There are only two things that can prompt a man to defy the most brutal of all tyrants and dismiss the threat of death as a flimsy possibility or as a much-awaited moment of personal epiphany: the first is the feeling of reckless heroism and the second is the sense of profound altruism and self-abnegation. The first refers to the youth-like desire to expand one’s personal horizons at all cost and to enlist this feeling of invincibility in the service of a higher purpose and a far more noble goal. The latter on the other hand, is the paragon of self-sacrifice that is so common among the Christian folk, giving a part of one’s self to the indigent and the spiritually needy so that one may carry his or her cross and become whole.
Fr. Rudy disappeared on 11 July 1985. It has been 20 years now since people last saw him, but he continues to live in the memories of the people who have been a part of his life – the example he taught and left behind is still remembered. Fr. Rudy was one of those who strongly fought against Marcos’ dictatorial regime in the Philippines. He fought it by never giving up his quest for justice and peace, and by serving the poor. He also shared conscience towards genuine freedom, especially among the Cebuanos in Central Philippines and the Warays in Eastern Visayas, where he grew up. On the website featuring the Directory of the Professed Members of the Cebu Redemptorist Province (Visayas- Mindanao, Southern Philippines), Fr. Rudy’s name is at the very bottom of the page. His status: Alive but MISSING.
As a student in the 1980s, I remember “Tatay” Rudy (an endearment meaning, father) as a jack-of-all-trades. He is an artist, a scientist, an engineer, a carpenter, a missionary, a friend, a priest, and a staunch believer in human rights. He even knew martial arts. A poet, he writes poems and sealed them in envelopes with autumn leaves from London. Gifted with creativity, Fr. Rudy loves to tinker with recyclables. Once, he turned a dilapidated room (almost like a bodega or a storage room), into a respectable office of the Coalition Against People’s Persecution (CAPP). He made tables and chairs for the office as well. It is hard to imagine that such a dear person is gone. The person that he is seemed to be invincible from the horrors of brutality and injustice. But a dictatoral government prove otherwise.
A “crush ng bayan” to the colegialas, he is also regarded as a dear “Tatay” by the student activists who remember him as the kind priest who always offered them glasses of hot milk after a tiring day.
Despite being in the protest movement, he is foremost a priest, who has time to celebrate dawn masses with the community at the different chapels of the Redemptorist Parish. We would go to B. Rodriguez, Dignos or at Perpetual Succor and Southern Islands hospitals.” The missing priest is also resourceful and has a great penchant for alliance-work. “He helps with the funding solicitation of offices like the Visayas Ecumencial Movement for Justice and Peace (VEMJP) soliciting an Argus SLR- camera from his friends in London, to be used for fact-finding missions (FFMs). “ He has a way of sharing his social awareness with professionals, who became members of protest groups, such as Bayan (which literally means nation). Boy’s friendship with Fr. Rudy Romano has continued even after he left the Redemptorist seminary for a happy married life with Carol and their three children. Carol was Boy’s buddy during the campaign and the search for Fr. Rudy in 1985. “As we searched for him, Carol and I had more meaning of our lives and we continue to dedicate ourselves in serving others because we know him and have been with Fr. Rudy Romano.”
Fr. Emy Maningo, CSsR, colleague and fellow human rights advocate who like Fr. Rudy, also became Regional Director of Vocations, wrote in 2004:
Every July 11, we remember Fr. Rudy Romano as an advocate for justice and peace and crusader for human rights. This year, we honor him as Redemptorist missionary and regional director of vocations. Thus, tomorrow, we will name our Regional Vocations Office as the “Fr. Rudy Romano Room.” It is located at the entrance of the Redemptorist College Seminary, next to the Redemptorist Church. Fr. Rudy was assigned to the Redemptorist missions from 1965 to 1976. He was appointed regional director of vocations from 1976 to 1980 while spending full time in social action and human rights advocacy from 1980 to 1985. The Redemptorist Community of Cebu also put him in-charge of their Social Action Apostolate. There were other Redemptorist missionaries involved in social concerns before Fr. Rudy. But, he overtook some of them.
