I wrote this piece for two reasons. Firstly, to honor, once more, persons I have known who lived simply and with deep dedication to serving the interest and welfare of the common people.
Secondly, to turn away our minds, even for only a while, from the grisly and condemnable fascist/gangland-style killings – especially of our youths – in pursuance of the anti-drug and counterinsurgency campaigns of the Duterte government.
Seven years ago (Sept. 11, 2010), I wrote in this space a piece with a similar title and tenor. It discussed the lives of two political activists who died two days apart that month: the writer-poet-journalist Alexander Remollino, 33, and 76-year-old Medardo Roda, chairman emeritus of Piston, the militant jeepney drivers and operators association.
Now this piece is about a missionary priest, Fr. Herminio Ricafort, SVD, and Eduardo Lingat, a poor peasant from Barangay Anupul, Bamban, Tarlac. Both were personally close to me. And they both passed away due to illness one week apart recently, at the same age as I am now.
Both April-born, Fr. Ricafort and I were boyhood friends in Sta. Rita, Pampanga. From childhood, he had been nicknamed “Among” – the term with which everyone in our town dutifully addressed the parish priest, and for that matter every priest. Thus, after he was ordained, our high-school batchmates teasingly began calling him “Among Among.”
His middle-class family lived in a big house, made of hardwood and surrounded by tall trees, near the town center in Brgy San Vicente. In contrast, my peasant family lived in a nipa-roofed house amidst ricefields in Brgy Sta. Monica, beside an irrigation ditch lined with swaying bamboo trees. The creek provided ample fish for us to eat and a deep wading pool for our working carabaos.
On Saturdays Among would take a long walk to our home. We would munch on boiled or grilled freshly-harvested corn, bathe in the cool water from a free-flowing artesian well, relish lunch and merienda largely consisting of farm food. After high school, we chose different vocations (I turned to journalism and political activism) and we would meet sparingly. Whenever Among came home to Sta. Rita he would take the time to visit my mother. On Inang’s 100th birthday, he celebrated Mass for her, and when she passed away he came to pray and bless her.
Among took seriously his vocation as SVD missionary, mainly among the Mangyans in Mindoro. He spent years looking into their living conditions, listening to their grievances against government neglect and the adverse impact on their communities of government-backed “development projects” and counterinsurgency operations. With the resources he could harness, he provided material and livelihood assistance, health care, and educational aid. He took interest in Mangyan culture.
For his meritorious work, Among was plucked out of his mission and appointed rector of the congregation’s two seminaries: the one in Tagaytay, from 1974 to 1979, and Christ the King in Quezon City, from 1979 to 1985. These covered the critical years of the Marcos martial-law dictatorship.
Rector Among earned the respect and love of the young aspirants for priesthood. He had a remarkable capacity to remember the name of each and every seminarian, his batchmate Fr. Restituto Lumanlan disclosed in a homily at the Mass during Among’s final evening wake. And that respect and love was evidenced by the throng of former, retired, and current SVDs that gathered at his wake and his interment in Villa Kristo Rey last Thursday.
In the early 1980s, Among’s 17-year-old activist niece Jeng Espiritu (daughter of his sister) was arrested and detained at the Bicutan Rehabilitation Center, where I had been incarcerated since October 1976. It was there that Among and I met again like long-lost brothers. That also began his unstinting support for the struggle of political prisoners, for human rights defenders and anti-Marcos dictatorship organizations.
He opened Christ the King facilities to the families and friends of political prisoners – providing office space for their organization (called Kapatid), meeting rooms for human rights advocates, and refuge for activists threatened with arrest. He made available the seminarians’ basketball court (where he himself played with his students) for large gatherings and protest activities.
In 2009, when I was still in Congress as Bayan Muna partylist representative, Among accompanied a large delegation of Mindoro people to the Batasang Pambansa. They had been rallying against large-scale mining at the Department of Energy and Natural Resources, and Among asked me to meet them. I was glad to do so, because our progressive bloc in the House was preparing an alternative mining bill to replace the Mining Act of 1995 that we were seeking to repeal. (It hasn’t been repealed.)
Even more low-profile than Among was Eduardo Lingat, better known to former political prisoners as “Ka Duarding.” He was an exceedingly quiet and secretive person. When I was transferred from isolated detention to Bicutan in late 1977, he was already there. And I found out why he was so secretive. (He even forbade his 10 children from visiting him in prison, to shield them from harm.)
Prior to his arrest in 1974, Ka Duarding had performed highly sensitive missions for the Left underground armed revolutionary movement. He knew the leading personalities of the movement in Central Luzon, the network of communications up to Cagayan Valley, and much sensitive information. Under severe torture by the military intelligence, he resisted giving any information whatsoever. He wouldn’t share the information even with fellow political detainees. He maintained his full faith in the strategic objectives of the movement he had sworn to serve, up to the very end of his life.
When Ka Duarding passed away he did so without any fuss. Not many knew about it. So I missed his wake and interment. But the vital service he rendered to the struggle for change and his example of fealty to the cause remains ensconced in my heart and in those of others who knew him well.
Published in The Philippine Star
Sept. 9, 2017