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Arsenio C Jesena

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A SACADA AMONG THE SACADAS
By Arsenio C Jesena   
Not "rated" by the Author.
Last edited: Thursday, July 28, 2011
Posted: Wednesday, July 27, 2011

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I wanted to be a Sacada among the Sacadas because of
my overpowering sense of incompleteness...

A SACADA AMONG THE SACADAS
by Arsenio C. Jesena

My dear Nyssa,

You ask me, “Tatay Juni -- WHY did you become
a Sacada?”

Why did I ever go and cut sugarcane every day as a Sacada, a
wetback, a migrant worker, in the haciendas of Negros? The reason
was this -- I wanted to be a Sacada among the Sacadas because of
my overpowering sense of incompleteness, an irresistible thirst for
an intimate experience of poverty, of Jesus Christ the Poor Man ...
and the Juni I ought to be, the man with a vow of Poverty.

When I arrived at the first hacienda, being a good Catholic, I
looked around for a Priest, to whom I could go for Mass,
confession, communion, and spiritual direction. There was no
Priest anywhere near. The Priest was too busy, had many things
more important to do, in the town and in the city.

The presence of the Priest in my Sacada experience was --
basically his absence. The Sacadas never saw the Priest except
during the local fiesta.

The Priest would come to say the Mass and then celebrate with
the hacendero and his guests and maybe even gamble a little and
drink a little. But go out of the big house? Trudge the dusty trail to
the Sacada cuartel? Sit there on the ground in their midst and waste
time listening to these rough, sweating men with tired, hungry
bodies and dirty hands? No way.

Would the busy Priest and the mighty hacendero, for the sake
of incarnational solidarity with the Poor, voluntarily live the life of a
Sacada? Probably not.

So all the time that I was working in the haciendas, the Sacadas
thought I was either a Communist organizer or an escaped
prisoner. But never a Priest. Never a Priest! Because they could not
ever imagine a Priest being one of them –- working by their side in
the hot sun all the day long, being content with their daily fare of
meager dry rice and pinamalhan nga sapsap, sometimes in their
hunger being forced to catch the rats in the cane fields and forcing
themselves to partake of this poor man’s feast and then daily, with
no privacy, no toilet paper, and no human dignity, be forced to
defecate with the beasts in the uncaring sugarcane fields of Negros.

All the Sacadas were burdened by debts and by helplessness --
and there was nothing they could do to break out from the
subhuman conditions that daily degraded and suffocated and
tortured them.

One night, a tired Sacada was gently strumming his guitar. Then
all of a sudden the hacienda’s security guards came and roughed
him up and smashed his guitar against the rocks. They were very
angry. They said the boss in the big house was already resting, and
the sound of the guitar might disturb him.

The offended, enraged Sacada wanted to fight back, but a wise
old Sacada, aware of the obvious futility of the espading against the
armalite said, “Do not fight them. Tomorrow we shall tell Juni
about this.” -- “Bwas isugid ta sila kay Juni.” Bwas isugid ta sila.
Their desperation. Their trust. In me. It was a call, summoning the
long-dead Lazarus to live again. And come forth. And be a hero.

Every night we gathered around, and we listened to each other.
I gradually realized that these laborers were helpless and had
absolutely no voice that could be heard by the world. And I – I was
being invited and destined to be their voice, in order that their
weeping and their agony and their cry for justice and human
dignity might be heard by a world asleep.

But when I returned from the sugarcane elds of Negros to
Manila to continue my theological studies, I wanted only to be left
alone and in peace. I did not even want to remember, because to
remember was painful. The injustice of it all was more that I could
calmly contemplate. But it was difficult to be alone and hibernate in peace.
For that was the moment before the First Quarter Storm of
1970, and my Sacada experience was meant in some small way, to
help cause the Philippine social volcano, in Fr. Pacifico Ortiz’s
words -- to explode.

Nyssa, as you may have noticed, I, your Tatay Juni, I am just a
plain and simple man with no ideology except the uncomplicated
ideology of a Christian and a Jesuit. By nature I am not arrogant. I
never relish violence. Not even confrontation. My natural, personal
tendency is to be patient and passive. UNTIL AN AREA OF VITAL
CONCERN IS VIOLATED.

UNTIL SOMEONE WHO IS WEAK AND HELPLESS IS RAPED
OR SAVAGED OR TREATED UNFAIRLY OR IN SOME WAY
VIOLATED, CRYING OUT FOR HELP. FOR REDRESS AND
HEALING. AND JUSTICE.

