JULY 11, 1985 was too long ago for residents in Tisa, Labangon, Cebu City, where Redemptorist priest Rudy Romano was abducted, to remember the event. It’s been 25 years; either they were too young then or too busy now to care, they said.
A three-foot-high concrete slab marking the abduction site along Katipunan St. looks neglected, partly hidden from view by dirt, clay pots and ornamental plants.
The marker reads: “Here marks the place where Fr. Rudy Romano, a Redemptorist father and human rights fighter, was abducted by armed men of the deposed Marcos regime on July 11, 1985.
Installed by the new city government of Cebu on July 11, 1986.”
The day the marker was installed, a crowd of 6,000 gathered to watch the reenactment of the priest’s abduction. Now, if not for one or two melted candles on the marker, there would have been no sign that somebody remembered recently.
Occasionally, somebody stops by the marker, says a short prayer and drives on, some residents said. But most of the time, the place is where jeepneys stop to pick up passengers.
Like it is today, Katipunan St. in 1985 was one of the major thoroughfares in Cebu City. But on July 11, 1985, a Thursday, there were no other vehicles in the area except a white Ford Cortina with a government license plate and two motorcycles parked along the road. Each motorcycle had armed men on board.
In the area were seven to 10 armed men in plainclothes, wrote Lilette Chan-Santos in her book “Romano of the Philippines – The Life and Times of a Filipino Redemptorist Desaparecido who was abducted in 1985 in Cebu City.”
“Shortly after 3:30 p.m., a man on a blue motorcycle was seen approaching Cabarrubias St. from Katipunan Road when the white car swung and blocked its path. Men on the two other motorcycles blocked the motorcyclist’s path from behind, leaving no room for maneuver,” Santos wrote.
The men pointed their Armalite rifles at the motorcyclist, shoved him inside the car, and the convoy fled towards the city proper, leaving behind a crowd of stunned bystanders.
Witnesses’ description of the man left no doubt among the Redemptorist community in Cebu that it was Fr. Romano who was abducted.
Fr. Romano championed the rights of the poor in Cebu in the 80s. He was a leading figure in the fight against the Marcos dictatorship, organizing rallies, mobilizing communities and attacking human rights abuses in his homilies and speeches.
His case unsolved and whereabouts unknown, Romano is one of the hundreds of desaparecidos in the country.
Five years ago, the Redemptorist community in Cebu issued a statement officially accepting the fact that the activist priest will never be with them again. After so many years of pursuing the case at the national and international level, there had to be “closure” for the Redemptorist community to move on in their work among the poor.
“But it doesn’t mean an end to our search for justice and truth for Fr. Rudy,” Redemptorist Parish priest Ricky Acero said.
“With the new Aquino administration, there’s fresh hope justice will be served and truth will finally come out.”
Acero said all masses at the Redemptorist Church tomorrow will be dedicated to Fr. Romano. The Redemptorist community in Cebu and the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines will also mount an exhibit on Romano and all other desaparecidos inside the Redemptorist Church.
“It’s the same problem. People continue to disappear. If it happened to Fr. Rudy, it can happen to anybody,” he said.
Twenty-five years after Romano’s disappearance, the activist priest continues to inspire seminarians and other people aspiring to champion the causes of the poor, Acero said.
At the site of Romano’s abduction, right above the marker, a signpost welcomes visitors to a subdivision and a church named after San Jose and San Lorenzo Ruiz, two saints beloved by Filipinos. As far as signs go, it’s not a bad company for a martyred priest.(LPN)