The following article was published in the April 2022 special issue of the International Review of Contemporary Law, the journal of the IADL.
I have not known Roland as long as many of you have. As a matter of fact, I have not really known Monique long enough to do justice to her sterling life and work. Had Monique lived as long as Roland, I am sure she would have eclipsed him in so many ways. So she probably gave way to him. After all, it can be said that the gods gave a Roland for a Monique.
So, Monique, I will just humor Roland today.
I will yield to our comrades and colleagues to speak more competently and eloquently on his struggles, sacrifices and successes in the fields of peace, democracy, justice, liberation, international solidarity, collective rights, the UN and many other issues close to his heart and brain. We cannot even emulate half of Roland’s accomplishments in double our lifetimes, even if we had his dogged determination and his handy magnifying glasses to pour over tomes of documents, seeing both the fine print and the bigger picture at the same time.
Hence, I will not be pretentious and will just dwell on his images and memories that he has left in me.
I first saw Roland in Paris in the early 2000s at the iconic Bureau de Travail. Even from a distance, he was a cut above the rest: diminutive, elderly, with an inimitable gait. And he was all over the place! So by sheer intuition, I sensed that this was an extraordinary human being.
And indeed, as I got to have the honor and privilege of working, joking, eating, discussing, drinking, joking with him (not necessarily in that order), in Paris, Hanoi, Brussels, Manila, Kuala Lumpur, Lisbon, and where have you, I started to know the man as a giant of a human being.
What stands out most for me is his enormous sense of humor. To some, he may have looked, walked and even sounded funny. Yes, his jokes could be corny. Or his wisecracks only he could understand. Or that he sometimes had bad timing for the punchline. But yes, he was hilarious. And his wit was incomparable. He had every kind of anecdote for every kind of situation. Who wouldn’t, with over a century of travelling all over the globe under his belt?
And he could be childlike if not childish. That image in the Brussels hotel lobby where he just disappeared while we were having a huddle, only to find out that he was on the saddle of a foot-high toy horse in the corner. And he even posed with a grin for posterity.
And yet he walked out from a Manila restaurant when a male Bureau member suddenly appeared on stage gamely gyrating in a grass skirt with a dance troupe on what we euphemistically call “solidarity night.” He did not like the grass skirt part.
Some may call him eccentric. I call him sui generis. He may have been stubborn and pesky to some in argumentation, but he was empathic without a doubt when he thought it was time to stand his ground, and that was not seldom.
And you and I are in awe of his incredible memory for the minutest details, remembering like a sharp razor events, people and places that no human-made machine could ever match.
And who could rival his energy and stamina? Roland practically lived out of his suitcase, traversing different cities to attend a hearing, a meeting, a conference, a tribunal, a seminar, a manifestation. Were he alive today, he would have cursed the pandemic lockdowns. I imagine he would be like that battery commercial that keeps on going, and going, and going…
On top of all these indelible kaleidoscopic of images of Roland, was my affinity for him as a grandfather I never had. Perhaps this is because I somehow saw in him my own 92-year-old father who passed on years ago: a voracious reader, an eloquent speaker, and a naughty fellow in his own right.
That is why I subconsciously identified with him, elbowing my way to be his seatmate on many occasions, assisting him – over his protest – just in case he slipped or tripped, physically, that is.
But my fondest memory of Roland is his humanity, his unquenchable thirst for justice, and his indefatigable defense of human rights and democracy, as well as his outstanding internationalism.
In the face of too much suffering, sickness and starvation all over the world, we miss you Roland in our corner. Sadly, you did not live long enough (is that too much to ask of you?) to see a world we all aspire for. But you and Monique did your part. I highly doubt anyone can replicate your tandem. But you somehow left a part of your DNA in all of us enough to continue the struggle without let up just as you did.
Friends, colleagues, comrades, and family, that for me is Roland 102.
6 November 2021
Edre U. Olalia