Fr. Joe Dizon was an activist who was devoted to his vocation, and a priest who was committed to his activism (Photo from

Fr. Joe Dizon was an activist who was devoted to his vocation, and a priest who was committed to his activism (Photo from

One regret I have was not asking Fr. Joe Dizon to be our wedding priest. So when my wife gave birth to our second child last September, we talked about asking ‘Padz’ to officiate her christening. But that will happen no more. Last November 4, Padz passed away. He was 65 years old.

(“Fr. Joe Dizon asked for poor man’s burial”)

I best remember Padz as pilyo. And his priestly kapilyuhan endeared him to me, and I guess to many others as well who have known him and worked with him. One time he told me how a former congresswoman from a party-list group made ‘mano’ to him when he was at the House of Representatives. “Kinilabutan ako. Parang gusto kong batukan.” The former congresswoman was then parroting the red baiting propaganda of the military, which had victimized many of Padz’s colleagues and friends. Padz still did his priestly task and gave his hand, while the batukan happened only in his mind, he said, grinning.

Like a regular buddy, Padz was game. He doesn’t mind when we tease him every time he uses a magnifying glass when reading a text message. At one press conference which he attended despite being on a wheelchair, we jokingly asked him to stand up for the photo op. As always, he responded with a boyish grin.

I first met Padz about 12 years ago in a conference in Bangkok about workers and globalization. It was my first time abroad and was excited to see around and buy pasalubong. He volunteered to accompany me; he was still able to walk briskly back then. When we were buying some souvenir stuff, he asked the vendor for more than half the price of the item. “Nakakahiya namang tumawad itong paring ito,” I said to myself. But to my amazement, Padz eventually got it at a 50% discount! “Ganito dito,” he simply said. That was the first lesson I learned from him.

In the next couple of years I would see him occasionally; when we were both invited as speakers in some forums or when he asked Ibon to give inputs on current issues at the Workers’ Assistance Center (WAC) in Imus, Cavite. When I moved to Bayan, I saw him more often. Almost always, he would remind me of my smoking. “Tigilan mo na yan,” he would say. The last time I saw Padz was just after the Sona last July. There was a small ‘seminar’ on detox diet which we both attended. “Mas masarap pa rin ang crispy pata kesa singkamas,” he whispered to me at one point during the seminar. Padz loved food.

His genuine warmth and affection are matched only by his firmness in his advocacies and resolve to fight for social justice and genuine change. Padz was the face of poll watchdog Kontra Daya and in the past two elections was a fixture at protest actions in front of the Comelec main office in Manila. At one of the rallies, Comelec security personnel prevented Padz and other Kontra Daya leaders from entering the building to deliver a letter to the Commissioners. There were shoving and pushing and Padz was at the frontline. I was worried for him, being aware of his health condition. But there he was — a copy of the Kontra Daya letter in his hand, undeterred by the Comelec security people and his own physical limitations.

To be sure, that was a minor incident. Those who had known him since the Martial Law years certainly have much better stories of how Padz displayed courage in the face of far greater adversity. But it was an occasion that allowed me to have a glimpse of and see up close the priest and the activist, deteriorating health and all. I admired him even more.

Padz was an activist who was devoted to his vocation, and a priest who was committed to his activism. This made him effective in building alliances to advance the interest of the poor and oppressed people – the workers, farmers, fisherfolk, urban poor and others – that he has faithfully served in the past 40 years as a priest. I’ve seen him preside over meetings of disparate groups that would otherwise not sit together in a table to discuss common activities. And he did it very well and very effectively. He patiently hammered out unities while being firm in the political position he represents. No wonder that Padz, and the national democratic movement to which he belongs, figured prominently in many of the broadest and most important political alliances in the country.

His sudden demise hasn’t sunk yet to me, not even after attending the tribute for him by the people’s organizations he worked with and hearing the eulogies that honored his life as a priest of the people and as an activist of the national democratic movement. I wanted to feel the grief and pain but only his youthful grin and dry humor remain. Maybe because the meaningful way he lived his life and selflessly shared it to the poor and oppressed have filled me up to the brim that I could hardly feel the loss even now when Padz is already gone.

Padz may not have a statue or image like the Saints of his Church. But his is firmly built in the hearts of the people who will wage on the fight to build a society that is truly just and free.

Human rights, Tribute

A national loss

Attorney Romeo T. Capulong (1935-2012) was a powerful symbol of people’s lawyering, deeply cherished by his peers, and sincerely esteemed even by his adversaries

The Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) is holding a tribute today (September 20) to honor the memory of the prominent, respected and treasured human rights lawyer Attorney Romeo T. Capulong. Ka Romy passed away last September 16 at the age of seventy-seven. In its official statement, Bayan described Ka Romy a human rights lawyer extraordinaire and a beloved champion of the masses who comes only once in a generation.

At the time of his death, Ka Romy was the chairperson of the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) which he founded in 1989 amid human rights atrocities under the then Cory Aquino administration. He was also the founding chairman and chairman emeritus of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), which was established in 2007 as a nationwide voluntary organization of law practitioners for the defense and promotion of human rights.

