Senate of the Philippines

Former senator Rene Saguisag dies at 84

Isagani de Castro Jr.

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

Former senator Rene Saguisag dies at 84

PUBLIC SERVANT. Former Senator Rene Saguisag attends a UAAP game with his son Rebo and daughter-in-law Jackie at the Mall of Asia Arena in November 2023.

Rebo Saguisag Facebook

(5th UPDATE) Saguisag's family says Rene's spirit 'will continue to inspire us to strive for a more just world'

MANILA, Philippines – Former senator Rene Saguisag has died, his son, University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) executive director and lawyer Rebo Saguisag, posted on his Facebook account on Wednesday, April 24.

“It is with profound sadness that we announce the passing of our dear Papa and Lolo,” the post from the family of Rene Saguisag reads.

“As we mourn his loss, we take solace in the enduring impact of his legacy. Rene Saguisag was a dedicated public servant, and his tireless endeavors as a human rights advocate, senator and writer stand as a testament to his unwavering commitment to justice, truth, and democracy,” the family added.

Saguisag, a human rights lawyer, served as presidential spokesperson of Cory Aquino prior to running in the 1987 senatorial elections. He was one of the prominent lawyers of the Movement of Attorneys from Brotherhood, Integrity and Nationalism or MABINI, which provided free legal aid to human rights victims.

Even though he would likely have been reelected in 1992, he chose to serve for only one term.  

Saguisag was one of 12 senators who voted against the proposed Philippines-US military bases treaty in 1991, which ended permanent American military presence in the Philippines. 

“For him expertise in law was a means to serve the poor and disenfranchised, and he provided free legal aid to those in need. We are grateful that, in his final months, he was able to spend time with relatives, friends, and countless supporters. He passed away knowing that he was much loved and respected,” the Saguisag family said. 

Although they were both graduates of San Beda College of Law, Saguisag was critical of former President Rodrigo Duterte. 

“I think he has to go back and reexamine what we try to teach in San Beda dahil ‘yun nga, fellow Bedan ko siya (because he is my fellow Bedan). Doon tinuturo sa amin (We were taught there) – lo cortes no quita lo valiente; courtesy does not detract from valor,” Saguisag told reporters in June 2017, a year after the foul-mouthed leader was swept into office, after showing support for then-detained Senator Leila de Lima in a hearing. 

Saguisag was particularly critical of Duterte’s drug war. 

“If you’re going to ask me about the plusses, maybe give me another year because the human rights violations – it’s terrible. The way he’s conducting his private population reduction program is unacceptable to the human rights community,” Saguisag said in a mix of Filipino and English.

One of the last public engagements of Saguisag was when he was honored by the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation as one of 13 Haligi ng Bantayog or Pillars of the Bantayog, on April 9, Araw ng Kagitingan. 

Even ‘pakwans’ can be ‘heroes’: Martyrs and heroes as defined by Bantayog foundation

Even ‘pakwans’ can be ‘heroes’: Martyrs and heroes as defined by Bantayog foundation

Saguisag served as Bantayog foundation trustee from 1998 to 2000. The nonprofit honors martyrs and heroes who fought the Marcos dictatorship. 

In November 2023, he attended a UAAP game in a wheelchair in the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City, with some netizens calling him a “true patriot.”

Saguisag defended many political detainees in his long career as a lawyer. He was also a prolific columnist, often sharing wise opinion on various current affairs and sports developments. 

He and his wife, Dulce, and two others were seriously injured when a truck rammed their van on November 7, 2007 in Makati City. His wife died on the way to the hospital, and he was only told about his wife’s passing days later.

“We request that our family be granted a few moments of privacy as we grieve. We will soon announce details of the service honoring his life, and we look forward to the opportunity to gather and pay tribute to a life lived with integrity and purpose. Papa/Lolo has passed on, but his spirit will continue to inspire us to strive for a more just world,” the family said.

Senate honors Saguisag

The Senate flew its flag at half-mast on Wednesday to mourn the passing of Saguisag. 

