FINISHING COLLEGE, LIVING WITH THE POOR
After my release from prison, I went back to the seminary. By then the summer vacation had just begun and my fellow seminarians had gone home so I was alone most of the time. I wanted to go to Iligan to visit my family but I couldn´t because I was still under city arrest.
Every Monday morning I went to the Provost Marshall´s office in Camp Sergio Osmeńa. The office was near the gate of the camp and I had to line up and wait for my turn to present myself to the duty officer. While waiting I sometimes saw truckloads of soldiers in full battle-gear leave the camp. I also recognized the intelligence agents who used to interrogate me pass through the gate on their way in. My heartbeat usually increased whenever I was inside the camp. It was only after I had signed the log-book and left the camp that I could breathe more easily. I kept asking myself, “How many more Mondays do I have to report to the camp?”
Wherever I went, I kept looking around me to see if I was being followed by intelligence agents or informers. I was becoming a paranoid. I wanted to see my comrades and friends once again but I was afraid to meet them.
At night, I slept alone in the big dormitory. I would have a recurring nightmare. It was always the same sensation -- the hands touching me, strangling me and I couldn't breathe. Everything seemed real, as if I was fully awake. My heart would beat so fast and I would struggle to move and stand up but I couldn't. Then I would scream. Because of this, I was afraid to go to sleep. I wanted the lights to be on constantly.
During the day, I found myself wandering all over the deserted halls and corridors. I prepared my own meals and ate alone in the large refectory. The silence was deafening. I wanted to talk but there was nobody around. One day, I picked up the phone and dialed Cynthia’s number. Thus, began the series of conversation with her. We would talk for hours about so many things: my prison experience, our comrades and friends, her studies, our hopes for the future. She asked me once, "Are you really sure you want to be a priest?"
"Of course, I am 100 percent sure."
"Have you ever doubted or regretted your decision to become a priest?"
"No doubts, no regrets."
"Supposing you and I were married, what would you be doing?"
I was dumbfounded for a few seconds. I did not expect her to ask that question. Then I said, "Well, if you and I were married, which is unlikely to happen, I would probably be a lawyer."
Cynthia sent me some cakes and cookies that she baked. My favorite was the brazo de mercedes, which I had all to myself. She laughed when I told her that I ate it all in one setting. I longed to meet her face to face but I was scared the military might see us. Once I was walking near the University and we saw each other. She smiled as her face lit up. I could hear my own heartbeat. As I was about to approach her, I looked around and I suddenly remembered the possibility of intelligence agents following me. I walked by her and pretended that I didn't know her.
One day, she called and told me that she really wanted to see me. So we met under the acacia tree near the seminary. She was like an apparition. She wore a red dress and her face was radiant as she sat beside me. And I held my breath and told myself, "Oh God, how beautiful she is." There were so many things I wanted to tell her and I felt that there was something she also wanted to tell me. I wanted that moment to last forever. But I began to look around and my heart started to beat wildly. I told her it was not safe to see each other. I felt sad as we parted ways. I knew we would never be together.
Cynthia had graduated magna cum laude from St. Theresa's College at the end of that school
year. After the summer vacation she left
"Couldn't inform you about my departure coz it would have made you feel all the more deserted -- at least that's what I felt at that time… I've been thinking of you and realized that what you needed are friends who are not afraid to be with you whenever you'd call for them… I for one, have been too self-centered to be aware of this."
In a letter I wrote the following month I told her that I wish we could face the future together but I had to answer God's call.
"I wish, too, that I could face the future with you, but you do have a greater call to answer and I wouldn't allow myself to be a hindrance to Love... take care of yourself, too. My prayer will always include you. I do miss your presence, but we have to make sacrifices, don't we? Lots of love, Taks."
I kept re-reading these lines until they were etched in my memory. She also wanted to face the future with me but she wouldn't allow herself to be a hindrance to Love. She didn't want to get in the way of my vocation.
