In early September, Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda, asked about Fr. Joe Dizon who was inviting the religious to join the September 11 EDSA Tayo rally, responded with a dismissal. “You know where Fr. Joe Dizon’s political affiliation lies,” the good spokesman told media. “You make your own conclusions.”
We are used to this government dismissing anyone at all who does not agree with it, but to dismiss Fr. Joe in this way also revealed Lacierda’s lack of a sense of history. Fr. Joe’s was a life lived in struggle against the oppressions and repressions of our times. That he fought for the freedoms that Lacierda and his bosses in Malacañang so cherish should warrant him an amount of respect.
Say, Fr. Joe’s fight against Ferdinand Marcos’s Martial Rule, one that could only be important in light of one Cardinal Sin who had invoked at some point that a “critical collaboration” with the oppressive regime was possible. Doesn’t that struggle for freedom resonate with any one of us who breathe it every day, who still think we might be freed from our shackles, no matter that there is democracy?
In recent years, Fr. Joe has kept track of government foibles, demanding for transparency if not just some sensitivity and shame.
Voice of reason
With Kontra-Daya, Fr. Joe was the voice of reason against those PCOS machines, the ones celebrated as the messiah of our questionable electoral process. Yet, the Commission on Elections has admitted that there were some 18,000 defective machines in the May 2013 elections, and the results of the manual audit did not match the PCOS results. Fr. Joe called this an “automation that undercuts transparency and produces results that are unverifiable” and called out government for “doing away with the basic safeguards mandated under the law such as the source code review.”
About that 2012 business trip of PNoy and his entourage to the United States and the United Kingdom, Fr. Joe called Malacañang out on what he thought was a scandalous P87.1-million budget, “a grave sin” he called it too, in the context of hungry and jobless Filipinos. Even then, Fr. Joe had asked this government to give a public accounting of that P87.1-M trip. Of course we didn’t get it.
Because also it is clear that this government will refuse to get it.
I met Fr. Joe recently, when the Abolish Pork Movement had its first meeting early in September in one of the Sto. Domingo Church’s halls. Filled with members of party-list and non-government organizations, members of the academe, various churches and different sectors, as well as individuals, at the center of that room was Fr. Joe. When discussions would get heated and difficult, Fr. Joe would know to take that mic and find the middle ground that would make for a more productive meeting of minds. Calm and collected, there was something relaxing about Fr. Joe’s presence in fact, because he was no priest with a superiority complex, his feet so heavily rooted in the ground.
Gently but intelligently
As one of the volunteers to the September 11 EDSA Tayo rally, I would find Fr. Joe going up the flight of stairs to the top of the EDSA Shrine to listen to Prof. Leonor Briones’s lecture on the pork barrel. At some point, as the crowd grew thicker, and Darryl Shy began to sing, I would find Fr. Joe behind me, looking up to the crowd from his seat, a smile on his face. I turn around and introduce myself as someone who was at the Abolish Pork Movement meeting a couple of days before. He smiles and shakes my hand, and I give him some space to watch Darryl sing, his hands folded over his cane.
It was a comfort to find Fr. Joe there, and in the September 13 rally too, no matter that he would just be sitting quietly when he needed to. I realized now that there was a reason why Fr. Joe was relevant and important, why his loss is one that any freedom-loving Filipino must mourn. That is also the reason why someone like Lacierda will thoughtlessly dismiss him.
Because Fr. Joe, the one who speaks gently but intelligently, the one who walks the streets with purpose, the one who has lived through this nation’s oppressions with eyes wide open, the one who fights for freedom and justice in no uncertain terms, the one who speaks of a Church that’s for the poor, he is the militant this government fears.
Fr. Joe lives.