There we were, eight young men waiting around for somebody to hire us. A learned man came along and said, “Come, I know Someone who has need of your services.” And we followed him with enthusiasm. We worked during that summer in a sugar plantation called Hacienda Violeta in Silay City Negros Occidental, living as sacadas earning a few pesos doing backbreaking work in the sugarcane fields.
Fr. Abe had a radical idea of priestly formation, one that was deeply biblical and rooted in the social realities of the times with a preferential option for the poor. Part of our curriculum was immersion in the lives of people, specially the poor. Our work in Hacienda Violeta was the official start of our experimental seminary. A few months later, martial law was declared in the Philippines.
We had to disband. Our work and contacts with the poor and those working with and for them have landed us in the list of the military’s persons of interest. We each went our ways, fearful and worried of being picked up and landing in the many detention centers put up by the martial law regime.
Three of our group went all the way and headed for the hills. Rey and Joe joined the armed struggle after we disbanded. Rey was a fresh graduate who had spent time working with the poor in the slums of Tondo. He was salvaged by a Zombie (a government deep penetration agent). Joe was a seminarian from Iloilo, simple but intense in his commitment to social change. He was killed in an encounter with government troops. Martin was an audacious spirit who had literally lived the life of the urban poor. He spent some time pushing a cart and picking up whatever he can from garbage dumps and making a living out of it. He just disappeared one day and we never again heard from or about him.
Three of our group eventually did become priests, having returned to their traditional seminaries after we disbanded. Francis continued his studies abroad and is now working in the Lord’s vineyard in the US. Joey returned to his congregation and is now a missionary in Japan. Nelson was ordained in his home province of Iloilo and is now the pastor in one of the parishes there.
Benjie and I ended up in the academe and the corporate world. We taught in the two leading business schools in the country. He is a consultant with several government agencies and NGOs. I have been an executive in several corporations.
I have tried during my engagement with the Academe and the corporate world to live the ideals, values and principles we championed during those days we lived with Fr. Abe, working to bring about just relationships in society and organizations. I have lived and shared these commitments in ways I can and with people who would allow me into their lives. I have not always been successful. There have been instances I allowed myself to be co-opted by the system. But slowly, things are somehow changing and getting better. I am inspired and humbled by colleagues from those days whose fire for the things we treasured and struggled for then has not dimmed in their hearts. Nag-aalab pa rin. They are just as active today as they were then in the struggle and in the movement.
We have a saying in Filipino, “Ang taong hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makararating sa paroroonan.” which roughly translates “He who does not know how to look back to where he came from will never make it to where he is bound for.” Martial Law was the darkest period in our nation’s history. There are some today who would revise history and paint those times as our golden age. This is totally a perversion of our past. If we forget the horrors and the iniquity of those times, we are building on shifting sands. It is in remembering the tortures and the sufferings of those years that we will learn our lessons and build a better world for the future.
The Lord is near to all who call upon him.
Jesus told his disciples this parable:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner
who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard.
After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage,
he sent them into his vineyard.
Going out about nine o’clock,
the landowner saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard,
and I will give you what is just.’
So they went off.
And he went out again around noon,
and around three o’clock, and did likewise.