In her letters, I began to notice a shift in her ideological stance. She found the National Democratic Program (promoted by the Communist Party) a more viable alternative. What alarmed me was that she was considering the possibility of joining the armed struggle. She wrote:
"Even when my responsibility towards the people is clear, the role which I should assume in order to shoulder this is still vague. Should I head for the hills where conformity to the system is minimal? If I should still stay in the system, how could I not be corrupted? Now I am convinced that to transform this society, violence is inevitable. . . I used to think that the NPA and the like are using external pressure. I was wrong -- it cannot be external because its members are the oppressed themselves.
Time is my greatest enemy. It is not yet my time to make such a decision to give up even personal happiness. But I will not hurry up things or frustration will envelop me. More exposure is necessary to hasten my decision. I want no regrets to take part in my decision.
The terrain of
Of course, I was
worried for her. I could not imagine my lovely friend carrying an M16 and
waging guerrilla warfare in the jungles of
When the new school year opened, I immediately plunged into seminary and university life. There was so much catching up to do. After more than a month I wrote my mother:
Thank you for the letter and the package you sent me. Don't worry about me -- I'm fine as ever. I have just finished two exams. There's no time to relax now, what with all these term papers, reports and experiments. I have also accepted some seminary responsibilities as chief artist, choir master and newsletter editor. I find it hard to keep up with the hectic schedule . There are so many things to do but so little time to accomplish them.
You need not worry about my health. Many of my friends have commented that I have grown bigger. I've had an X-ray examination recently and Dr. Alix told me that I needn't worry about the shadow in the left lung. It was just a cold.
How is everybody/everything back home? It saddens me to hear that you still have problems making ends meet. Remember, we are not the only ones who are hard up. So many of our countrymen wallow in poverty. We live in an unjust and oppressive situation. What is needed is a radical restructuring of society -- we need to transform it into a more human and just society where poverty, inequality and tyranny will be a thing of the past. Is this a dream? Yes, it is a dream but we can transform it into a reality. We can start now by saying No to this kind of society and saying Yes to an alternative future. We should never stop hoping.
I am constantly praying for you that you will not give up hope as you go through life courageously.
My mother was alarmed by the tone of my letter. She began to suspect that I was once again involved in subversive activities. She wrote to Fr. Willy Jesena about it and got this reply:
Dear Tony & Nicol,
God bless. Sorry for the delay in writing you. Amado has been absent from classes alright with certain reason. I believe he understands his situation and you need not worry about any doubtful activities.
Believe it or not, he is the choir master of the Seminary. I see him spending a lot of time at the piano and the organ. He is turning out to be an artist! What a change. So you need not be over worried. A piece of advice at times or just a reminder will be in order.
Sorry, I can't write longer. Fr. Tancinco is here, just about to go back to Iligan. All the best. I am not sure when I'll go to Iligan. I let you know later.
Fr. Willy talked to me about my mother's suspicion and concern. I sent her this letter:
I was surprised at your reaction after receiving my last letter. I can sense that you are having these irrational fears and worries. Your conclusion that I have once again resumed my old activities is unfair. Please don't worry. I am not that foolish enough to commit the same mistakes and spend the rest of my life in prison. It is true that I have not abandoned my ideals but don't worry, I am keeping them to myself.
Please give my warmest regard to everyone and stop worrying about me -- you have enough things to worry about.
My mother's fears
were not totally unfounded. Although I
was not actively involved in any "subversive" activity, I was
in contact with my former comrades. I was also involved in the Inter-Seminary
Forum (ISF)-- a national organization of
seminarians. I became the vice-chairman
of ISF-Cebu chapter. Towards the end of the year, I attended the national ISF
In spite of my fear of being followed by military intelligence, I occasionally met Magno. I would go to his house, play the piano and have long conversations with him over bottles of San Miguel beer. One of the things we talked about was religion. I told him that I wasn't sure any more about my faith. I was surprised when he said, "I, too, find it difficult to believe in God. I think I have lost my faith. I have stopped going to mass."