Fr. Rudy was from one of the affluent families of Villareal, Western Samar. His father owned 200 hectares of rice land, a fleet of public utility jeepneys and a store and was a town mayor. At that time, the Redemptorists were invited to give missions and retreats there.
Fr. Jim Power told the young Rudy: “Being a missionary is not always easy. Sometimes you will have to sleep on the floor…There will be long hikes in the mountains, riding horses and motorcycles…” This attracted Rudy. He left his comfortable life for the poor.
Fr. Rudy gave missions in Leyte, Samar, Negros Occidental, Siquijor, Zamboanga del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Misamis Occidental and Cebu. He was such an effective missionary that his superiors appointed him director of vocations to recruit young missionaries.
Only a happy Redemptorist who believes in what he is doing can convince others to do the same,” said Fr. Flan Daffy, Rudy’s superior on the missions. One of his recruits from Iligan City, Fr. Oming Obach, is now a Redemptorist missionary in Dalat, Borneo. On Fr. Rudy, Fr. Obach said: “He talked a lot about his mission experience… getting muddy, climbing the slopes of a mountain and sliding back, riding horses, sleeping on bamboo floors. He talked of his love for simple people in the barrios.” Meanwhile, the situation of the urban poor and workers in Cebu worsened during Martial Law. Rudy took their side.
His dedication was later recognized officially. The post-martial law Provincial Government honored him as an “Adopted Son of Cebu” during its 41st founding anniversary on August 5, 1987. Actually, it is easy to set up a “Fr. Rudy Romano Room.” But Fr. Rudy would be happier if we continue to be imbued with his spirit, which is the spirit of Jesus and the founder of the Redemptorist Missionaries, St. Alphonsus. Are we ready to let go of our comfortable lifestyle and rough it out with the poor? Are we ready to face danger, even death, to uphold human rights, especially of the oppressed and exploited? They can kill Rudy, but he rises again in our commitment—today.
Twenty years after July 11, 1985- I remember “Tatay” Rudy with fondness. St. Theresa’s College in Cebu is a neighboring institution of the St. Alphonsus Collegiate Seminary, where I often would proceed to his office together with other members of the Student Catholic Action of the Philippines (SCAP) or members of the Concerned Students for Human Rights (CSHR), to meet and to plan. In some vignettes of poetry, I remember Fr. Rudy Romano:
We have grown to become what we want to be
Many of us have seen the days of torture
Many of us demur from a continuing
Cycle of dictatorship
That many of us have died
Have been believed to die
Rowena Ranoco, 43, knows Fr. Rudy well, too. Today, her eldest daughter, Aya is already 20. She gave birth to Aya on exactly the same day that Fr. Rudy Romano, CSsR was last heard from. September 26 is also her husband, Calitos’ birthday. As a school principal who now heads the National Science High School in San Francisco, Agusan del Sur Rowena recalls moments with “Tatay” Rudy, then they were organizing a Professionals’ Forum: “Ang ako g’yung mahinumduman niya ang iyang pagtahi og sinina niadtong bata nga lone survivor bitaw sa Las Navas massacre. Siya g’yud ang nangunay sa pagtahi ug kahibalo gyud siya nga ang bata wala gyud to siya’y sinina nga presentable.” (What I will never forget about Fr. Rudy is the time when he sewed a dress for a girl, who was the lone survivor of the Las Navas massacre in Samar. He had the foresight that the girl did not have a presentable dress.) “He also had a very good sense of humor and sense of planning and preparation bringing flashlight, umbrella, a bottle of water. Fr. Rudy was a very patient man, too. I have never seen him get annoyed. He liked to hum and would sing a few songs when we had short breaks in our meetings. Rudy had a lot of friends, especially those from his province of Samar and Cebu. He had a wide network because he was a likeable person.”
