By MARO ENRIQUEZ
“Your slippers are lovely, ‘tay,” I remember telling Federico Indicio on our first meeting back in June 2019.
We were at the Sitio San Roque health center, where I was supposed to hold an interview with volunteers from the Save San Roque Alliance (SSR), and San Roque leaders for a story about the community.
“Ka Ricky” or “Tatay Ricky”—as he is more commonly known—was wearing a striped round neck shirt and maong shorts. Completing his outfit were the aforementioned slippers: The pair was white with black soles, and decorated with blue rubber flowers with tiny yellow leaves on the straps.
With a laugh, he said he just found it at home. He said his clothes that day were the only clothing he had left when a fire ravaged San Roque earlier that year.
I asked to take a photo of his feet, as well as a photo of him; he gladly agreed.
Those photos would be the first of many that I would take of him, as I spent more and more time getting to know the locals of their community.
The next time we would see each other would be a few weeks after our introduction, at a lightning rally held just outside San Roque. The residents, who were also members of urban poor group Kadamay, had trooped to the Avida showroom along EDSA to protest the developments happening within the community.
Real estate company Ayala Land had entered into a joint venture agreement with housing agency National Housing Authority, or NHA, to build a commercial complex called the Quezon City Central Business District (or QC-CBD) on the very land the community stands on.
If permitted to continue, these developments would leave hundreds, maybe even thousands, of families homeless- all in the name of “progress”.
In that protest action, I saw Tatay Ricky speak with anger about the forced evictions that were happening within San Roque, and the injustice of taking away people’s homes in exchange for commercial buildings.
“We are but ants to these businessmen, ants they can crush,” Tatay Ricky would later on tell me of their struggle for their homes. “The government should be focusing on us.”
I also witnessed him bravely but calmly face off with a police officer during the program. Members of the QCPD had arrived at the scene and were attempting to break up the activity. But the group prevailed, and, thankfully, no resident was harmed.
At that moment, he wasn’t the friendly neighborhood dad with quirky slippers. He was an activist fighting for his and the Filipinos’ basic right to have a home.
But he was also a father afraid to lose the life he and his wife, Maximina “Ibo” Indicio, had built for their six children and their children’s children.
“You could feel his strength in his speeches,” says Mimi Doringo, secretary general of Kadamay National.
“He can clearly explain San Roque’s situation. You would also feel in his words the love he has for his community,” she adds.
Nanay Ibo says that Tatay Ricky was born in Laguna, but lived for a time in Bulacan, where they met as kids. The two got married in 1987, and then settled in San Roque. Tatay himself would tell me that he has been living in the community for more than 30 years.
It is also in San Roque where he would be introduced to activism. He was an active member of the San Roque Vendors Association, and has been the vice-chair of Kadamay San Roque since 2010.
He was also a man of faith.
Rafael Dimalanta, SSR convener, remembers Tatay’s enthusiasm in balancing organization work and activities, and his duties as a pastor.
Something he said during an SSR activity stuck with me: ‘I am able to serve the Lord better through activism. Prayer will always be available. But it’s the action and awareness of the poor that will set us free.’
His faith was evident in his account on social media site Facebook, where he would regularly share videos of church services, which he attended with his family and neighbors.
He was also consistent in sharing videos of the clean-up drive that he and fellow vendors and Kadamay members would regularly do within San Roque, particularly along its main thoroughfare.
These updates would surely be missed.
But maybe his Facebook friends would miss the most seeing his selfies (jokingly called by one of his fellow organizers as “the Ricky Indicio selfie”): cellphone photos of him taken from the side, as if he was unaware that he was being photographed. Those always made me laugh, and they helped balance out the more serious side of him.
It is these facets of him that make his passing all the more painful to everyone who knew him.
Tatay Ricky died on February 12 of heart failure, after suffering a stroke and being confined in East Avenue Medical Center four days earlier. When news about his condition broke out, he was flooded with well-wishes and messages of support. Everyone hoped he would make a full recovery.
Now, he is gone; and we won’t ever see another selfie, or hear another story, or listen to another speech, even for just one last time.
But perhaps the greater disappointment is that he died without seeing their community’s hard work come to fruition.
“It feels like our wings are broken, because we lost a really good leader,” says Estrelieta Bagasbas, chairperson of Kadamay San Roque, and Nanay Inday to all.
More than the loss of a comrade, Nanay Inday and all those who knew and loved him mourn the death of a good neighbor, mentor, father, friend. But as painful as the reality is, the community must not—does not—lose hope for their shared dreams.
“We need to stay strong, because we have not yet achieved our victory,” says Nanay Inday.