In a statement, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said Saguisag was a “man of true honor, dignity, and integrity.” 

“He may have just served one term in the Senate, but his entire life was devoted to pursuing justice and fairness for every Filipino, particularly through such initiatives as the Free Legal Assistance Group,” Zubiri said. 

He cited two of the important laws Saguisag co-authored, namely the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees or RA 6713 and the Ombudsman Act of 1989 or RA 6770.

Saguisag was chairman of the Senate Ethics and Privileges committee as well as the Ad Hoc Committee on the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant. 

“Sen. Saguisag leaves behind a legacy of service and excellence that continues to be a benchmark for many young lawyers and public servants,” he said. 

Senate Deputy Minority Leader Risa Hontiveros paid tribute to Saguisag and cited instances when he continued to be a staunch defender of human rights even after he left politics, such as when he stood alongside those who opposed the extension of martial law in Mindanao in 2017.

“He was steadfast in defending our democratic values and protecting the rights of all citizens. His passing represents a very sad  loss to our country, as we bid farewell to a true champion of human rights,” Hontiveros said.

“While we mourn the loss of such a great leader, we must also honor his life and dedication to public service. He will always be remembered as one of the ‘Magnificent 12’ whose bold choice to terminate foreign military bases reshaped our history and affirmed our sovereignty. Even in his absence, his legacy will continue to live on,” she added.

Senator Loren Legarda said Saguisag “served as a voice of the voiceless, fearlessly speaking up in a time when people were afraid to and defending them with all his might at risk of his own life.”

“I also admire him for continually standing up for human rights up until his final breath – wanting to make every Filipino is viewed the same under the 1987 Constitution,” she said. 

“In his lone Senate term, he made sure that there would be accountability of public officials and civil servants, and was one of those who vehemently opposed the stay of the US military bases in the country.”

‘Magnificent until the end’

Human rights lawyers Chel Diokno said that “the country has lost a remarkable, kind and patriotic man with the death of Saguisag.

“His legacy as a senator and human rights advocate will forever remain etched in the hearts and minds of Filipinos,” Diokno said.

The Concerned Lawyers for Civil Liberties (CLCL) mourned the death of Saguisag, describing him as “an indefatigable, incorruptible, and principled Filipino” who represented “a generation of activist-lawyers who fought during the most dangerous and most destructive era in our recent history  – and surviving and continuing to chase away the darkness thereafter.”

Saguisag was among the convenors of CLCL which was established in 2006 to help combat the spate of extrajudicial killings during the Gloria Arroyo administration. He was also a founding convenor of the Manananggol Laban sa Extra-judicial Killings which was formed at the height of the killings and abuses under Rodrigo Duterte.

CLCL said that Saguisag also joined their petition against the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 “despite limitations of health and age.”

“Through the years, Sen. Rene with his signature wit and humor was a core of movements for free and impactful legal aid, for the rule of law, against disinformation and revisionism, and against all assaults on human rights,” CLCL said.

Obsta principiis. Resist the first encroachment. Sen. Saguisag showed us how to recognize the insidious approach of anything dangerous or evil, and more importantly, how to slay it. He led by example, and there is no other way to honor his enduring legacy but to continue his work for the poor and the disenfranchised inside and outside the courtroom,” the group added. –

#TalkThursday with Rene Saguisag: PH-US military deal unconstitutional?

#TalkThursday with Rene Saguisag: PH-US military deal unconstitutional?

1 comment

Sort by
  1. ET

    I appreciate former Senator Rene Saguisag’s work upholding our country’s laws. Rest in peace.

Summarize this article with AI

How does this make you feel?

Download the Rappler App!
Avatar photo


Isagani de Castro Jr.

Before he joined Rappler as senior desk editor, Isagani de Castro Jr. was longest-serving editor in chief of ABS-CBN News online. He had reported for the investigative magazine Newsbreak, Asahi Shimbun Manila, and Business Day. He has written chapters for books on politics, international relations, and civil society.