This journalistic, if not also historical, record is important to help rebut the historical revisionism about martial law characteristic of the “fake news” that abounds in social media these days. Going by General’s column writing theme of “Yesterday in Today,” the book’s chapters on constitutional reforms, electoral campaigning and martial law are actually relevant to the coming May 2022 elections.


But, really, do not take it from me, take it from General. We hope this book would serve as a good introduction to “General, A Century Hence,” especially for young senior high school and college students. They have so much to learn and also to enjoy in reading through his relatively short, well-written and insightful pieces. Hopefully, these choice pieces will spark interest in learning more from General and his times. Even in this day and age of digital-online learning with enhanced audio-visual components vis-à-vis the supposedly shorter attention spans of our students, there is still no substitute for actual reading, whether of whole books or whole articles. Those who would shortcut this learning process do not know what they are missing or losing for their own personal development. Our teachers should be the first to set the right example. And if General found “the inherent intelligence… of the barrio folk… Who said you cannot discuss political science in the barrios?” in 1970, then there is more reason, more than five decades hence, to be able to teach political science, constitutional law and Philippine history to our college students through the writings of Luis General, Jr. UNC President Faye Lea Patria M. Lauraya describes the book as “representing a major interdisciplinary contribution to the Bikol historical studies.” The challenge for UNC is to develop effective teaching modules with the book as a reference for pre-reading before class discussions in appropriate subjects. Perhaps, this might be a job for Nora’s Research, Education and Linkages and Tala’s Center for Nueva Caceres Studies.


Let me end by noting, as our good librarians Ime and Dess already know, that this November is the 30th Library and Information Services Month starting in 1991 by virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 837 issued for “public awareness of the invaluable service that libraries and information centers render.” Senator Pia Cayetano recently said that “A child who has access to books, has access to life, to everything that the world can offer. We can have all kinds of learning, but everything goes back to books.” Yes and no, because UNC’s wise motto teaches us Non Scholae Sed Vitae (Not of School But of Life). But better a life of learning experiences plus books and libraries than minus that. This book being a UNC book, the first book of the new UNC Press, will likely be the book, or one of those books, with the most number of copies in the UNC Main and Law Libraries. Given the new UNC Press, Ruben says “Without doubt, this book will be followed by numerous others that would further enrich everything that are ‘not of school, but of life’.”


I have also brought with me this morning two carton boxes of old law books and legal publications for the UNC Law Library. Actually, my wife wants me to gid rid of them along with my semi-voluminous clutter of various papers at home. It does not mean that these materials are useless. It is just that perhaps many others, such as law students and even researching law practitioners, may have better use for them. But that’s one thing I like about libraries, the word “clutter” is not in their vocabulary. Libraries, particularly law libraries, need both the old and the new in terms of books, like law books. In law practice, if not in law school, one has sometimes to go back to the codal provisions of, and the legal commentaries on, old laws or rules, before their repeal or amendment, that were the ones applicable at some distant past time involved in the subject legal controversy or question. I am donating these two carton boxes of legal materials to the UNC Law Library because, unlike Ruben, I have no lawyer children -- he has four -- to pass them on to. Unlike Ruben, I do not come from a lawyer family, his General family has currently four generations of lawyers – Luis, Jr. or “Luising” was a second-generation lawyer, Ruben is a third-generation lawyer. But I beat Ruben, he is San Beda Law sana, while I am UNC Law baga. Sabi mi nganing mga UNCeans kan pag-1982 Bar Exam mi, “Fighting Pirit!” Panahon yan ni Dean Perfecto O. Palma (may he rest in peace). “Spirit” naman an spelling ka yan ngunyan na panahon ni Dean Rivero. Viva General! Viva UNC! Dios mabalos! --