Marcos Risonar, Jr.: Human rights lawyer and DAR USec passes away

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 07 June) — Agrarian Reform Undersecretary Marcos Risonar, Jr., one of three Dabawenyo human rights lawyers detained by the Marcos dictatorship in 1985-1986, passed away Tuesday night in a Manila hospital. He was 67.

Risonar, along with the late Laurente “Larry” Ilagan, and Antonio Arellano (now government peace panel member in the negotiations with the National Democratic Front) were known as the “Davao Three” who were arrested separetly between May 10 to May 13, 1985.

Marcos D. Risonar, Jr. Human rights lawyer, Agrarian Reform Undersecretary. 22 October 2017 – 06 June 2017.

The three were members of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) and the militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, Nationalist Alliance for Justice, Freedom and Democracy (NAJFD), and Concerned Lawyers’ Union of Mindanao (COLUMN).  Ilagan was Bayan-Mindanao chair, Arellano was its Secretary-General and Risonar was NAJFD Secretary-General.

The three were at the forefront of street protests and Welgang Bayan (General Strikes) while defending political prisoners and victims of human rights violations under the Marcos dictatorship.

Risonar’s eldest daughter,  January Faye told MindaNews her dad passed away Tuesday at 7:15 p.m. at the University of Sto. Tomas Hospital in Manila.

“It was all so sudden. Despite having quit smoking since 2006, he was diagnosed as suffering from fourth stage lung cancer that has metastasized throughout his body.  He fought well and hard but God had other plans and wanted another human rights lawyer in heaven,” she said.

According to Faye, his father’s remains will be brought to the Department of Agrarian Reform’s central office in Quezon City on Thursday.

“Daddy will be flown home (to Davao) on Friday morning and we are making arrangements for friends and loved ones to visit him at Cosmopolitan Funeral Homes,” Faye said.

Risonar was the third to be arrested among the “Davao Three,” allegedly on the basis of a Presidential Detention Action (PDA). Ilagan was arrested on May 10 by elements of the Philippine Constabulary-Integrated National Police (PC-INP) while having snacks at a cafe across the street from his office, on the basis, allegedly on the basis of a Mission Order signed by the Ministry of National Defense, Arellano was among 15 lawyers who rushed to Camp Catitipan where Ilagan was brought on May 11, was also arrested on the basis of an unsigned Mission Order.

On May 13, the military sent word to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines Davao City chapter, that Risonar would likewise be arrested so he went to Camp Catitipan to verify his arrest papers and was detained on the basis of a Mission Order signed by General Echavarria, Regional Unified Commander. Risonar was accompanied by then IBP Davao President Jesus Dureza, now Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process.

The three were allegedly arrested, according to the report of the regional PC-INP chief then, “not on the basis of their ‘lawyering’ but for specific acts of rebellion and economic sabotage as well as for their leadership in the CPP (Communist Party of the Philippines).”

The Marcos-controlled Supreme said the arrests were valid, dismissed the petition for being moot and academic as the lawyers were already detained. In one of the hearings, Risonar, who was narrating the effects of the arrest on their families, broke down. He would be referred to as “the crying lawyer.”

Supreme Court Court Justice Claudio Teehankee recalls that period in his dissenting opinion: “On May 13th, the third lawyer, Atty. Risonar, Jr.. having received word from the military that he was wanted, presented himself at Camp Catitipan. He was not shown even the mission order, much less a PDA or warrant of arrest. He was so shaken up by the traumatic experience of being himself wanted and arrested by the military (not having been given even a traffic violation ticket in his whole life) instead of his accustomed role of helping hapless persons who have come across their path and assisting as a member of the Human Rights Committee ‘not only political detainees, but workers, students, teachers and urban community’ that he almost broke down at the hearing and had to be asked to take firm hold of himself.”

After the Marcos dictatorship was toppled in February 1986, Risonar served as Register of Deeds in Digos, Davao del Sur for 13 years and was later appointed Provincial Assessor.

Risonar also served as Dean of the College of Law of the Cor Jesu College.

He was a member of the Davao del Sur legal team during the campaign of now President, Rodrigo Duterte.

His city, regional and national government posts notwithstanding, Risonar continued his advocacy as human rights lawyer. He was active in the Diocese of Digos and the Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao.

Risonar was appointed DAR Undersecretary when Duterte won the Presidency.

He is survived by his wife Fe Veronica, children January Faye, Kris Hana and Karl Markus, grandchildren Reme Veronika and Maryam Isa. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)