Last night, we paid tribute to a fine young man who has gone to the West: Atty. Kissack Batong Gabaen. He was known for his staunch defense of human rights especially of indigenous peoples. People came from as far as Palawan to express admiration for this great man. Yes, he had personal flaws, but no one can question his track record as an activist and his dedication to stand up for the marginalized and oppressed and to fight for justice.
In his lifetime, I was blessed to have him as a brother, friend, and comrade all rolled into one. We handled human rights cases together. We participated in the human rights education of communities together. He counted me as one of his mentors. During our two last speaking engagements as a team, one in the Benguet State University and another before a community in Ifugao, he publicly acknowledged me as his mentor. On both occasions, I thanked him for the honorable attribution which I found humbling. But actually, I am now his mentee. His life of service to the people is worth drawing inspiration from.
The last time we saw him conscious was on June 28. I told him jokingly, "Kissack, NUPL-National has a meeting today and I committed to be there (This was true.). But today, something was telling me this might be my last time to see you like this so I chose to be with you and asked Edre Olalia to excuse me." (As an aside, I also sent a message to Grace Saguinsin explaining my non-attendance. I told Grace my inner fear: That Kissack might give up the ghost). He laughed and said, "Aye, I will outlive you."
The next time I saw him on June 30, he was comatose in the ICU. I told him, "Wake up. Today, the man you vigorously campaigned for took his oath as President. Change is coming. Let us help Duterte. Wake up and pay your dues to your children. Watch them grow up. Wake up. There is still a lot we need to do." His partner, Shen, exclaimed weeping, "Look, his tears are rolling." I really hope he heard me.
I am physically alive. Kissack is now a cold, hard body which will be cremated at 9:30 AM tomorrow. But he is a memory, too. He is a beautiful, powerful memory that will indeed outlive me. The things we do for the weak and oppressed in the name of justice, the things we do for humanity will stay in the memory of the present and the future---bigger than us, more than us. They will inspire people, they will inspire movements. Today. Tomorrow. They will change the world.
Today, we say our final goodbyes to him.
Au revoir, Atty. Kissack Gabaen, President, National Union of Peoples Lawyers-Baguio. Long shall you live.