I took this photo on December 30, 2003, the day Senator Roco filed his certificate of candidacy for President, and also my wife's last day as a reporter for ANC.
The last line of the San Beda College alma mater song goes "Bedans will answer the clarion's call, for San Beda, our country and God." I thought that it was a cliche, but we sang that hymn every school day in high school. And each time we did, my schoolmates and I got a little more committed to its meaning. Raul S. Roco wrote that line, and the rest of the lyrics of the Bedan hymn in his youth. And somehow, in his death, we can say his place in history is secured, his life highlighted by the lyrics he wrote for his fellow Bedans.
He was an English major. He claimed he wanted to be a poet, but because of the urgings of his dad, he turned to law. And poetry's loss was law's gain. Of the many laws he authored as a congressman and senator, one of the most important is the Securities Regulation Code. The law was passed as a reaction to the BW Scam. It demutualized the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE), removed the broker's monopoly of the PSE, and transplanted key concepts of American securities law to the Philippines, such as tender offer, independent directors, and the code of corporate governance. What is amazing is that then Senator Roco was successful in getting this key legislation passed while being an opposition senator. And President Estrada, who is blamed for the BW scam, even affixed his signature on it.
During the impeachment trial of President Estrada, Senator Roco was the sage voice among the senator-judges. When Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago questioned Jasmin Banal, a young lawyer witness, for moving from a high paying law firm to a low paying law firm, and insinuated that the move was unbelievable, Senator Roco rose to save the lady and the rest of the legal profession from embarassment. He asked Jasmin Banal what was written in the marble etching at the Malcolm Hall of the UP College of Law, where Jasmin Banal and Miriam Defensor Santiago studied. Roco guided Jasmin as they quoted Oliver Wendell Holmes. "The business of a law school is not simply to teach law or make lawyers but to teach law in the grand manner and to make great lawyers." And it served as a reminder to all lawyers that the business of lawyering is not simply to practice law (and make a lot money) but to practice law in a grand manner and to become great lawyers.
His work as Education Secretary is likewise remarkable. He was the only Education Secretary who successfully implemented the scheme of paying teachers' salaries through automated teller machines (atms). For years, syndicates resisted the scheme, because they made money on teachers who had to encash their pay checks from banks. Capitalizing on the teachers' needs for money, the syndicates discounted their checks at usurious rates. And teachers had to live day by day on their low salaries that get even lower when discounted with loan sharks. The atm machine removed the syndicates from the equation as teachers got their salaries in full through the atm. The scheme also eliminated the teachers who existed only in the payroll and saved the department a lot of money for other things. In one forum, a teacher complained that she was too old to go to an atm machine. Roco's undersecretary Ernie Pangan quickly remarked, if you are too old to go to an atm machine, you are too old to teach.
For two years, I had the opportunity of negotiating corporate acquisition deals with his law firm. He hovered in the backgound, but his associates' work bore his marks; they were meticulous, competent, persevering, and ethical. His law firm and its work is also one other lasting legacy he would leave the legal profession and the nation.
Roco never became President of this Republic. But even then, he became a great lawyer, congressman, senator, and education secretary. True to his word, he answered the clarion's call, and he did it in the grand manner. He made us all proud we are Filipinos. May he rest in peace.