Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Sanchez: A friend, a comrade, a brother

Nature Speaks

I KNEW Edwin “Ted” Marthine Lopez since forever. Make that way back in 1975.

I met Ted when we worked together as community organizers under the Share and Care Apostolate for Poor Settlers (Scaps), a spiritual ministry under the National Secretariat for Social action (Nassa) of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) in Tondo Foreshoreland.

We assisted informal settlers to assert their rights under the Magsaysay Law (RA 1597) that granted the Tondo Foreshore Land to the bona fide residents.

We were schooled from our elementary grades to high schools ran by Maryknoll nuns who instilled in their students the preferential option for the poor.

The “[preferential] option for the poor” refers to a trend, throughout the Judeo-Christian Bible, of preference being given to the well-being of the poor and powerless of society in the teachings and commands of God as well as the prophets and other righteous people.

Jesus taught that on the Day of Judgment, God will ask what each person did to help the poor and needy: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers and sisters of Mine, you did for Me.”

I was inspired by Fr. Arsenio “JJ” Jesena, a Negrense Jesuit. A year before ordination in 1969, he went back home here in Negros Occidental and worked as a sacada in nine haciendas there. Thus, he experienced first-hand the life of the sacadas with all their hardships and exploitation.

In 1971, encouraged by his fellow Jesuits to share his sordid experiences, Fr. Jesena wrote “The Sacadas of Sugarland.” Many Catholic schools studied his book that for the first time exposed the exploitation of the Negrense migrant sugar workers.

Our social consciences were pricked. Here we were then living middle-class existences, while others wallow in abject poverty.

Instead, we passed up lucrative careers, he as an engineer or a journalist while I gave up my dreams to be a lawyer, and perhaps as a criminal judge.

Instead, we chose to be with the urban poor, as they known back then, and eventually embraced Lady Poverty, as St. Francis of Assisi. We became poor by choice.

Now we live a middle-class existence. We earned our bread and butter through NGOs.

But we remained loyal to our idealism of serving the poor. We became human rights advocates, with the understanding that there will be no material and financial rewards.

Ted assisted victims of human rights abuses to get their claims under the Republic Act No. 10368 or the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013.

In my case, I chose a more spiritual path becoming a prayer guide of the Prayer and Life Workshop and editor-in-chief of The Feast Bacolod Bulletin. But we find joy in this service.



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