Dear Pope Francis,
¡Bienvenido a las Filipinas! Welcome to the Philippines! By now, I’m sure you’re already flooded with messages poured upon you by my fellow Filipinos. Thus, my voice will be just another amongst the crowd.
My voice comes from a place of complex stories, identities, ideologies, and perspectives. I am an agnostic theist. I am gay. I am highly critical of how your church treats LGBT people and women. I am also highly critical of the Philippine government and of government as a general concept, whether applied to a state or to a religious group.
This is nothing random. I am all of these mostly because of what I have gone through. Just like Jesus, I grew up without a biological father. The difference is, Jesus was raised by Joseph and Mary, while I was single-handedly raised by my mother. The circumstances I was forced into cemented my views about my country’s government. You see, my father was a human rights activist. Just like Jesus, my father was very poor. He had no interest in self-enrichment. All he aspired for was to liberate other people from poverty. But he was taken away from me by the government without justifiable reason. As if to add insult to injury, he was abducted on fathers’ day.
The enforced disappearance of my father effectively turned my family into a “non-traditional family.” And this, given the conservative culture in the Philippines, is not an easy situation for a very young child. My circumstances were further complicated as I grew up trying to come to terms with my sexuality. In many ways, I am farthest from what may be traditionally considered a “good Christian.” There is, therefore, very little incentive for me to communicate with someone like you.
But today, I am writing you simply as a son who grew up without a father, a son of a desaparecido. I am writing you because I acknowledge the influence you hold. I am writing you because I know the phenomenon of enforced disappearance is something your country also struggled with. Finally, I am writing you because I believe you will listen.
My request is simple; please do everything in your power to convince our president to sign and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons Against Enforced Disappearance (ICPAPED). It is an international treaty which is the fruit of the struggle of organizations like the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, and similar formations in various countries. It is an international agreement championed by the government of your country.
You have claimed time and again that you are pro-poor. My request, therefore, is aligned with your principles. How? In the Philippines, an overwhelming majority of victims of enforced disappearance come from basic sectors of society. Not only are poor people the most vulnerable to enforced disappearance, poor people are also driven deeper into poverty when a member of their family is forcefully ‘disappeared’ or abducted. Therefore, by helping us take steps towards ratifying the Convention, you are also helping the poor.
If you accommodate this request, I will not suddenly become heterosexual nor will I suddenly convert to Christianity. Besides, I know that your goodwill does not come with corresponding conditions. Yes, there will still be fundamental differences between our principles. I will continue to be critical of the government and the church hierarchy. I will continue to believe the love I celebrate with another man is not sinful. I will continue to be the many things I have always been.
However, I will forever be respectful of you as a fellow human being. I will forever admire your progressive leadership as head of the Roman Catholic Church. And most importantly, I will forever be proud of the fact that you and I have shared a moment in fighting for human rights.
Ron de Vera
Country coordinator for the Philippines
Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances
Ron de Vera’s father, Manuel “Noni” Manaog, was a community organizer. He was on his way home to pick up Ron and spend Fathers’ day with him on June 17, 1990 when was abducted by unidentified men. He has never been seen or heard from ever since. Ron is now the country coordinator for the Philippines at the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances and serves as Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the ASEAN SOGIE Caucus.