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IN MEMORIAM: How Fr. Picx’s advocacy work influenced me

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(This is an expanded version of the eulogy delivered by Eizel Hilario for Fr. Amado “Picx” Picardal on the last night of his wake on 05 June 2024 at the Redemptorist Church in Cebu City).

Sa pamilya ni Fr. Picx, sa Redemptorist Community, at sa bayang naulilila, magandang gabi po.

I am Eizel Hilario, gikan sa Bukidnon. Daang lumulupyo sa Davao City.

I met Fr. Picx, as well as most of the members of the Redemptorist Community who have been assigned in Davao and in the Kulaman Mission, in 2003-2005 through Bro. Karl Gaspar. I worked with the Redemptorist Itinerant Mission Team”s (RIMT) Lumad Mission in 2004-2005.

When I met my now husband in 2006, my link and interconnection with Fr. Picx and the Redemptorists was pushed back further to the dark period of Martial Law. This connection was revealed when my husband Bj’s childhood memories of a family member’s military assignment were triggered by stories and anecdotes shared about the Redemptorists’ lives during Martial Law.

Learning about the experiences of Karl, Fr. Picx, Fr. Rudy Romano, and many others during Martial Law deepened our commitment as a couple to speak out against Martial Law and strengthened my resolve to work on Transitional Justice for its victims. This advocacy starts with truth telling in our home, with our son, Pablo. We would take him to book launches, forums, and rallies even before he could walk. Two years ago, I sent Fr. Picx a video of Pablo, who was 10 then, speaking about Martial Law. And Fr. Picx messaged me, “you are raising him well.  Gamay nga practice na lang, pwede nang mag spokesperson (Just a little more practice, he can be a spokesperson). Teach him how to speak in front of the video as if he is not reading a script.” 

A year ago, in Grade 6, when assigned to interview those who lived through and experienced Martial Law for an individual class project, Pablo declared in his class, “oh, I will interview my Lolo, Brother Karl Gaspar, and many others who were political prisoners at that time. I know many.” I helped him arrange the interviews, but unfortunately, not with Fr. Picx, the family priest friend who lovingly toured him around Baclaran Shrine in 2017 and showed him the memorial, Bantayog ng mga Desaparecidos and shared with him stories on how the Shrine was a site of resistance and a sanctuary for victims during Martial Law. Due to the risks to his life, we felt that Fr. Picx would be unnecessarily exposed through Pablo’s hour-long interview.

Fr. Picx never told me to ‘let kids be kids.’ Always affirming, I knew he trusted our ability to expose Pablo to social injustices and to teach him how to seek truth and justice based on his evolving capacity.

As a person from Bukidnon, I am forever thankful to the Redemptorists, including Fr. Picx as well as Fr. Pat Kelly SFM, for every patch of forest that remains in Bukidnon today.

Growing up in the Bukidnon frontier during the 1970s and 1980s, I saw only three kinds of vehicles dominating the Sayre Highway in our part of Bukidnon: Ceres and Bachelor buses, sugar cane trucks, and logging trucks. Of these, it was the logging trucks that instilled the most fear in me, owing to their sheer size and the massive logs they transported. Surely, these logs hailed from the finest, biggest, and tallest timber stands within the forests. The trucks thundered with a terrifying roar as they rumbled along the worn-out stretch of cemented road that dissected our quiet university town, which was particularly unsettling at night.

Due to the ecological conscientization initiated by the Iligan Redemptorist Mission Team—comprising six Redemptorists, seven lay associates, and four seminarians from St. Mary Theologate in Ozamiz City—and the environmental actions taken by laypeople from their eight mission areas, most of whom were members of Pagbugtaw sa Kamatuoran (PSK) in San Fernando, a total logging ban was imposed in Bukidnon on April 30, 1990.  I followed the newspaper reports by Carol Arguillas about the barricades against the logging concessions of Caridad C. Almendras Enterprises (CCA) and El Labrador Lumber Company, Inc., as well as the historic 10-day ‘fast for the forests’ by 13 San Fernando peasants in front of the DENR Central Office in Quezon City as a high school student in studying in Los Baños.

I documented the impacts of the anti-logging struggle and the victory of the San Fernando farmers in Chapter 3 of my MA thesis on the cultural politics of ‘development’ in Northern Bukidnon. Higaonon communities in the Mintapod-Calabugao area, who were powerless to stop the encroachment of Anakan Logging Company (ALCO) and Nasipit Logging Company (NALCO) during the height of Martial Law, said logging operations in their area stopped because of the protests by the farmers, which were amplified by the Catholic Church. They demonstrated their solidarity with the San Fernando farmers by signing the petition to stop logging operations in their areas as well.

