In spite of the seemingly advanced stage of
BEC organizing, the diocese
had also experienced military harrassment and persecution. Many of the leaders and members of BECs were arrested and some were
even killed. The latest victim was Fr.
Tullio Favali, an Italian PIME missionary, who was brutally murdered by CHDF
militiamen led by the Manero brothers.
role was to revitalize and strengthen the BECs in
The mission team at this time was composed of two Redemptorists (Fr. Manny Cabajar and myself) and four lay missioners (Fe, Meren, Portia and Dodong). An aspirant, Raul, also joined us. Later, four major seminarians from St. Mary's Theologate (Ozamiz) spent four months of exposure with us. Some of our novices also had an exposure with us for about a month. Among them was Karl Gaspar, a former executive secretary of the Mindanao-Sulu Pastoral Conference, who joined the Redemptorists after his two-year imprisonment.
When we started our mission in the first week of February 1986, the situation was still very tense. One morning I walked up to a moutain barrio with two lay missioners to do an ocular survey. As we entered the barrio center, I noticed that it was very quiet. Suddenly, we found ourselves surrounded by CHDF and Scout Rangers with their guns pointed at us.
“Raise your hands and do not move!” Their team leader shouted.
We raised our hands and I noticed my companions were pale and their hands shaking. The scout rangers approached us and inspected our backpacks.
“Who are you and what are you doing here?” The team leader asked.
“I am Fr. Amado Picardal and these are my companions. We are Redemptorist missionaries and we had been invited by the PIME priests to give a mission here in Arakan. We will be here for nine months. We just came to the barrio to see the place and the people and to schedule our entry mass.”
“Oh, Sorry, Father, we thought that you were NPAs.”
We shook hands and talked for a while about the peace and order situation in the area . He and his men left as we proceeded to the barrio chapel.
the EDSA Revolution which ousted the
dictator, the tension lessened. The post-EDSA euphoria was at its height. Many expected things to get better with Cory
in power. The democratic space was expanding. The Scout Rangers became friendlier although
the CHDF remained suspicious. The
people's attitude towards the military was also changing. From being an occupation force, they were
perceived as friends of the people. One
time farmers and the students staged a strike against the
In the more remote parts of the parish, however, the spirit of EDSA revolution was not yet felt. The people continued to live in fear as the barangay captains ruled like warlords with the CHDF as their private armies. In one community, I made a courtesy call on the barangay captain.He was insistent that we ask permission from him carry out our mission activities. Even the schedule of the masses and the seminars had to be approved by him. I reminded him that there was a separation between church and the state and there was no need to ask permission from him to do our mission. I also told him that Marcos was gone and that we were now living in a democracy.
Meanwhile, the NPA guerrilla units were still around although they were avoiding armed encounters with the government forces. Once I was conducting a Misa-Pamalandong in the chapel in Naje. During the break, a farmer came and whispered to me. “Father, the NPA commander wants to talk to you.”
“Where are they?” I asked.
“They are just around”
“Do you think it is safe to talk to them here?”
“No, problem Father. The Scout Rangers are not around.”
I’ll talk to them after the
After the Mass, I asked the messenger where I could meet the NPA commander. He pointed to the house at the back of the chapel. When I went inside, I saw a group of armed men inside the house. The commander was seated behind the table, cutting a native tobacco with his knife. His .45 caliber pistol was on the table and his M-16 armalite was leaning against the wall. He looked up and smiled to me and asked me to sit in front of him. After introducing himself, he asked me: “Father, what is really the purpose of your mission.”
“The PIME Fathers asked us to revitalize the BECs in the parish. Because of the militarization, many BECs have become inactive. So we are conducting seminars and Misa-Pamalandong so that we can revive these communities.”
“Do you think it would be better if we coordinate our activities and work together?” He asked.
“We are always ready to have dialogue with you. But we have a no-linkage policy. We cannot coordinate with you nor work with you. Our mission is religious in nature. Besides, this is for our security. You know very well that there are a lot of DPAs (deep penetration agents) in the movement. If the military discovers that we are working with you, they can easily harass and arrest us."
