By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – In the 40 years he lived his life as a priest, Fr. Joe Dizon devoted a lot of his time and energy with the workers, the union and peoples’ movement. He regarded this as his way of serving God and of discerning His prophecy.
“He is like a teacher who never grew tired in teaching us our rights. He is a simple father to us, workers and the poor,” said Jojit de Guzman, a worker. Fr. Joe Dizon, or Fr. Jodi and simply “Pads” to those close to him, died Nov. 4 due to complications from diabetes.
Speaking at one of the tributes held for Fr. JoDi, De Guzman said he was working in a garments factory at the Cavite Export Processing Zone Authority (Cepza) when he first met the priest in 2001. Two years after that, in 2003, he said their union launched a strike but the management responded by retrenching the workers. “I and four other workers lived in his house [Fr. Jodi]. He never abandoned us.”
“At the time, we had a union but it was affiliated with a yellow federation. Then we had contact with the WAC [Workers Assistance Center],” de Guzman told Bulatlat.com during the wake of the activist priest at San Roque Cathedral in Caloocan, Nov. 7. “Yellow unionism” to them refers to the type where the union leadership controls the union, but use that control to enter into compromises with the management at the expense of the workers’ interest, in exchange for the union officers’ privileges, bribes and other concessions.
The Workers Assistance Center (WAC) is a socio-pastoral program of the Most Holy Rosary Parish in Rosario, Cavite initiated by Fr. Joe in 1995.
For his advocacies with WAC Fr. Jodi was called a pillar of the labor movement by Roger Soluta, secretary general of Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU). “Despite the no-union, no-strike policy in export processing zones, Fr. Jodi’s WAC has been advancing the workers’ rights,” Soluta said at the tribute by various sectors for the priest.
Ana Leah Escresa, executive director of the Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (Eiler), said: “Fr Jodi offered his whole life for the workers.” Fr. Jodi was chairman of the labor institute’s Board of Trustees.
Fr. Jodi’s dedication to the workers and the poor started during martial law. Benedictine nun Mary John Mananzan narrated: “My baptism of fire was the La Tondeña strike and Fr. Joe was with me.”
The La Tondeña strike of 1975 was not the first strike launched during Martial Law, but it was the first to achieve prominence in challenging not only the no-strike policy but the Marcos dictatorship itself. “There was a strike ban but the conditions at La Tondeña were so bad. We knew that the military would attack the workers and so we came to support them,” Mananzan said, referring to the religious sector who flocked to the strikers’ picketline.
Mananzan said that from that day on, she and Fr. Jodi were together fighting for meaningful change in society. “Fr. Joe is really the priest of the people. He was consistent. Everything was for the people.”
“Fr. Jodi can be a patron saint of all those who are struggling for change,” Mananzan said. She added, looking up, “St. Joe, help us with the people’s initiative.”
The “people’s initiative” was a proposal aired by former Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno as a means to abolish the pork barrel system.
Not only was Fr. Jodi steadfast in defending the rights of the workers, he was also steadfast in fighting corruption and electoral fraud.
Fr. Jodi formed the electoral watchdogs Patriots and Kontra Daya.
Nelson Celis of the Automated Election System Watch (AES Watch) held his Ipad aloft and showed the audience a photo of Fr. Jodi with other anti-fraud advocates. “This photo was taken when we filed a petition before the Supreme Court against Comelec’s [Commission on Elections] purchase of PCOS [precinct count optical scan] machines.”
“Fr. Joe is also high-tech,” Celis said. “He was always present in all the meetings of AES Watch.” Celis added that Fr. Jodi was invited as a speaker to a post-elections conference this Nov. 12.
Despite his deteriorating health, Fr. Jodi joined the recent demonstrations against pork barrel in EDSA and Rizal (formerly Luneta) Park.
One of a kind
It was his capacity at joining together various individuals and groups that made Fr. Jodi one of a kind, said Carol Pagaduan-Araullo, chairwoman of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan).
“Fr. Jodi could relate very well to people from all walks of like. He can talk to disgruntled military officers, politicians, religious leaders,” Araullo said. “His way of thinking was not linear but always outside the box. This helped greatly in forging unity of broad alliances.”
Throughout the years, Fr. Jodi was instrumental in alliance formation, from the anti-Marcos dictatorship groups such as the Justice for Aquino, Justice for All (Jaja), Nationalist Alliance for Justice, Freedom and Democracy, to Coalition on the Restoration of Democracy and then to Bayan.
Fr. Jodi was also a key figure in the Estrada Resign Movement, the broad alliance that led the campaign for the ouster of former President Joseph Estrada and the Plunder Watch that sought Estrada’s accountability.
“He was most adept in mobilizing bishops,” Araullo said. “He would talk to them, explain to them.”
Araullo has only one criticism for Fr. Jodi. “He could not be stopped to the point of ignoring his illness.” The priest had battled diabetes for nearly ten years.
One time, he attended the inauguration of a building that serves as a workers assistance center. “He did not mind that his leg was so swollen,” Araullo related. After the activity, he was brought to the hospital.
“He was indefatigable. He could not be stopped from working on his projects,” Araullo said.
De Guzman, one of the workers who took care of Fr. Joe up to the last months of his life, said: “He was restless. He was not used to taking a rest, doing nothing.”
Araullo said Fr. Jodi combined very well his being a priest and an activist. “He is an example of a religious who went beyond the traditional functions and performed the role of a patriotic and progressive priest, one who carried out service to the people.”
Nathaniel Santiago, secretary general of Bayan Muna, recalled that in several occasions, when the police would attempt to disperse the protesters, Fr. Jodi would celebrate the Mass in the streets.
In tribute to Fr. Jodi, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) shared two anecdotes.
“In 2001 when Oriental Mindoro was subjected to intense militarization under the fascist military of Jovito Palparan, ten battalions were deployed to the province and more than 30 activists had been murdered. Fr. Joe D acted creatively to help save 60 families targeted by the military. He offered the huge statue of Inay Maria for a series of processions which the military did not dare attack. During the processions the 60 families were brought to safety,” the NDFP said.
“In November 2005, a year after the Hacienda Luisita massacre, Fr. Joe D led other priests in confronting the Presidential Security Group under General Delfin Bangit. The soldiers barred them from entering the parish church at the National Shrine of St. Michael the Archangel near Malacañang. Fr. Joe D demanded that the parish priest, Msgr. Ernesto Cruz, and his group enter the church and concelebrate the mass. Fr. Joe D prevailed over the objections of the soldiers,” the group added.
Actor and director Bibeth Orteza who worked with Fr. JoDi in Kontra Daya and Oust Gloria Arroyo movement, looked at Fr. JoDi’s coffin and said, “If all priests are like you, there would be more Catholics.”
In its tribute, the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), a fellowship of mainline Protestant Churches, describes Fr. JoDi, “He was a priest whose communion table was especially for those who struggle to secure a national life free from the repression and violence of greed and power. To the poor he proclaimed hope that is made real in their unquenchable thirst for ‘the new heaven and the new earth.’ To those who oppress he proclaimed repentance and issued warnings with unwavering clarity that what they ‘sow shall they reap.’”