By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – On Sunday, the Philippine human rights movement lost a brave soul who valiantly fought for the rights of the landless and the marginalized – Sr. Mary Francis Añover.
Described as a woman of substance, very gifted and friendly, Sr. Francis was known for her stint as national coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, a church-based organization comprising of both religious and lay that provides programs and services to the underserved farmers, fisherfolk, and indigenous peoples.
Sr. Elsa Compuesto, RMP national coordinator said that Sr. Francis’s simplicity, sense of humor, and life of dedication embodied the church of the poor and for the poor.
On Thursday, colleagues in the religious movement and progressives paid tribute to her and the life she lived fighting for the rights of the landless and the oppressed.
The good cop
As RMP national coordinator from 2010 to 2016, Sr. Francis frequently joined fact-finding and solidarity missions, where she listened to farming and indigenous peoples communities.
Here, she faced heated arguments with state forces and local government officials who would try to bar their group from entering a community, or documenting human rights abuses. In negotiating access to these far-flung communities, the religious sister often played the role of the “good cop” – light-mannered and funny yet firm and unyielding.
“Even in the most critical situation, her sense of humor always makes it feel light,” said United Church of Christ in the Philippines pastor Irma Balaba.
Balaba was with Sr. Francis in many fact-finding missions she joined, including that of the 2009 killing of Fr. Cecilio Lucero, the first Roman Catholic priest to be killed since Catholicism was introduced 400 years ago. A fact-finding mission was led by the country’s ecumenical movement and human rights activists.
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The two religious, Balaba and Sr. Francis counted bullet holes in the ambush site where the priest was brutally murdered.
“She is an inspiration,” said Balaba, “She is jolly and enthusiastic in sharing her life and fulfilling tasks that others who are in better health would have begged off from.”
Community medicine doctor and academic Gene Nisperos, who worked with Sr. Francis on numerous fact-finding missions, described the late nun for striking a balance between being jolly and the need to be firm and serious while at work.
He remembered Sr. Francis’s enthusiasm to learning acupuncture, knowing that this would greatly benefit many far-flung communities.
“She wants to accomplish so many things, no matter how seemingly impossible it may seem. She never gets tired,” he recalled.
Both of them talked a lot, Nisperos fondly admitted. Whenever they would see each other, Sr. Francis is quick to give him a wave, telling him, “Hoy, Doc!”
Though she was tough and brave, Sr. Francis also had her own shares of worries, anxieties, and fears. And whenever she would have these, she would invite her friends in the religious circle and talk about their concerns over meals, Sr. Elen Belardo, RGS shared.
When she learned of her breast cancer, she was afraid of attending her tests and check -ups. She was initially reluctant to undergo treatments but because of the prodding of her colleagues in the religious and progressive movement, Sr. Francis eventually agreed.
Her younger sister Agnes Argoncillo shared that Sr. Francis was a fighter from the very beginning, who, in her early age, tended to her siblings when their mother passed away.
Their family, too, understands her passion to help the poorest of the poor as she lived up to her name, Francis.
Argoncillo said, “I never closed my eyes one bit as I listened to your tributes. I felt your anguish over her passing. Continue my sister’s work.”