He nodded his head and said:”We understand, Father. Yes, you are right about the DPAs. That ‘s our main problem now. We are trying to discover who they are. We have become suspicious even of our own comrades.”
I then asked him, “So, what do you think of our new government? Do you think the time has come for a ceasefire and peace-talks?”
“We are still on a wait-and-see attitude. We are waiting for orders from the higher organs. If the government wants to talk peace, maybe we will give it a try.”
After a while I told him that it was already late afternoon and I had to go. I also asked him not to conduct any operations and killings in our area since it could just provoke the military to come and commit attrocities.
As I was on my way back to the parish center, I met a Scout Ranger unit on patrol . They were on their way to Naje. The Team Leader greeted me and asked, “Where have you been, Father?”
I was in Naje, conducting a seminar and celebrating the
“We are just on foot patrol. We are going to Naje and maybe the neighboring barangay.”
“Good luck, I have to hurry back to the convent. It is already getting dark.”
I walked so fast, I almost stumbled. I didn’t want to be caught in the cross-fire.
our data gathering, we found out that
I felt sad as the people in the BECs recounted their stories. This led me to write this poem:
Lamentation from No Man's Land
In the middle of the night
claiming to be our friend
With a gun in your hand
you revealed to us
why we are poor and hungry.
You proclaimed to us
the good news of revolution.
We fed you.
We shared with you
the fruits of our toil.
We gave you
our brave sons and daughters.
We believed and hoped
you could give us
a better tomorrow
with that gun in your hand.
So many tomorrows
have come and gone
but we are still poor and hungry
and we have lost
our brave sons and daughters forever.
Our farms have become
a battle ground.
Our furrows have become
What can we harvest
when only bullets and bombs
have been sown?
Since you came
other strange monsters
have also appeared in our land.
Like vampires they swoop from the sky.
We keep hoping this is only a nightmare.
We dread the barking of the dogs
and the knocking on our doors
in the middle of the night.
We had to pack up
and leave our homes and farms,
our carabaos, pigs and chickens.
We are exiles
in our own country.
You told us political power
comes out from the barrel of the gun.
Now we know
only death, more hunger and terror
come out from the barrel of the gun.
We are the casualties
of this protracted war
and this total war.
The bursts and explosions
drown out our cry
for justice and peace.
You promised us
a land we can call our own
and all we got
is this no man's land.
It was very difficult to revitalize and re-evangelize the BECs that had been weakened by the military operations. The people had been traumatized. Some were suspicious and afraid that we were working with the NPA and that we were trying to recover the areas for the movement. They did not want a repeat of the spiral of violence. It took us a long time to gain their trust. We spent three months in each barrio or sitio. As usual the lay missioners and seminarians on exposure were immersed in the communities while Manny and myself acted as roving coordinators. We conducted a lot of seminars and Misa-Pamalandong. I moved from community to community visiting the lay missioners, the leaders and members of the BECs. For me, this involved long hikes and jogging across the rugged mountains and crossing many rivers. Each night, I slept in different houses and different communities. The work of evangelizing the poor became an experience of being evangelized by them.
There were a lot of things I learned from the poor. I learned about their situation – the poverty, the misery, their suffering. I also learned about their faith – their deep trust in God whom they knew would never abandon them. They were people full of hope – that in the end, God would deliver them from the darkness of evil and bring forth a future better than the present.
From living with the poor I also learned to play the violin. As I worked among them, I noticed that there were farmers who played the violin. This was a very unusual sight for me. We would be in the chapel for mass and we would be accompanied not just by guitars but by violins. I was even amazed when I learned that they made their own violin from the Nangka (jackfruit) wood. I asked them to make me a violin and to teach me how to play it. After a month, the violin was finished and I started my violin lessons. The farmers actually did not know how to read music. They played by ear. That’s how I learned to play – by ear. It was magical. I discovered that I could play any music I heard from the radio. I would play along with a tape recorder playing a minus-one music and it would sound like an orchestra accompanying me. I could play all the popular tunes. But Bach and Chopin – that will have to wait.
enjoyed working with the lay missioners. I became very close especially to
Portia and Meren. Portia had been working with an outreach program of the
Redemptorist Retreat House in
I didn’t keep a regular diary during this period. I only had one entry which I wrote towards the end of the mission.
