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Philippines

Priest disappeared 35 years ago lives in Filipino minds

To relive the life and deeds of Father Romano is parallel to the struggle of memory against forgetting

Mary Aileen D Bacalso, Manila

Mary Aileen D Bacalso, Manila

Updated: July 13, 2020 01:22 PM GMT
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 Priest disappeared 35 years ago lives in Filipino minds

Churchgoers light candles in a Redemptorist mission community in the city of Legazpi to mark the anniversary of the disappearance of Redemptorist priest Rudy Romano in the central Philippines. (Photo supplied)

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Three decades and a half ago, a great teacher, a staunch human rights defender, a front-liner in anti-Marcos demonstrations, a man-of-the cloth, a humble servant of the poor, deprived and the oppressed involuntarily disappeared in broad daylight in Labangon, Cebu City.  Father Rudy Romano of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer was forcibly taken by alleged elements of the Military Intelligence Group in Labangon, Cebu City.  Since then, he has never returned.

Where is Father Rudy Romano?  The question was repeatedly splashed in headlines of national dailies, local newspapers and TV, aired over the radio and written on placards.  National and international pressures failed to surface Fr Romano, CSSR, whose enforced disappearance was one of the most visible cases of the practice during the darkest years of the Marcos dictatorship.

In this time of the pandemic, if Father Romano were with us, “he would still be busy with his work as a missionary for the most destitute.  It was him, he lived and involuntarily disappeared doing that,” said Father Ben Moraleda who worked with Father Romano in the same congregation. 

Reflecting on the missing priest’s anniversary, Father Ramon Fruto, CSSR, Vice Provincial Superior of the Redemptorists for the Visayas at the height of the campaign for the release of the missing missionary, pondered:  “Medical experts continue to search for an effective and lasting antidote against the spread of the coronavirus. Lawmakers and lawyers continue to question the wisdom of the anti-terror law…In the midst of all these disturbing concerns, we draw inspiration and strength from the examples of little-known heroes...To pursue this dream, they risked their own freedoms and even their lives…They pursued their dream of building a society that is a reflection of God’s kingdom on earth, built on the foundation of stones of love and concern for all people, especially the marginalized and the downtrodden…”

Among these little-remembered heroes of our recent past is the Filipino Redemptorist missionary priest, Father Rudy Romano, CSSR, who was reportedly abducted by the military intelligence agents of the Marcos regime…”

I personally knew Father Romano from my high school and college years.  Young activists that we were, we linked arms with him in various rallies during the most obscure moments of the Marcos dictatorship.  As a missionary, he followed Christ’s footsteps.  He opened his doors to weary activists, listened to the anxieties of his parishioners, comforted them in their fears and embraced their dreams for a society that values the sanctity of life and aspires for the realization of the “New Heaven and New Earth.”

For accompanying the workers in their cry for better working conditions, for his encouraging presence during demolitions of urban poor communities, for immersing himself with landless farmers in their struggle for land and life, Fr. Rudy earned the ire of the powers-that-be.  As a real follower of the Most Holy Redeemer, on many occasions, he was harassed, teargassed, maligned. imprisoned until he was made to disappear. 

Father Romano is one of the more than 2,000 desaparecidos in the Philippines. 

Enforced disappearance is a tool used by agents of the state to stifle dissent.  Concealing the whereabouts of the victims and depriving them of their liberty, perpetrators use this human rights violation to annihilate “enemies of the state” almost without trace.  It violates multiple rights of both the victims and their families. Victims’ families endlessly search and wait for answers. The agony of waiting, the uncertainty of the disappeared persons’ whereabouts, the constant fear of death, the devastating effects on the families and the larger society  - all these make enforced disappearance the cruelest form of human rights violation. 

As enforced disappearance is happening in more than 90 countries, the United Nations established an international treaty against enforced disappearances, which, to date, has been ratified by 63 states and signed by 98.  The Philippine Government, which supposedly has its Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012 and whose many provisions are in line with those of the international treaty, refuses to ratify.

Where is Father Romano in this pandemic?  Not remote is the possibility of death.  But a number of families of the disappeared who do not have proof of death, ask:  Are the desaparecidos safe during the pandemic?  Are they fed and if sick, given proper treatment?  Are they not detained in congested places?     

If Father Romano were with us in these challenging times,  he would have continued performing his mission.  He would have continually carried out the most-needed corporal and spiritual acts of mercy. He would have prophetically questioned the glaring human rights violations in our midst.

“35 years since that tragic event, let us fan the flames to keep his memory alive and give life to it by our own lives of commitment to the values for which he gave his life – the values of reverence for life, of freedom, truth and justice and of promoting the quality of life for all,” said Father Fruto, who, despite the passage of time, continues to grieve for the loss of a real missionary.

To relive the life and deeds of Father Romano is parallel to the struggle of memory against forgetting.  The seeds of freedom that he sowed and the exemplary life of service to the downtrodden that he lived are indelible imprint.  His great examples are like shadows that would not leave those whose lives he touched. 

A gift from heaven, Father Romano remains alive in the hearts of the poor.

 

Mary Aileen D. Bacalso is former secretary-general of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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