Marivic Castellon, 44, formerly a political detainee, remembers Fr. Rudy from her high school days. She was living then at Ma. Cristina, an urban poor squatters’ area which was part of the Redemptorist Parish. “As a young student at the time, I was a member of the choir of the Redemptorist church. Fr. Rudy was a prominent person in my life because he was the only priest who would make regular visits to our community and facilitate some leadership seminars for young people like me. Fr. Rudy’s integration with us shaped our social awareness towards understanding the roots of poverty and our sense of dedication to solve structural problems.” Marivic was saddened when Fr. Rudy was abducted 20 years ago. “I knew that Fr. Rudy’s fate would lead him to that direction because of his dedication to serve the poor. There are many more missing people like him whom I know, from the urban poor and peasant sectors, but have not been internationally published as they are not personalities like Fr. Rudy Romano.” Marivic’s recollection and inspiration of Fr. Rudy is best sung in Fr. Rudy’s favorite song- “Sinina Kong Gisi” (My Torn Dress), a Cebuano folk song that bespeaks of the poverty of a little girl:
Sinina kong gisi sanglit usa ra ka buok
(This piece of torn dress)
Usa ra kabuok kang Nanay pagalabhan
(Is the only dress my mother washes)
Dili almirulan, dili almirulan
(No time for starching)
Basta makaabot lang sa eskwelahan.
(For as long as it can be used in school)
Tiempong ting- recess kuyog sa akong classmate
(At snack time when I am with classmates)
Palit sila og pan ako nagalantaw
(I simply stare when they eat bread)
Sa akong paglantaw, murag kahilakon
(I am teary eyed as I look on)
Pobre si Nanay way ipabalon.
(My mother is so poor I do not have any snacks)
Tiempong ting-sanggi kaon kamig mais
(At harvest, we eat corn)
Tiempong tinggutom saging lang intawon
(Off season, we partake of bananas)
Mohilak si Nanay, mohilak si Tatay
(Mother and father cry)
Mohilak sila sa among kapobre.
(They cry because we are so poor.)
73-year old urban poor leader and women’s advocate, Violeta Manang1 Viol Jagmoc was close to Fr. Rudy Romano. “Gikan pa g’yud niadtong 1972, siya’y nagtudlo nako og mga leadership skills. Gitabangan g’yud ko niya kung unsaon pag-organisa ang urban poor sector aron matabangan namo ang among kaugalingon.” (Since 1972, Fr. Rudy has truly helped me become a good leader within the urban poor sector, so we may be able to organize and help ourselves.) In 1974, Panaghugpong (which literally means unity), was established among the urban poor sector. “Maayo g’yud to siya mogiya nako kung unsay akong buhaton, bisan gani sa akong problema sa tambal, dako siya’g tabang.” (He was my guide in terms of organizing and he also assisted me with health problems by procuring medicines for our group.) “Imposibleng makalimtan si Fr, Rudy kay bisan hangtud karon nga tigulang nako, siya gihapoy nagsilbing akong inspirasyon sa akong paglihok.” (It is impossible to forget Fr. Rudy. Even in my old age, he continues to be my inspiration with my organizing work.) Manang Viol is an officer of Kadamay – Cebu, (which literally means empathy), a national urban poor group, and Gabriela, a national women’s advocacy organization.
Letting a Hundred Flowers Bloom
After 1985 and Fr. Rudy’s disappearance, the cultural movement flourished in the Visayas and the whole country. People’s festivals were held in Cebu, Bacolod, Iloilo, Bohol, Baguio, Laguna, Manila, Butuan, Davao and Iligan. Cultural workers from the visual arts, the literary arts, theatre arts and music delivered the best of their craft to attain momentum of the people’s movement that was to become People Power 1. In this scenario, musicians paid tribute to Fr. Rudy Romano, CSSr, our “Tatay”, the missing one. Jess Santiago from Manila composed a song for him- “Nasaan si Padre Rudy Romano? (Where is Fr. Rudy Romano?) And with a new breed of musicians, Rolly Wagas was inspired to write a song for him entitled – Kapayapaan (Peace), which he sang 3 years ago on July 11, at the St. Alphonsus seminary.
