First thing I remember about Tatay Francis Morales is when he taught us the difference between a victim and a survivor of a disaster. The political nuance is often declared moot, but Tay Francis passionately articulates the distinction. There is resistance, he says, in surviving from both the adversities of disaster and climate change impact and the government neglect that made the suffering chronic and persistent.
Tay Francis was, as the Chinese poet Lu Hsun put it, truly a willing ox that served the children. He was hands-on and diligent, a leader by example. Whether it was in the pickets barricading the offices of big mining companies or the military, or in a small forum running for the logistics, Tay Francis always pushed on with that calming smile everyone talks about. It had to be an uncanny skill to smile amid such toxic work!
I guess that reflects on how Tay Francis sees his work—and how he was fully committed to it. There are a thousand and one reasons to smile when you are one with the people, defending God’s creations, laboring for just peace, and serving the people, especially the children of the storm. His work was a testament to Mao Zedong’s pronouncement that “the masses are the movers of history.”
To me, like some of my colleagues in the environmental movement, Tay Francis’ finest moment was during the height of the mass actions of Typhoon Pablo (Bopha) survivors’ group Barug Katawhan. It so happened that Tay Francis, executive director of the Bulig Alang sa Mindanao (BALSA Mindanao), was in Metro Manila when the Barug Katawhan staged its organized confiscation of hoarded relief goods in the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s (DSWD) regional office warehouse.
A live coverage was being conducted by the ANC, and Tay Francis readily guested in the program to speak on behalf of Barug Katawhan. In the face of media slanting and a phone-in attack from DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman depicting the survivors as hooligans, Tay Francis weathered that storm with his sharp but simple, fierce but calm defense of the “hungry and angry” survivors’ rights. With the threat of criminal charges from the corrupt secretary, Tay Francis answered with a powerfully defiant “see you in court.”
Until his last breath, Tay Francis was knee-deep in serving the people. He served as the rock and foundation of the recently held and historic National Conference of Disaster Survivors in Tacloban City. I remember the last moment we shared, right at the conference’s conclusion, he smiled that fatherly smile of his and gave me a firm, reassuring handshake, saying “maraming salamat!” referring to our organization Kalikasan’s contributions to the workshops and documentation.
We are the ones who should be thankful for the life that you have offered to the masses, Tay Francis. We are privileged to have witnessed your tireless work and the hopeful and revolutionary principles you proudly wore on your sleeves. With your last act, and with your decades of service before it, your place in the history that the people’s struggles continue to weave is secure.
We continue to grieve for your passing away, but I am managing to fight back the tears while writing this. Your life was well-spent but was too short, even at 62 years. In the face of worsening state abandonment of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) and other disaster survivors, we will continue your legacy of environmental defense, sustainable agriculture, and disaster response and rebuilding.
Leon Dulce is the campaign coordinator of the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment. He is also the spokesperson for Environmental Network against Pork Barrel and Corruption.