For the past eight months, the mission team
has been working here in
To be evangelized by the poor. This is what is happening to me as I try to evangelize the poor. I am being evangelized by the situation of the poor -- by their poverty. In entering the world of the poor, in living with them, in experiencing their stark poverty -- I have been evangelized by them. By listening to them, to their problems, hopes and aspirations, to their reflections on the Word, I have been evangelized by them. It is in living with the poor and listening to them that I have been evangelized by them. To be evangelized by the poor is to be evangelized by the Risen Lord himself who is present in the poor and the oppressed. My encounter with the poor is an encounter with Christ.
I am experiencing a process of theological contextualization. Whatever I have learned in the seminary -- Dogma, morals, scriptures -- are being relearned in the context of the situation of poverty and oppression. I am beginning to approach these subjects from the point of view of the poor and the oppressed. I am re-learning theology not from the classroom or from the seminary professors or the library. I am re-learning theology from the field, from the BECs, from the poor and from my experience. The proper locus theologicus is where the people of God are, where God is acting at present, where the risen Christ can be encountered. Thus, it is from the grassroots that an authentic theology can be developed. This is a theology developed from and with the poor -- with the Christian communities at the base. My task is to listen and to gather the scattered faith-reflection of the people, systematize and present these back to them. This is an ongoing task. This is what I would like to become -- a grassroots theologian.
How do we
experience God? This is the question
that the poor in these communities have reflected on and shared during these
past months. The dominant answer has
always been -- during times of crisis: in times of hunger, fear, sickness,
oppression. For the BECs in District 8 and 9, God was experienced during the time of the barricades. The farmers recalled their experience in
Doroluman when they barricaded the agricultural school to support the striking
teachers and assert their right to the land.
According to them, they experienced God's presence in the barricades
struggling with them, giving them strength. I am reminded of the millions of people
during the EDSA revolution who barricaded
As it was during the Exodus, God reveals himself today as a God of the poor and the oppressed -- the God who liberates. He is a God who accompanies his people in their struggle for freedom and liberation. The God that we believe in is a subversive God -- a God who "scatters the proud in their conceit, who casts the mighty from their thrones, who sends the rich away empty." This is the kind of God that the poor can easily believe in.
November 1986, we finished our mission work in Arakan. We felt that nine months was not really
enough to strengthen over 50 BECs. We
realized that what was needed was not just a renewed evangelization but also
organizing work. The communities had structures which looked good on paper but
were not really functional. The Kapilya Pastoral Councils in each BEC which
were supposed to be the council of leaders were not functioning. The socio-economic projects like the communal
farms and appropriate techcnologies were not yet operational. But since our objectives were limited and we
had to work within a given time-frame, we had to end our mission in November. We left it to the PIME fathers and their lay
pastoral workers to
continue the ongoing task of strengthening the BECs. A parish general assembly was held in the early
part of December and then we said goodbye to Arakan. When it was time to go, I ran the 50
kilometer distance from
Back in Iligan I met Jogan and Ike again. They were all smiles. The ceasefire had been announced and the local peace talks were about to begin. They were no longer in hiding. They had safe-conduct passes. They were the official representatives of the NDF in the local peace talks with the government panel. Bishop Capalla requested us to provide them with accommodation in the monastery during the period of the local peace talks. The night before their first meeting with the local government panel, Jogan told me that he did not have decent clothes. So I gave him my new polo shirt, a pair of pants and a pair of shoes.
In December, I wrote this letter to a friend which reveals what was happening at that time:
Warm Season's Greetings from the
I'm sure you have heard about the good news of the cease-fire agreement between the military and the NPA. The local peace talks are starting. This is what I have been waiting for. We'll be having a peaceful Christmas for the first time in so many years. I hope the guns will be silent for good.
After Christmas, I'll be spending a month up
in Busay (
By March we will proceed to