REMEMBERING HAYDEE B. YORAC

Yesterday was the death anniversary of one of the most distinguished persons the Philippines ever produced: Haydee Bofill Yorac.

Shortly before her death, she was a Commissioner of the Presidential Commission on Good Government tasked to recover the Marcoses’ ill-gotten wealth. Under her watch, the PCGG had several accomplishments to justify its existence. She left that body on account of illness but the nation believed that she was pressured into resigning by an administration dancing beautiful tango with the Marcoses.

Yorac was also a COMELEC Commissioner. In 1986, when Marcos was pressuring the COMELEC to rig election results, she led a walk out. It is heartening to know that the COMELEC, after all, had its moments of glory. Now the body has gone to the most stinking gutter after the Hello, Garcinungaling scandal and COMELEC Chair Abalos' involvement in the highly anomalous ZTE deal with the Philippine government.

A human rights lawyer, Yorac was courageous and outspoken. She opposed the Marcos' dictatorship and was jailed for it. Above all, she was like Caesar’s wife: beyond reproach. In 2004, she was a recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award for government service. Accepting the award, she said: "Our values and personal convictions dictate the direction that we take and the stand that we make on moral issues that affect our work, in particular, and the country, in general. The desire to make government more effective and efficient in its mandate of good governance is of paramount importance. It is the driving force that compels many of us to accept responsibilities in government, despite the odds."

As A UP Law Professor, she was known for putting presidential daughter Imee Marcos in the latter’s rightful place: a mere student. It is said that she prevented Imee’s bodyguards from entering her class.

I am honored to have been a student of the Great One. She was my professor in Obligations and Contracts, a five unit-killer law subject. In the University of the Philippines, professors required students in civil law subjects to use commentaries by Arturo Tolentino which frizzy-haired Yorac called “the best of the bad law books.” Paras was banned. Yorac went as far as saying that anyone caught using Paras would be booted out of the classroom. Paras books started to be rejected by my mental process. I could not understand them. When I started to teach civil law subjects, I forbade my students from using Paras.

She would say, “That is a flash of brilliance!” when a particular discussion of Tolentino was superb.

In her class, we were like a cat on a hot tin roof. The Great One administered one-on-one oral examinations, with you standing in front of her for some twenty minutes. She would grill you and her facial expression or the absence of it would be no help. We feared her, until the fear metamorphosed into reverence. I was never the studious type. After all, our UP Law Professors were mostly “finalists” who based the grades on the final examination. I would burn the candle before the final examinations. Literally, too at one time when the Republic of Diliman was plunged in darkness by a super typhoon that uprooted a big tree in front of our dorm. But I read for the Great One’s subject. Every night. At times, I would read even while at work in Congress. The objective was not a high grade, it was to do the Great One’s efforts justice. It paid off: At the end of the semester I was one of the top two in her class, the other one being Tina Benipayo who would eventually graduate valedictorian.

One time, we discussed a case about a naïve young woman who was promised marriage by a much older man. Apparently, the man had been visiting the home of the girl. On the pretext of teaching the girl how to pray the rosary, he convinced her parents to let her go with him. They slept together and she got pregnant.

Eric, a philosophy instructor in Diliman, raised his hand and asked, “How did the girl get pregnant if they only slept together?” Yorac’s eyes enlarged, and then with a face that would not betray her amusement, she blurted: Mr. ___, sleeping together means not sleeping at all.” We had a good laugh. Her facial expression remained stoic. She never laughed at her own jokes. At one time, a student could not answer her question. Edgy, he just kept staring at her. As if taunting him, Yorac kept staring back. Then the unmarried Great One said after what seemed like an eternity, “Mr. ___, let’s stop staring at each other. We might fall in love.” The giggle that the class had been stifling was let loose like a powerful waterfall. I remember how the big-bodied Mel Velasco roared in laughter.

The Great One is in the Great Beyond. In these times when corruption is at its highest and vilest, when it seems to be the norm in government, we miss her terribly. We search for Haydee Yoracs. And we are disappointed that no one in the top level comes close. Most of them dirtied their hands. Most of them are following the leader of the pack.

Haydee Yorac will always be my idol. She will live long after she died.
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