Goodbye, Fr. Joe: Chaplain of the Parliament of the Streets

Fr. Joe Dizon helped convene and organize the #ForwardMarch event against pork barrel last Sept. 13, 2013. (Photo grabbed from Enteng Bautista's Facebook timeline.)
Fr. Joe Dizon helped convene and organize the #ForwardMarch event against pork barrel last Sept. 13, 2013. (Photo grabbed from Enteng Bautista’s Facebook timeline.)

In honor of Fr. Jose “Joe” P. Dizon (Sept. 29, 1948-November 4, 2013), a father to Filipino workers and to cause-oriented coalitions and alliances,  and a veteran of the Parliament of the Streets:

The last time I saw and talked with Fr. Joe was on September 13, 2013, during the #AbolishPork Movement’s #ForwardMarch at the Luneta. He was in his element and happy to be in the streets again. If he was already sick then, he did not show it. He was happy to receive the news about former Chief Justice Reynato Puno’s speech at the nearby Methodist church along T.M. Kalaw, one of the twin Protestant and Catholic events in support of the march.

As delegations from various faiths and groups started to arrive, Fr. Joe took the microphone and started to speak under a downcast sky. His speech wasn’t short. It was like an extended homily cheered on by his flock.  He called on Filipinos to hold the President and lawmakers accountable for the misuse and misappropriation of public funds, and to confront and expose a president who broke his promise to the nation about making a break from corruption.

At 64, Fr. Joe knew how to agitate and inspire a crowd. He had been doing it as a priest for four decades. He had been fighting the good fight from Ferdinand Marcos to Benigno Aquino III, with the same gusto and sharpness we’ve grown to expect from him.

Weeks before, Fr. Joe and Prof. Judy Taguiwalo presided over a big meeting of individuals and organizations at the Sto. Domingo Church which planned the #ForwardMarch and which adopted the Unity Statement. Fr. Joe showed his acumen in forging alliances and coalitions, setting aside the attendees differences and helping them discover mutually-shared and common concerns.

I first met Fr. Joe many years back, starting with the September 21 Movement, the coalition that opposed a hero’s burial for the dictator who imprisoned him and many others, who plundered the country and who was remorseless to the very end. A little bit later, I would discover a framed newspaper frontpage in the archives of Bayan, showing a big photo of Fr. Joe holding a mike beside a headline reporting his release from detention.

Fr. Joe was the spokesperson and lead convenor of the Estrada Resign Movement (Resign!) which morphed into Plunder Watch when Estrada was ousted and had to be brought to court. He led interfaith prayers and spoke at countless anti-Arroyo rallies nationwide.

In 2008, Fr. Joe received the Tji Hak-Soon Justice and Peace Award, the only international and publicly-funded human rights award in South Korea, on behalf of the Workers Assistance Center (WAC) which he co-founded in 1994.

His last big political fight, this time about the pork barrel system, brought him back to the streets and provided younger activists a visual aid on love and rage. For Fr. Joe’s life was a showcase of love for his flock, especially workers who he ministered to as co-founder and executive director of WAC in Cavite, and rage directed at those who oppress and deceive the poor.

For the longest time, Fr. Joe was the de facto chaplain of the Parliament of the Streets and it is an office and title he performed courageously and bravely.

It seems through his life and struggles, Fr. Joe answered clearly and boldly the pernicious and malicious question of why activists never stop fighting, regardless of who is the president. For Fr. Joe, the focus was on the people, helping them free themselves from poverty and injustice, inspiring them and helping them carry out their struggle every single day. It is not Fr. Joe’s or the people’s fault that presidents choose to enrich themselves and their cabal, or to deceive them that all the plundering is for them.

And so today we mourn that Fr. Joe is gone, but we vow to turn our grief into a determination to carry on the good fight he fought. I’m sure that’s what he would want us to do. That’s what we do to heroes and other great Filipinos. We don’t just mourn that they’re gone. We honor them by emulating them and picking up where they fall.

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