Fr. Rudy Romano

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Sunday, July 6, 2014


JULY 11 has become a date for an annual gathering of anti-dictatorship warriors in Cebu. After two Aquino presidencies and the prospect of the dictator’s son running in 2016, we continue to demand the truth and justice for Fr. Rudy Romano.

Some 29 years ago, Fr. Rudy did not merely preach about serving the poor and correcting injustices from the Redemptorist Church pulpit.

Oh yes, despite the influences of Marx, Lenin and Mao during those years, I made it a point to attend masses celebrated by Fr. Romano. Somehow, he contextualized in the Philippine setting what I read on anti-dictatorship theology that developed in Latin America. That was the Latin America of Archbishop Oscar Romero and a certain Fr. Jorge Mario Bergoglio who we now know as Pope Francis.

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During those dangerous years, Fr. Romano went out of his way far from the comforts of the physical church to be with what he described as the poor, the deprived, and the oppressed. I know because I was there.

I could not forget the first Human Rights Day prayer-rally I attended. That was way back in December 1979.

After listening to several speakers led by the late Pepe Diokno at the Redemptorist Rotunda, the assembly of several thousands marched to Fuente Osmeña where truncheon-wielding policemen and a fire truck waited to disperse us.

Unlike the anti-pork rally last June 12, we were only a handful from the student sector that day in 1979. Most of those who joined us were urban poor folk. But there were several priests, nuns and seminarians. The one that I recognized was Fr. Rudy Romano.

Standing in kapit-bisig formation and chanting “Makigbisog, ayaw kahadlok” at the
Fuente skating rink, the firemen first drenched all of us. Moments later, they trained the hose at Fr. Romano even as the thumping of truncheons on rattan shields behind us crept nearer.

When the kapit-bisig line broke, I thought I had to change into dry clothes to elude arrest. I ran in a roundabout manner towards home which was just behind the Chong Hua Hospital nearby.

On my way back to the Redemptorist Church, I saw that the protesters apparently regrouped and was walking towards the downtown area. I then learned that the police picked up Fr. Romano and the assembly was on its way to the Ramos market police station to demand the priest’s release.

Shortly after we arrived, I saw Diokno entering the station. I was later told the former senator and human rights advocate cancelled his flight back to Manila after learning what happened. Hours later, he emerged with Fr. Romano.

I have several more stories about Fr. Rudy especially after I joined Nagkahiusang Sugbo alang sa Demokrasya (Nasud) in 1981 with Joeyboy Holganza, the late urban poor leader Jorge Barrioquinto, then student leader and now environment lawyer Gerthie Mayo-Anda, and several others. Perhaps, the time has come to finally sit down (after decades of thinking about doing it) and write these stories in book form for today’s millennial generation and beyond.

For this column, suffice it to say that after Fr. Romano was picked up on July 11, 1985, I fervently hoped to see him back and celebrating victory like that night in December 1979.

***

P.S. on Fr. Rudy Romano: There will be a 5 p.m. mass and a short program at the Redemptorist Church to mark the 29th year since the abduction.

Today is a different time. We are now in the thick of another fight, that of abolishing the pork barrel system along with punishing all those who are guilty (whether they are with the opposition or the administration) and striking a fatal blow at patronage politics.

But it seems the times have not changed much. As Atty. Rex Fernandez pointed out during the June 12 anti-pork rally and my editor Bong Wenceslao wrote in one of his columns, the present corrupt system could be summed up by something we denounced during those dark years of the Marcos dictatorship–bureaucrat capitalism.

My point: Fr. Romano’s life of serving the poor and fighting for justice is very much relevant and continues to inspire us today. The mass this Friday should not just be a gathering of anti-martial warriors.

***

Contradictions between what the Catholic Church preaches and the practice of some priests continue to exist. During last week’s 888 News Forum, ALU-TUCP’s Art Barrit pointed out the experience of non-academic personnel at the University of San Carlos that ran counter to the teachings in pro-labor and pro-poor Papal encyclicals. For staging a picket in support of protesting employees, four USC student leaders now face possible expulsion.

(Follow @anol_cebu in Twitter)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on July 07, 2014.

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