This didn't help in resolving my doubts. However, unlike Magno, I did not altogether lose my faith nor did I stop going to mass. As doubts continued to torment me, I reasoned out that while nobody could prove God's existence, no one could prove that God did not exist either. My inability to feel God's presence in my life was not a sufficient basis for saying that he did not exist. Even if I doubted the Christian view of reality, I was not certain that the Marxist materialist world-view was closer to the truth. Thus, I decided to make a leap of faith. But the doubts did not completely disappear.
What sustained me was my mother's extraordinary faith. In one of her letters she told me: "I am sure you have been worrying how we have managed to make both ends meet. As I have told you before, I always have faith in our Lord. There were times when I thought that we couldn't find any solution to our problems but so far our Lord hasn't failed me yet."
My mother fervently
believed that God would never abandon her and would always answer her prayers.
She told me how
she prayed to God for help because she
needed money to send to
Dearest Ma & Pa,
I received the letter and the money you sent me last week. Thanks a lot.
We were very busy during the past week. We had the vocation week in USC after the midterm. We just finished our annual retreat yesterday. This coming Sunday the senior class together with the applicants for the postulancy will take the psychological test. I will take mine this Thursday.
Fr. Jesena told us to inform you beforehand that all of us collegians will boycott the referendum. You don't have to worry -- we are not alone. Many priests, religious and lay people from the different parts of the country will also take this bold move. We just don't want to be fooled by this regime.
Please give my regards to everyone there. God loves you.
T o legitimize his dictatorial rule, President
Ferdinand Marcos had called for a referendum.
Filipino citizens 16 years and above were obliged to attend the
assemblies and vote on the question of whether we were in favor of the New Society. We believed that in a climate of fear and repression, any
referendum would be farcical. So the seminarians decided to heed the appeal of many religious in
With more than a month left before the end of the semester, I had to make a decision whether I really wanted to go ahead and apply for the postulancy program. It was a question of whether I still wanted to become a priest or not. What were the alternatives? I could take up law. I thought that I could become a good lawyer – defending the rights of the poor and the oppressed. Or I could join the Democratic Socialist Party and work as a full-time cadre. To be a priest, a lawyer or a revolutionary? These were the options before me. As I tried to imagine myself in these roles, I felt that the priesthood was still the most attractive for me. This was the kind of life that I wanted to live. So I applied for the postulancy program and took the test.
Dearest Ma & Pa,
I received the money you sent me. Thanks a lot -- it was just on time.
As usual I'm very busy at the moment. I have to finish five term papers, I have to work sixteen hours per week for my YCAP (Youth Civic Action Program) and I'm editing the Valentine's issue of our newsletter.
I took the IQ and psychological test for the postulancy program last
week. It was a tough one, but I think I
did well. Our postulancy program will
begin on April 15. We will be undergoing
training in community organizing. We
will be assigned to different squatters' slums in
Classes will end on the first week of March. At last I will be graduating from college soon. No need to come here since I won't be marching. Hope to see you soon.
I graduated from college without any fanfare. I didn't attend the graduation rites to receive my diploma. To celebrate my graduation I had a drinking spree at the seminary dormitory with Magno and other classmates. We finished several bottles of Tanduay rum. By we were all drunk. I felt like throwing up, so I rushed to the toilet. Before I could even reach the door, I disgorged everything I had eaten on the cement floor. I found myself sliding on my own vomit and hitting the floor. Everybody laughed including me. It was very degrading. The following morning I promised myself I would never get drunk again.
There were eight of
us who were accepted into the postulancy program: Senen, Nelson, Claro, Amador, Fred, Joel,
Julio and myself. We were the first batch to undergo training in community organizing
(CO). Thus, it was called the "CO-Postulancy
program." The program was intended
to immerse us in the life of the poor and to learn the basic skills in community organizing.. We were integrated into the CO-training
program of the
Philippine Ecumenical Council for Community Organizing (PECCO). PECCO had
organizing and training centers in Tondo, Legazpi,
CO was conceived as a method of conscientizing, organizing and mobilizing the poor for social transformation based on the principles of Paulo Freire and Saul Alinsky. Our required readings were Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Alinsky's Rules for Radicals. As organizers, we were to immerse ourselves among the poor, integrate with them and identify local issues around which the people could be agitated, organized and mobilized. The method emphasized conflict-confrontation, dialogue and negotiation. We were to use creative, dramatic, extra-legal and non-violent means during mobilization. Through a process of action and reflection the poor would be awakened to the situation of poverty, injustice and oppression. This would then lead to people empowerment and to action for social transformation.
