Sedfrey Ordonez was raised in rural Nueva Ecija by parents of modest means. He studied in public schools, doing farm work and small jobs to help in the family’s finances. His friends were children of farmers and his early teachers his parents and neighbor farmers. His father owned a homestead, and the young Sedfrey’s days were filled with hunting, fishing, swimming, with school a long way down in the list of his youthful priorities.
He studied liberal arts at the University of the Philippines in Manila, then law at the Far Eastern University and Manuel L. Quezon Law School. He worked between classes, including helping out in his cousin’s slipper-making shop. He did not complete his law degree, but he was allowed to take the bar and was one of the top ten in his batch of examinees.
He first practised law with famed lawyers Jovito Salonga and Pedro Yap. Then in 1970, he was elected delegate of his home province to the 1971 Constitutional Convention. Sedfrey was among the minority who opposed the manipulation by Ferdinand Marcos of the 1973 Constitution in an attempt to perpetuate himself in power. Sedfrey also opposed the sham ratification of the constitution through citizens’ assemblies. Later he defended a fellow member of the Constitutional Convention, Eduardo Quintero, who was harassed by the Marcos government after he (Quintero) revealed that the Marcoses were paying off a significant number of members of the convention. When Marcos imposed martial law in the country and proceeded to arrest his political opponents as well as critics and activists, Sedfrey handled more civil rights cases, including the high-profile case of Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. He also joined such organizations as the Civil Liberties Union (CLU) and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP). Sedfrey became an active member of the IBP’s Human Rights and Due Process, and Legal Aid.
He had a short stint in politics when he became an active campaigner for Corazon Aquino during the 1986 snap presidential elections.
In the years immediately after the downfall of the Marcos dictatorship, Sedfrey served the Aquino government as solicitor general, secretary of justice, and permanent representative and ambassador to the United Nations. As solicitor general, the bulk of his time was spent in trying to recover the Marcoses’ illegally-gotten wealth.
As a human rights advocate who was at the same time a senior official in the Aquino administration, Sedfrey was very much saddened by the fact that in his time, such atrocities as the Mendiola and Lupao massacres had happened.
Later he served as Chairman of the Commission on Human Rights under the Ramos administration.
Sedfrey was also a prolific writer. He wrote poetry, plays, essays, and his autobiography, titled 50 Years in Law and Letters. He could wax romantic but he also wrote about his everyday business of working in government. In his book Nuclear Poems (1995) he wrote:
“Subic and Clark / have witnessed war / both as battleground /and as launching pad /for their death missions!”
The year before that, inside a hotel in Japan he had written a poem about the famed Mendiola bridge:
“Those who fell and those who rushed the bridge / did not perceive the flow of blood in france / but the bridge united them where they / shed tears and raised clenched fists – they knew Mendiola shall forever / be their country’s bridge of liberty!”
On a slow train to Berne in Switzerland, on a mission to recover part of the Marcos illegal wealth in 1986, Sedfrey had written:
“Purse keeper / of the world / from Mafia master / to drug dealer / and royal thief / and dictator / and mer-chantmen / alike, / it offers haven in numbered codes / the launderer of stains / of plunder …. / why can this tiny land / be filled with beauty / and yet hide / the pains / of many?”
Amb. Sedfrey A. Ordonez had lived a full and remark-able life. In private and in public, that life had been varied and interesting, challenging and successful, helpful and rewarding, inspired and inspiring. As a man he was known to be dignified and humble, thoughtful and gracious, creative and productive. He was the Chairman Emeritus of Bantay Katarungan, an NGO for the promotion of the delivery of judicial service (Sentinel of Justice) and an ac-tive Trustee of Bantayog ng mga Bayani and Kilosbayan (People’s Action).
Sedfrey A. Ordoliez joined his Creator on November 18, 2007 while in the company of loved ones and friends. He was 86 years old.
In a poem he wrote upon turning 70 in 1991, he ended with these lines:
“Merely simply contemplating the enormity of the tasks ahead urges me to start right now and fill my last ten years with music, with the wisdom, with the daring, with the vision of the Master.”
BORN 1 September 1921
Gapan, Nueva Ecija
DIED 18 November 2007
PARENTS Domingo Ordonez and Consolation Andres
SIBLINGS Socorro, Alfonso, Pacita, Genoveva, Marcelo & Mario WIFE Josef ma Vijandre CHILDREN Roberto, Philip, Cristina & Helen
Elementary Laur, Nueva Ecija (accelerated)
Secondary Nueva Ecija High School, Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija, 1938
College College of Liberal Arts, UP Manila
College of Law, UP, 1940-41 LL.B., Manuel L. Quezon University, 1947-48 LL.M., Philippine Law School, 1954 Ateneo University
Graduate School of Business, 1973-74 University of Minnesota, USA