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Arsenio C Jesena

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By Arsenio C Jesena   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Friday, July 29, 2011
Posted: Friday, July 29, 2011

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It was great to fight by the side of Bishop Cisco Claver --

by Arsenio C. Jesena

My dear Nyssa,

Let me tell you about my life and my work from
1969 to 1981. That was Sacada time and Martial Law,
and Bukidnon and Social Action, and -- Bishop
Francisco Claver.

Bishop Francisco Claver, SJ. A great man. A brother.
A co-worker. A friend, who trusted me, and cared for me -- in and
out of the vineyard of The Lord.

When Bishop Claver died, his body was waked at the Saint
Ignatius Oratory in the Loyola House of Studies.

I was very sad when I was went inside the Oratory in the early
afternoon. The dead parson in the coffin was not the strong Cisco.
Not the Cisco who cut my hair in 1956. Not the Cisco I had joined
in Bukidnon in 1973. Not the THE leader of the Philippine Church
during Martial Law, and until the day he died in 2010.

I first met Cisco when he was still a young Jesuit Regent,
teaching at the Ateneo de Davao in 1955. I was 14. Cisco was 25.
This future Bishop of Malaybalay and of Bontoc-Lagawe and the
most highly-respected Churchman of the Philippines -- he was my

It happened like this. When I was 15, I contracted pulmonary
tuberculosis, and had to be quarantined at home in #18 Acacia
Street, Matina, Davao City. Fr. Richard G. Leonard, SJ, my
confessor, student counselor and friend, would visit me every
morning to bring me Holy Communion, and he would visit again
in the afternoon, this time to bring a pile of books and the latest
news about my high school class, the 4A Idlers.

Of course my hair was growing longer and longer each day,
and I began to feel uncomfortable and self-conscious. So
Francisco F. Claver, SJ, future PhD and DD, came -- and cut my
hair. Yes -- my barber was a future Bishop!

Four years later I was accepted by the Jesuits and sent to their
beautiful, sprawling Novitiate in Novaliches, Quezon City. Here
I would live for a total of seven years.

On October 28, 1970 I was ordained -- by Pope Paul VI -- at the
Luneta in Manila. The next day I said my Thanksgiving Mass as a
new Priest in the Loyola House of Studies in Loyola Heights. I
invited Bishop Francisco Claver, SJ and Bishop Cornelius de Wit,
MHM, to concelebrate with me.

In 1969, I had disguised myself as a migrant worker, and had
cut sugarcane as a wetback, a Sacada in Negros. Then I published
my report -- "The SACADAS of Sugarland."

But I was not the only one denouncing injustice in the
Philippines. Labor leaders from all social and economic sectors and
student activists from the University of the Philippines and from all
the other universities -- even the Ateneo de Manila -- were holding
daily, and nightly teach-ins, indignation rallies, and demonstrations.

All over the Philippines, especially in the large cities -- the
Religious Orders -- Women and Men -- were ghting the battles of
Jesus Christ, the fight for Justice and for Liberation.

In Mindanao, the Columbans and the Maryknoll Fathers and
the Franciscans were conscienticizing and organizing the students,
the laborers, and the poor farmers in the countryside.

In Bukidnon, Fr. Vincent G. Cullen, SJ and the Federation Free
Farmers were organizing the poor peasant farmers. In Negros, Fr.
Hector Mauri, SJ and Fr. Luis Jalandoni and Bishop Antonio Fortich
and the National Federation of Sugarcane Workers were agitating
sugarcane hacienda workers to stand up for their dignity and their
human rights.

There was an energizing ferment, an almost universal
élan-for-justice-and-the-poor all over the country. It was now the
time to -- at last -- end the exploitation of the poor, and to work
together for the liberation of the people.

One day I met Cisco in Xavier House, Santa Ana. "Soon," I told
Bishop Claver, "Soon I will finish my theological course of studies, I
would like to work with you and help out in Bukidnon -- for two

"No," he said, "No ... if two years is all you can give to
Bukidnon, maybe you should not come at all. Two years is too

After Theological studies, Fr. John Carroll, SJ, supervised my
training in Social Action. He sent me to the Institute of Social Order
in Luzon, the Federation of Free Farmers in the Visayas, and the
Southern Philippines Educational Cooperative Center In Mindanao.

And then, in 1973, the Jesuits assigned me to work in
Mindanao -- to work side by side with Bishop Claver and the Jesuits
there. And I worked with Bishop Cisco in Bukidnon -- not for two,
but for nine years.

In Bukidnon, I worked in the Prelature Social Action Center,
covering all the social action activities of all the parishes and all the
municipalities of Bukidnon. I worked together with heroes
Fr. Godofredo Alingal, SJ, whom the enemies of freedom
assassinated in his own Rectory in Kibawe. I also had the privilege
of working side by side with Fathers John Krebs, Cal Poulin,
Vic Cullen, Gus Nazareno, Honesto Pacana, Francisco Montecastro,
Deogracias Trinidad, Jose Dacanay, Ferrucio Leone, Joseph Raviolo,
Joseph Stoffel, Gordon Koller, and Stan Lagutin.

Cisco Claver made it quite clear that the Catholic Church in
Bukidnon was a church for and with poor people -- the individual
peasant farmer struggling with his wife and children, with their
numerous daily needs.

To the old, broken-down Bishop’s House in Malaybalay many
visitors came almost every day -- laymen and laywomen from
various parts of the Philippines and from abroad, eager to learn
from Bishop Cisco and the living Church of Bukidnon, and eager to
serve and work in that arena of democracy. In Bukidnon was a
Church that was alive. Its Christ was a Christ who worked and
suffered with the poor lumads -- the mostly-dispossessed cultural
minorities, who comprised one-fourth of the population, and the
many poor peasant farmers, always naďve targets of deceit and
exploitation by their greedy, powerful, conscienceless Christian

With very little resources, the Catholic Church in Bukidnon
showed amazing faith and relevance and courage and
resourcefulness and effectivenesss. It never cowered in fear, merely
hiding in trepidation and hesitation within the sanctuary or the
sacristy. People -- the people of God, inspired by the Spirit of God
and by their brother Bishop Cisco Claver, discerned and prayed
and sang and marched and deed the forces of injustice and
tyranny and Ferdinand Marcos and Martial Law.

It was great to be alive then, doing the work of Jesus Christ …
with the other Jesuits, and the Parish Priests, and the Nuns of
various congregations. Above all were the Lay People, our valiant
co-workers, everyone a hero of God.

Many people did consult Bishop Cisco and learned from
him--people from within the Philippines and from abroad, people
who were sincerely concerned, hungry for the truth and for
relevance and a worthwhile mission in life the suffering people of
God. He was such a great inspiration, to us all.

Bishop Claver who was often mistaken for a lowly driver and a
laborer, was invited again and again as a participant or an expert in
international conferences, to sit as a Peritus beside revered
international luminaries and saints like MOTHER TERESA OF


Unlike so many other Churchmen and Church dignitaries,
Bishop Cisco was never cowed by Marcos the Dictator. Cisco
always saw right through the devious Dictator's snares and
brilliant lies.

Yes, I do remember, Bishop Francisco Claver was a tremendous
source of courage and inspiration to many. Through him, many
supine, cowardly laggards would discover that they still had the
backbone and the noble heroism to live and to die for others.

It was great to fight by the side of Bishop Cisco Claver -- to
fight today's war of Christ. Never for glory or power or fame.
Nor any earthly reward. But only for CHRIST. And the poor
People of Christ.

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