The Redemptorists during the 1975 mission council had decided to experiment at using the CO method for the mission apostolate and for building Basic Christian Communities (BCCs). Thus, the CO training became part of the formation of future Redemptorists. The new lay missionaries together with Fr. Daugdaug (the coordinator of the Iligan Redemptorist Mission team) also began their CO training in Kibawe, Bukidnon.
priest, Fr. Manny Cabajar, was also undergoing training in Barrio Luz in
I was assigned to an urban poor area called Camputhaw. There were hundreds of families living in the land owned by a wealthy family. Most of them were poor. Some of the houses were made of cement and hollow blocks but most were made of wood and bamboo. The houses were so close to each other that the neighbors could easily hear couples quarrelling or throwing plates and pots at each other.
Another postulant, Joel, was assigned to an adjoining area. Since we were expected to live in the area, Joel and I rented a small room for P10.00 a month. It was actually the kitchen of a house converted into a room. It had its own door at the back of the house so we didn't have to go through the living room of the main house. There was no electricity. We just used a gas lamp. There was furniture. We just slept on the floor. The roof was made of nipa and every time it rained we had to place cans to catch the dripping water. We had planned to do our own cooking but gave up after our first try. We used wood as fuel and it took us a long time to cook the rice. We could not eat it because it was half-cooked. Without an electric stove and a refrigerator we realized it was impractical and time-consuming to cook our own meals. We ended up going to a nearby store that sold some food. We convinced the owner to give us credit with our promise that we would pay at the end of the month. I soon became an expert at inviting myself over for lunch or dinner at other people’s houses. But they were very poor and sometimes we would just have boiled bananas and bagoong for lunch. We didn't have our own toilet and bathroom. I just used the toilet nearby, which was actually just a hole in the ground with walls made from sacks. I could take a bath only once a week, which was every time I went home to the monastery.
During the first few weeks, I spent my time getting to know the place and the people. This was the data-gathering and integration phase. The first people I met were the leaders and core group members of the organization that community organizers that had come before me had set up. As I went around the area, I met carpenters and masons who built mansions elsewhere while they lived in shacks. I got to know the scavengers who had to bear the stench and dirt while going through the garbage hoping to find something they could sell. I befriended the istambays -- the out-of-school or jobless young men who spent their time drinking on the street-corners and making trouble when they were drunk. I also conversed with the house-wives when they gathered near the water pump to wash clothes and exchange gossip.
I sensed that most of the people I met were very insecure. I wasn't surprised. Their homes could be demolished any time. Many were out of work. Those who were employed were not paid enough and they could easily be laid off. (No strike was allowed under Martial Law). They could easily get sick but they didn't have enough money to go to the doctor or buy medicine. The military could easily pick them up if they were suspected of being subversives. They were too afraid to speak out. These were the kind of people that I was supposed to help organize. But first I had to listen to them and know their problems, their hopes and their dreams. I was also trying to find out which local issue would galvanize them to action.
Dearest Ma & Pa,
You'll be happy to know that I am still very much alive and kicking. I'm sorry that I couldn't answer your letter immediately because I've been very busy. I'm at present assigned in Camputhaw. Working and living with the poor is so demanding. We have been very busy tackling issues that have emerged in the area. Oftentimes I find myself exhausted after painstaking effort to organize and mobilize these people. We have already some mobilization at the provincial capitol.
I'll have to cut short this letter. I still have to prepare for our tactic session today. I'll be writing soon about my experiences in the squatters area.