WHEN THAT HAPPENS, JUNI IS NO LONGER THE LAZY,
HARMLESS CARABAO -- HE IS TRANSFORMED INTO A
RAGING BULL.

BUT IT TAKES QUITE A WEEPING, BLEEDING DOLORES
TO CALL FORTH THE SLUMBERING HERO FROM DEEP
WITHIN ME.

When people heard about my experience with the Sacadas,
they asked me to write about it. But I refused. Because to remember
was to re-live the pain and re-suffer the helplessness.

But one crusading journalist, a good man named Juan L.
Mercado of the Manila Times, and the Philippine Press Institute,
unable to personally persuade me, wisely approached my Jesuit
Provincial Superior, Fr. Horacio de la Costa, SJ and asked him to
command me to write about my Sacada experience. Fr. de la
Costa did.

My report entitled, ‘The Sacadas of Sugarland’ was first
serialized by the Manila Times and then printed in toto by the NOW
Magazine , The Philippines Free Press, Solidarity, Fookien Times and ALL the other
magazines and newspapers in the Philippines. The topic remained
in the front pages of our metropolitan newspapers for a full forty seven
days. The Fookien Times translated the report to Mandarin
Chinese. France commissioned two different translations and
published them. Holland and Germany did the same.

Then there were foreign journalists and their television crews
who came to the Philippines and sought me out and interviewed
me -- from the British Broadcasting Corporation and German TV,
and even from the Vatican and the Bishops’ Conference of the
United States.

Locally, the creative artists made television shows about my
Sacada experience and the movie people followed suit. Behn
Cervantes directed a movie entitled, ‘Sakada’ which was a very
dangerous thing to do because it was the height of Martial Law. I
was invited by many different groups from all over the country to
give lectures on the agricultural labor situation in the Philippines.

Bishop Antonio Fortich of Bacolod and Bishop Cornelius de
Wit of Antique and many Priests, nuns, and lay leaders took
concrete steps to help alleviate the unfair situation of the Sacadas
of Sugarland. They also heard the call. And they responded -- in their
own way.

On June 30, 1982, while I was walking across Aurora
Boulevard, in Manila, I was hit by a Ford Fiera delivery van. I was
forty-two years old. I had already done my work as the Sacada
Priest, I had also spent almost ten years as Social Action Director in
Bukidnon, Mindanao and I had probably already lost my faith.

It was about 9:30 at night. I was going back home from the
Ateneo de Manila in Loyola Heights to Xavier House in Santa Ana
where I lived and worked as Secretary of the Philippine Jesuits.
I was crossing Aurora Boulevard. I never even saw the red cargo
van. I do not even remember the impact that threw me seven
meters away, shattered a lot of my bones, put me in coma for three
days, ruined my equilibrium and changed me forever.

While I was in coma, I went deep, deep down into the depths
of my being ... and I heard an eternal, gentle voice, “Juni, do you
want to go home now?”

I finally answered, “No, I still want to stay behind.”

“But you will suffer again. Don’t you want to go home now
and rest?”

I thought for a timeless while, and then I finally said, “I choose
to stay and to suffer again. My people -- they need me.”

And I think from that moment of decision, I began to heal. Very
slowly. But I began to heal. I began to feel again. And I began to hear
again. And to be alive again.

But God was right. I would be crucified. Again. And again.
And again.

Maybe I should have died way back in September 1959 when I
almost drowned while trying to cross that Escudero river in San
Pablo. Then I wouldn’t have erred so much nor sinned so much. But
then I would not have dried the tears and heal the wounds of many
of my fellow suffering men and women.

And so starting with the Novitiate, all the sleeping potential of
Juni’s being other-centered and noble and heroic was gradually
drawn out from my deepest being by the constant good example
and generous ideals of the Jesuits and the heroes whom God put
along my path. Before then, I had just wanted to be an ordinary
Jesuit teacher, maybe teaching English or History in some Ateneo --
like my Spiritual Father, Fr. Richard Leonard, SJ -- a simple, good,
holy Priest, who craved to do the will of God, and wanted only to
save immortal souls.

But experiencing the pain of my fellow human beings, I
gradually saw that God wished me to be more than a holy teacher.
God wanted me to constantly strive to be like Jesus, a savior and
healer, fighting all my life for my poor brothers and sisters as we all
reached out for justice and for human dignity and for the glory of
being children of God.  



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