Ka Romy’s dedication to the poor and oppressed, combined with his extraordinary legal acumen, created a brand of people’s lawyering that was truly remarkable, if not unrivaled. While the country did not lack of brilliant lawyers who stood up against colonizers and tyrants, Ka Romy was special for his, as Bayan put it, “unshakeable faith in the masses”. Mula sa masa, para sa masa was Ka Romy’s guiding principle and foundation that motivated his exceptional life as a lawyer and a political activist.

A delegate to the 1970 Constitutional Convention (Con-con) and a former judge at the United Nations (UN) International Criminal Tribunal, Ka Romy challenged the myth of the blindfolded Lady Justice that metes out judgment objectively regardless of power and wealth. Indeed, for all his legal virtuosity, Ka Romy was always the first to say that the legal is just secondary to the political, as the reactionary justice system is skewed in favor of the rich and only the direct and collective political action of the oppressed and aggrieved can neutralize it. Such radical insight was borne by Ka Romy’s decades of battles inside the courtroom and by his keen understanding of the country’s political realities.

This was demonstrated in one of the last cases Ka Romy handled – the Morong 43. The controversial case ended in a historic victory for the unlawfully detained health workers through a determined and sustained political campaign, even as their counsels led by Ka Romy engaged the military and the Arroyo administration in almost a year of legal battle.

The Morong 43 was just one in a long list of high-profile cases that Ka Romy handled – from Prof. Joma Sison to Flor Contemplacion; from Ninoy Aquino to AFP General-turned-NPA Raymundo Jarque; from the Payatas tragedy to Hacienda Luisita; from the Erap impeachment to numerous labor disputes. He was also instrumental in the forging of landmark deals between the communist rebels and the Philippine government. All these illustrate, according to Bayan, “the character and caliber of Ka Romy and by themselves are indisputable testament to his legacy as a people’s lawyer, human rights defender, a Filipino patriot and champion of the masses”.

Ka Romy was to people’s lawyering what Ka Bel was to the militant labor movement and Ka Roger to the revolutionary armed struggle. Like Ka Bel and Ka Roger, Ka Romy was a powerful symbol of his chosen arena of struggle – inspiring many others to follow his lead; deeply cherished by his peers and supporters and sincerely esteemed even by his adversaries.  Like Ka Bel and Ka Roger, the death of Ka Romy has created a sense of national loss . This is a testament to his invaluable contribution to the still unfolding narrative of a nation seeking genuine freedom, democracy and justice.

Poems, Tribute

Medardo “Ka Roda” Roda (1934-2010)

Ka Roda, pioneer of the progressive drivers’ movement in the country, passed away on September 5 due to cardiac arrest (Photo from

para na, ka roda
dyan na lamang sa tabi
gumarahe na kayo at magpahinga
malayu-layo na rin ang inyong binyahe
mula sa mga musmos na pilapil ng libmanan
hanggang sa mga nagmulat na kalye ng cubao.

salamat, ka roda
sa hindi malilimutang pasada
dahil kahit lubak-lubak ang kalsada
ng pinili nating rutang walang shortcut
ay hindi kayo bumitaw sa manibela
hinarang man ng diktador
at humagok ang karburador
ang byahe natin tungong kalayaan
ay laging pasulong.

para na, ka roda
hanggang dito na lamang at maraming salamat,
itutuloy namin ang inyong pasada
at sa bawat kanto ng mga abenida
ng ating dakilang pakikipagtunggali
poste ng ilaw naming ititindig ang ala-ala
ng inyong pag-aalay ng buhay
upang tiyaking kahit sa dilim ng gabi at pag-aagam-agam
ay hindi kami maliligaw sa ruta nating walang shortcut 
upang tiyaking tulad nyo ay
naroon kami hanggang huling byahe
at naroon kami hanggang tagumpay.

(Read more about the life and struggle of Ka Roda here)

Poems, Tribute

Huling martsa

(Mayo 28, 2008 nang magmartsa ang may 20,000 tao upang ihatid ang mga labi ni Ka Bel sa kanyang huling hantungan)

At tayo’y narito na

Sa iyong huling martsa

Narito pa rin ang mga bandilang pula

Hindi nagmamaliw ang sigla ng kanilang pagwagayway

Lalong mahigpit ang pagtangan sa kanila ng mga kinakalyong kamay

At hindi pinakupas ng maraming digmaan ang kanilang kulay.

Bagkus higit silang nagiging matingkad ngayon

Sa bawat igkas ng telang sumasayaw sa hangin

Inuukit sa aking balintataw ang mga lansangang

Tinahak natin noon

Gaano man hilamin ng luha

Sila’y aking abot-tanaw pa rin.

Kaya hindi ko mapigilang hanapin

Sa dagat ng mga sigaw ang iyong tinig

Hindi ko mapigilang hagilapin

Ang iyong kamao sa alon ng dalawampung libong

Kamaong nakatiim

At hinahamon ang mga panginoon

Na ihambalos ang kanilang pinakamalupit na daluyong.

Hindi ko sila natagpuan ngayon –

Ang dating sigaw at kamao,

Hindi ko sila natagpuan ngayon.

Gayunman, salamat!

Salamat at iniwan mo sa akin ang iyong ala-ala at ngiti

Upang ilang ulit man akong dahasin at paslangin

Tiyak kong hindi ako magagapi

Tulad mo noon.