July 11 is always remembered as a date of justice and peace, especially for human rights advocates in Fr. Rudy’s memory. And September 26 is the day that we remember when he shared some of his life with us as we continue to do the work that he has, together with so many others who dream of a free and sovereign nation. Despite the sadness and tears from friends who recall Fr. Rudy, there is a continued reverence for his legacy and a tribute to his example. As in the Bible verses of Saint John 12:20-26:20
Some Greeks Seek Jesus
Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21 So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.
One of the many desaparecidos of the country, Fr. Rudy Romano remains present in the hearts of the Cebuanos. The marker which the local government of Cebu established in his honor in the very place where he was taken by agents of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) is a constant reminder of Fr. Romano’s unflinching commitment to the cause of the downtrodden. More importantly, his exemplary deeds which touched the lives of many will never ever be forgotten. Fr. Rudy Romano is ever present in our hearts.
More than a couple of decades, the Philippine government miserably failed to produce the truth about the disappearance of a man whose cherished dream was to attain a better Philippines for his people and for the generations of the future to live in. Instead, the succeeding administrations after Marcos continued to commit cases of enforced disappearances causing untold sufferings both to the desaparecidos and their families.
Painful indeed it is to note that 23 years after Fr. Rudy’s disappearance, the Philippines is one of the Asian countries which is most notorious in their record of enforced disappearances. Failing to sign and ratify the United Nations Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances, the Arroyo administration has instead callously committed more than 190 cases of enforced disappearances. As a matter of fact, the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances requested the present Arroyo administration to invite it to visit the country and conduct investigation. Yet the Philippine government did not even have the decency to reply. This national phenomenon of enforced disappearances has obliged the Supreme Court to utilize its unused power by convening a National Consultative Summit on Extrajudicial Killings and Enforced Disappearances, Seeking for Solutions.
This is definitely not the better Philippines that Fr. Rudy Romano lived and struggled for during his time…. Yet, his good examples and his undying spirit of love for humanity should prick the conscience of the present government to resolve cases of enforced disappearances of the past and prevent future ones from happening.
As we remember Fr. Romano, we continue the good deeds he left behind and we go on with this difficult journey towards a world without desaparecidos. This is our modest contribution to the realization of a better Philippines, a better Asia and a better world.
Fr. Rudy is ever present in our hearts.
In retrospect, Father Rudy Romano was a fusion of these two. A Redemptorist priest, Rudy was the perfect follower of St. Alphonsus de Liguori, ministering to the destitute and most hapless of Christ and St. Peter’s flock. But being a product of his times, Fr. Rudy was also one of the harshest critics of Martial Law and the conjugal dictatorship then residing in Malacañang.
It is perhaps this unsettling site of a much-respected Catholic, in all his dazzling religious garments, marching in anti-Marcos rallies that has so infuriated the military and the powers-that-be. For on the afternoon of July 11, 1985, Fr. Rudy was abducted by alleged elements of the Military Intelligence Group (MIG) in Labangon, Cebu presumably to silence a man who has long acknowledged the nature of his calling by living and dying in behalf of God’s brethren.
Abducted together with student activist Levi Ybañez, Fr. Rudy’s disappearance and that of the other 1,716 similar cases that have been reported spanning five administrations reflect our capacity for heroism and a wounding reminder of our callousness and national affliction. While some light a candle so as not to curse in the dark, others seek refuge in the bleakness believing that they shall neither be blinded by the radiance nor be burned by the flickering flame.
Sixteen years has elapsed since then; and neither his fate nor his whereabouts has been divulged by his abductors or by the authorities. It is perhaps truly ironic that a people that prides itself in being the sole Christian nation in the Far East has allowed the disappearance of a Catholic priest along with other Filipino desaparecidos, with most of the case remaining unresolved after more than decade of scrutiny and investigation. Worse, this very same people have elected to the Senate a man who has been allegedly involved in the abduction. Either the Filipino is a people of hypocrites or a nation afflicted with a pervading sense of amnesia. In much the same way, the Good Book not only narrates how Christ asked his disciples to forgive seventy times seven times; but He also speaks of the need for repentance for the sinner to be forgiven. Before there can be forgiveness, there must first be justice.
“He who would be a leader of his people”, says Ninoy Aquino, “must learn to forgive them.” That is easier said than done.
Source: Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD)