Antonio Y. Fortich:
Rev. Bishop Antonio Y. Fortich, known worldwide for his human rights
advocacy, passed away last July 1. But even in death, the feisty bishop looms
bigger than life itself.
EDGAR A. CADAGAT and KARL G. OMBION
friends and the whole religious community deeply mourn the Negros prelate’s
demise, all saying his death was a big loss for the Church and the people.
many compare Fortich to El Salvador’s Archbishop Romero, the popular Negros
bishop defies comparison. There is only one Fortich, who was inflamed by the
country’s socio-political system and spoke out against it when it was not the
fashion to do so.
was a human rights advocate, philosopher, peacemaker and true leader of his flock.
a peacemaker, he did not mind being controversial if he believed his position correct.
He once said: “Peace is radically rooted in justice.
Peace is the flower of justice. Unless the government sees to it that justice is
given to everyone it is very hard to talk about lasting peace. Let’s look at
some of our real problems. The land belongs to a few, health services in the
hinterlands are poor, there is corruption in offices. The solution to these
should not be momentary or plastic.”
a social reformer, he stirred up a hornet's nest with his pronouncement that if
the system of injustice, exploitation and oppression was not rectified, Negros
would become a social volcano. History proved him correct.
a clergy, he preached that the Church must be a Church of the people.
Ireneo Gordoncillo summed up the man and his achievements when he said: “Bishop
Emeritus, Msgr. Antonio Y. Fortich’s death was a big loss. An era has
Fortich was from Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental. He was
born August 11, 1913. His father Ignacio Fortich was a Spanish mestizo, while
his mother Rosalla Yapsutco was half-Chinese. There were only two children,
Antonio and his sister Caridad.
studying in Dumaguete, he decided to enter the Jesuit-run San Jose Seminary in
Manila, where he finished his priesthood. Even as a young seminarian, he
demonstrated early on his intellectual capacity, pleasant disposition which
endeared him to his professors and fellow seminarians, and contagious sense
was ordained into priesthood at the height of World War II on March 4, 1944. He
took his first assignment in Bacolod. To get there, he took a paraw (a frail and
motorless boat) all the way from Manila because there was no other means of
transportation. He served in Bacolod until 1949 when he was transferred to Binalabagan town
in southern Negros. He so endeared himself among the people that when he was
recalled to Bacolod in 1951, there were vehement protests and petitions for his
a year later, Msgr. Manuel Yap appointed him as Vicar General with the honorary
title “Monsignor.” Fortich complemented Msgr. Yap quite well. While the latter
was as a biblical scholar and mathematical genius who preferred to study than
attend meetings and talk to people, Fortich on the other hand was engrossed with community work.
It was during this period of great
social unrest that he showed his ability to reach out and mediate between conflicting parties.
1964 he organized the Cursillo de Christianidad Movement, which meant
translating the Christian faith into concrete pastoral work and achieving things
together with the community. Soon, the Cursillo caught fire and almost everyone
in the diocese joined. In the Cursillo, Fortich demonstrated his capacity for
leadership, as well as patience in dealing with all types of people.
year later, he established the Barangay ng Virgen Movement (BVM), a mass-based
organization aimed to promote devotion to Virgin Mary through the Holy Rosary.
The BVM caught fire and soon became a national phenomenon. By the end of
the ‘60s, it had spread practically all over the country. Fortich initiated
similar other Christian movements and, in 1966, was given recognition by
Philippine church hierarchy and appointed as national chaplain of the different
1966, after the death of Msgr. Yap, he was officially elected Vicar Titular by
the diocesan consultants. On January 14, 1967 he was elected by Rome as the
third bishop of Bacolod.
a Church for the poor
consecration of Fortich came at the time when the country and the Church itself
were in ferment. The Vatican II position, the Papal Social Encyclicals, and the
election of Fortich, known for his progressive views, contributed to the
on his long experience and deep knowledge of the diocese, Fortich
reorganized it to become more responsive to the times. A social action program
became one of its top priorities. He assigned Fr. Luis Jalandoni, an equally
socially-oriented priest, to head the program.
diocese’s thrusts slowly but persistently brought the Negros Church and clergy
closer to the impoverished sacadas or sugar workers.
In 1969, Fortich issued a pivotal pastoral letter touching on the inhuman
conditions of the sacadas. Showing his strong belief in promoting
social justice, he declared, “The church is organizing all available resources to initiate
or release the forces of change.”
the ‘70s, Fortich opened an experimental cooperative farm, the Kaisahan Farm
settlement in Candoni, to help his poor constituents organize themselves and survive. He
also helped organize the small landowners in southern Negros by initiating the
establishment of the Dacongcogon Sugar and Rice Milling Cooperative and tapping
various government and private sources to boost the project.
also assisted several other pro-labor programs and foundations, all for the
purpose of ensuring that workers receive just wages and benefits. He also
initiated the diocesan radio station, VERITAS, to complement the diocese work
for social justice. The radio station is now known as DYAF station.
on, the diocese under Fortich’s leadership embraced further the promotion of
social justice when it organized the Kristianong Katilingban (Basic Christian
communities). KK later spread and became the prime mover in each parish,
ensuring that the Church and its flock continued to be responsive to the plight
and struggles of the people.
new mission drew the church in direct confrontation with the local elite
families as the KK evolved into an organized dynamo for the basic sectors’
fight against various forms of injustice.
now a leader of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP),
recalled in a statement how Fortich "respected the priests, the
youth and others who decided to take the option of armed struggle for the cause
of national and social liberation." He said that Fortich used to go
up the Negros mountains and talk with New People's Army (NPA) guerrillas.
fondly called him 'Kumander Tony,' which he received with laughter.
Later, the military in its red-baiting and witchhunt would use it against
him. But he remained unfazed by this. He kept on with his firm
stand for the people and continued to enjoy being called 'Kumander Tony.'"
firm in a time of fear
been times in the Bacolod Bishop’s life when he had to stand his ground,
earning him dangerous enemies and bringing grave risks to his life.
concrete example was when the old Spanish-style Bishop’s residence was
mysteriously razed to the ground. The incident was officially declared an
accident but many priests believed it was intentionally set on fire by men under
the command of a former constabulary officer. This officer was allegedly
involved in the infamous Langoni Nine Massacre which resulted in the death nine
young men from Langoni Subvillage in Cauayan town.
talk among the priests then was that the arsonists intended to set on fire the
nearby small building that housed the Social Action Center office and where
documents on many cases of human rights violations in the province were stored.
this period of political turbulence, nobody in Negros dared criticized the
Marcos regime except for Fortich and some members of the mosquito press led by
from this, Fortich was also once threatened by a warlord from
Northern Negros. Fortich talked of the exploitative conditions in the province
during the visit of Pope John Paul II in Negros which angered the warlord.
then First Lady Imelda Marcos flew in early to ensure that everything was in
order, she failed to contain the Pope himself who slammed the oppressive
situation in the province and expressed concern for Negros’ poor. The Pope's statement was made during a high-profile event attended by tens of thousands of
people and watched by the whole world. The incensed warlord, now deceased, blamed Fortich for
the “international black eye” he perceived the regime had suffered.
the Marcos regime fell, human rights violations continued. Human rights
advocates, including Fortich, refused to be silent.
President Corazon Aquino who succeeded Marcos declared her total war against the revolutionary
movement, the military did not spare even members of the religious sectors.
Among many others, Fortich became a target of armed vigilante groups operating
in the region. One morning, assassins lobbed a grenade into the courtyard of the
Domus Dei compound in Bacolod, an incident which almost killed Fortich. A
campaign of vilification against Fortich and other progressive members of the
however triumphantly survived all these. Even when he retired as a bishop, he
continued to live a simple and disciplined life in his Domus Dei residence,
waking up early and taking quiet walks around the Sacred Heart Seminary Ground.
was in a bungalow-type house which supporters built for him that he
received visitors, including government leaders and politicians, especially
candidates for elections. Even Imelda Marcos once visited Fortich after a
motorcade in the city. She was then running for president and was
accompanied by the late comedian Chiquito.
who knew Fortich will never run out of things and stories to tell about this
colorful personality. He was an enduring influence upon many priests in the
province, partly because all worked under his guidance as there used to be only
one diocese then in Negros. But mainly, it is because of his commitment to human
rights, peace and justice. His teachings will continue to inspire and guide not
only members of the clergy, but the next generations of Filipinos.
bishop's life was a life of pilgrimage, in defense of the
high ideals of social justice. Bulatlat.com
and photos from BCC staff and archives)
of the awards and recognition conferred on Bishop Antonio Y. Fortich:
domestic prelate 1958
by the University of Negros Occidental Recoletos the Honoris Causa:
doctor of Philosophy for Humanitarian service 1969
by the Ateneo de Manila University the OZANAM Award for Public
Service Towards Peace 1970
by St.Louis University the Honoris Causa: Doctor of Social Welfare
by the Sugar Club of the Philippines “For Engineering and
Experiment in Rural Development in Dacongcogon Valley” 1973
as the 1973 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Public Service 1973
by the City of Bacolod “Ang Banwahanon Award” for Achievement in
Civic Actions 1974
by the De Lasalle University the Signum Meriti Medal for being a
fearless and courages spokesman on behalf of social justice 1985
by the Ateneo Manila the Honorary doctorate in Human Letters for his
contributions towards Agrarian Reform and championing the cause of
by the concerned women of the Philippines the “Human Rights Peace
Nominated to the “Nobel Peace Prize Award” 1989
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