In 1999, picket lines were mounted anew in Valencia, as illegal logging activities continued indiscriminately. I emailed Karl then that I went down and showed solidarity to the people holding the line and updated him with the number of logging trucks that could not pass through. And Karl emailed me back, “of course, Eizel, you know where this all started.” 

When I moved to Davao in 2006 after working with the Kulaman Mission, I was conscious that Fr. Picx was documenting the killings by the Davao Death Squad. With this knowledge, I never voted for Mayor Rodrigo Duterte throughout our entire ten-year stay in Davao City.

When Duterte ran for President in 2016, I was among the laypeople who spoke out against him, his governance, and his human rights violations, albeit within my limited sphere of influence, despite the unpopularity of doing so. As an anthropologist, I knew that this advocacy was based on solid evidence from Fr. Picx’s meticulous documentation. I called on anthropologists, anthropology students, and fellow social scientists—especially those from Davao City where the killings were an open secret—who openly campaigned for Duterte or proudly displayed fist bumps on their Facebook walls to be reflexive about their positions, motives, and interests, and to take accountability for their actions.

Fr. Picx messaged me about his depression following the results of the 2016 elections. He expressed that his only glimmer of hope rested on Leni Robredo winning as Vice President. Hence, when the Davao for Leni group was formed and its Facebook page was put up in 2021, I reached out to him immediately. I knew it would bring him joy and hope to discover a group initiated by young individuals from Davao region who were not the typical figures from Davao City known for speaking out against Duterte and his governance. I proudly informed him that the members of the group were social media savvy.

Unknown to many, including most of our members due to his low profile, Fr. Picx was a member of the Davao for Leni Facebook page. On April 18, 2022, he messaged me, asking how he could contribute to support activities in ground zero. I jokingly asked, ‘Nakamisa ka dre?’  A few days later, we received €104.40 all the way from Rome via wire money transfer, with specific instructions from him regarding which of our activities the money should be allocated to.

His depression over the results of the 2022 elections is well known to colleagues and friends as he has extensively written about it. The only thing that he was hopeful for, was the ICC investigation, which he believed with certainty, would happen.  

Our last communication was on April 14, 2024. I would have liked to ask him for a favor — to connect me with a contact at the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) for our campaign to pass the Positive Parenting Bill. As a priest who has devoted his life to fighting against violence, I was confident he would support me and our work against violence towards children in their homes. However, I hesitated to broach the topic as he enthusiastically sent me a picture and described the construction of his do it yourself (DIY) hermitage, built from stones, glass, and cordwood salvaged from trees felled by Typhoon Odette. He proudly declared himself the architect, engineer, and laborer (carpenter and mason).

On May 29, on the occasion of his 47th anniversary of profession, I read his post, the poem about Bruno. My immediate reaction was ‘mingaw man uy’ so I chose not to comment. Instead, I planned to message him after work so I could compose a proper message.

Karl’s message sent to our chatgroup with a few friends at 3:43 in the afternoon that Fr. Picx collapsed and had died earlier was clearly a shock to all of us. Until now, our family doesn’t know what to make of his sudden death. Bj  could only ask, “bakit ganoon, nauuna ang mga mabubuting tao sa mundo. Si Chair Chito (Gascon), at ngayon, si Fr. Picx. Samantala, ang mga masasama, andyan pa rin.” Meanwhile, I could only say, “Hala, di man niya lang nahintay ang ICC. Excited pa naman siya doon.”

But as what journeying with you taught me, Fr. Picx, life goes on. And the struggle continues. Salig lang, ugma puhon lamdag, kaluy-an sa Ginoo, naa lagi’y hustisya para sa mga sa mga biktima og gidaog-daog, ilabi na sa EJK og sa Drug War.

Daghang salamat, Fr. Picx.

(Eizel Hilario is a volunteer anthropologist who worked with the Kulaman Lumad Mission of the Redemptorist Itinerant Mission and Oblates of Mary Immaculate in Kulaman, Sultan Kudarat from 2004 to 2005. Eizel was one of the individuals requested by Fr. Edilberto Cepe, CsSR, the Provincial Superior, to deliver a eulogy highlighting how Fr. Picx’s advocacy had been an inspiration to them or to others, along with expressions of commendation or gratitude)

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