The main issue that the urban poor residents was facing was the land. Most of them were squatters who had been living on the land for over 25 years. They were constantly threatened by demolition. One evening , I attended a meeting of the residents in the area. Majority of those who were there were women. They were talking about what they could do to follow up on the land issue. Nang Tuding, the leader of the association suggested that they go to the Governor's office and ask him to expropriate the land and allow the residents to own it. Everyone supported the suggestion. So we spent the rest of the evening discussing when to hold the dialogue with the governor, what demands to present, and how to go about the whole thing. We did some role playing. We imagined that we were inside the governor's office and I was the governor. We tried out several scenarios and to anticipate what the governor would say to them and how they would respond.
I spent the whole week following up the leaders and the members, discussing with them the issue and making sure that many would attend the mobilization. This was a standard practice in CO called “leg-working.”
The following week, around seventy-five people -- mostly women - trooped to the provincial capitol. We filled the office of the governor. The spokespersons were very confident in talking to the governor, telling him about the land problem and presenting their request. The governor told them that he could not decide on his own. He promised to bring up the matter to the next meeting of the provincial council. The residents went home very hopeful. I was amazed at that they could do this even under Martial Law.
That night we met in the area for evaluation. Immediately after the meeting, we had the bible reflection. The Gospel I read was from Luke 8:1-8. The Gospel tells the story of the persistent widow who kept on hounding a harsh judge to render a just decision for her until he finally gave in. The people shared their reflections. Some commented on the need for persistence in prayer. Nang Tuding finally said, "This morning, we were like the widow who approached the judge. Like her we should always be persistent in asking the governor to give us this land. If we continue to badger him with our demands, he might finally give in like the harsh judge in the Gospel." Although her interpretation may have been odd to a biblical scholar, it was very meaningful for the people. After the sharing, the prayers of petition followed. One prayed that God would continue to strengthen and guide them in their struggle to acquire the land. Another prayed that the Governor and his council would favorably consider the people's request. I thought this was a fine example of how the people could integrate their faith and life, and how they could reflect on their praxis or action in relation to the Word of God.
The introduction of the bible reflection in the organizing work was part of the effort to connect CO with the building of basic Christian Communities. This approach was later called the BCC-CO program. I was convinced that it was not enough to set up community organizations or associations that would struggle for local issues like the land. An issue oriented organizing for me was inadequate. There was also the need to build up truly basic Christian Communities -- inspired by the Word of God and struggling for social transformation. In this way, even when the people would succeed in owning their own land, they would continue to struggle.
There were sisters of the Religious of the Good Shepherd (RGS) who worked with us although they did not live in the slum areas. They often joined the bible reflection sessions. Among them were Srs. Josephine, Rosemary, Malou and Zeny. We became close to them and their community. They sometimes invited us to their convent for snacks and for a game of canasta.
We had our day off every Monday. In the morning, I usually attended the tactic session of the community organizers. This was the time when we had to constantly examine the situation and developments in the area. We would discuss the issues, evaluate our strategies and tactics and come up with a systematic plan. Fr. FernandoYusingco, our director, was very demanding. He was fond of shouting "bullshit!" whenever we committed mistakes. But we learned a lot from him about community organizing.
The postulants gathered on Monday afternoons. We would share our experiences with one another. Sometimes, we spent our time boasting about our achievement in the area. Once Claro reported that he mobilized more than three hundred people in his area. We were all amazed and asked him what kind of mobilization it was and how he organized the whole thing.
“Oh, it was for a fiesta procession,” he confessed and we all laughed.
We also prayed together and celebrated the Eucharist with Fr. Yusingco. What I liked most was joining the Redemptorist community for meals once a week -- after having been deprived of good food the whole week.
Whenever we appeared in the refectory, Fr. Walsh would jokingly cry out to the others: "Quick, quick, quick, the Postulants are here and they will eat up all the food."
This was the time to converse with the priests and the brothers and get to know them well.
Dearest Ma & Pa,
Rejoice and be glad. Your "fine-feathered " son is writing you again after months of silence. I hope you haven't lost hope waiting for this letter.
I'm doing very well with my work here in the slums area. I have learned so many things from this experience. I’ve realized that critical reflection is really necessary in life. I just can't go on doing things without reflecting on the meaning and implication of my actions. I'm now more patient and calm. At present I am handling four organizations. At the same time I am the coordinator of a team that is organizing the Panaghugpong -- a city-wide alliance of urban poor community organizations. There are so many things to be done but little time to do them.
After four months of postulancy, we have two casualties. I hope the six of us who are still around will make it to the end. This is going to be a survival of the fittest.
Well, how's everything back there? I hope that you are now living comfortably. While I'm living amidst the quagmire of poverty here, I realize how lucky we've been than the rest of our countrymen. The hardships our family have gone through will never equal the poverty and misery the people I am living with are experiencing. I am now more convinced that the present society must be radically restructured. We can not go on living in a society where the structures promote the poverty and misery of so many people.
I'll have to end here -- time is running short. Just give my regards to the rest of the tribe and may God's blessing remain with you always.
In August 1975, the leaders of the various
urban poor organizations came together to form the Panaghugpong These leaders represented the
community organizations in
Dear Ma & Pa,
How are you? I hope you are all well. You don't have to worry about me - I'm doing fine here.
I'm still working here in Camputhaw. But my workload is lighter this time. I'm just orienting the new C.O. trainees who will be following up my work here. Tomorrow I am attending a retreat for all community organizers (including the postulants).
A few days ago we organized a Eucharistic liturgy on the occasion of the third anniversary of the declaration of martial law. It was attended by many people, including the squatters from our areas. The readings, prayers and reflections were critical of Martial Law. I heard that the military intelligence agents are trying to find out who were the organizers of that mass.
We have three more weeks before we finish our postulancy program. We will have an orientation seminar for the
novitiate program on October 15-25. I
might be able to visit you on October 26.
I can only spend one week in Iligan since our group will be visiting
other Redemptorist houses (
Our postulancy program ended in the middle of October. After the evaluation process only three (Nelson Montayre, Claro Conde and myself) were recommended to the next phase of formation -- the novitiate. Senen’s postulancy was extended for one more year. Fred got depressed because he was sure that he would pass (he would get married six months later). The rest felt that they were not meant for this kind of life.
Six months of training in community organizing was too short. Yet I have learned so much from this experience. What I found most valuable was the immersion in the life of the poor. I learned to live and work with the poor. I experienced what it means to be poor. I also acquired basic skills in organizing: how to gather data, how to integrate with the poor, how to do systematic planning and how to mobilize people. The program was very tough. Yet I felt that this was necessary in order to become an effective Redemptorist missionary capable of living among the poor and organizing them.
Before I left , I had to ask permission from the military to release
me from city arrest in
I am a Redemptorist postulant who
has been placed under city arrest in
In this connection, I would like to
ask your kind office to facilitate my transfer from
Hoping for your consideration.
I received two documents from the headquarters of the Third Regional Command for the Administration of Detainees, signed by Colonel Eduardo Javelosa. The first one was a temporary permit to travel:
This is to certify that TRD [temporarily
released detainee] AMADO PICARDAL, who has been placed under City Arrest within
Subject shall report to the Provincial Commander, Lanao Norte CC upon arrival and departure thereat for accounting purposes.
For the commander, III RECAD:
The second document was a certification for my transfer to the Batangas PC command:
This is to certify that the supervising unit
of TRD AMADO PICARDALl is transferred from Zone Provost Marshall, III PC Zone,
Subject is required to report to the Provincial Commander Batangas Constabulary Command once a week for accounting purposes.
This certificate is issued upon request of interested party for any legal purpose this may serve.
For the Commander, III RECAD.
documents were a reminder that I was not completely free from the clutches of
the military. But once I could get out of
I left for Lipa, I received a letter from Cynthia. She had been assigned to
Basilan and Zamboanga. She told me that she already had a boyfriend and that
she was thinking of resigning from her work and study psychology in
I kept re-reading the letter. I realized how much I missed her. I remembered the last time we saw each other under the acacia tree. I wished that moment would never end but I was too afraid. I should have spent more time with her and told her what I felt about her.
No doubts, no regrets. That's what I told her long ago. Actually, I had one other regret. That we could never face the future together.
"But you do have a greater call to answer." Her words echoed in my mind.