PERSONAL ESSAY: Francis Morales, Human Rights Defender-Extraordinaire Jean Lindo

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/19 Nov) — I have chosen to write a personal note on a great man and a good friend, Francis Morales. It took me days to start writing because he was somebody close. He was Tatay Francis to the younger ones and Bong to the Dekada 70 activists, as well as Dekada 80 fellow activists. Funny that somebody wondered why I never called him Tatay Francis as well, for his status in the people’s movement, but I was too old to be a daughter.

My friendship with Francis and his wife, Nena and daughter Raray seemed forever. I have known the couple in various human rights advocacy movement. Francis was never a single-issue activist. He started his political work as anti-Martial Law activist. I had also worked with him and Nena in the HIV/AIDS issue. There seemed to be no conflict with his family life and political work. I remember him with a beaming smile when he told me about Raray as a budding activist, spending many overnight works. He was a “kunsintidor-father” for good.

It was not a surprise for me finding him in environment work later. There were times he was lambasted by spinmeisters for his declarations defending the environment. He was a powerful figure and probably this is the reason why there were attempts to diminish his status. I would simply laugh reading the local newspapers, thinking that the things they said about him would not affect him as he was a survivor of all sorts of torture by the military. I never heard him talk about it. I would just find out from his contemporaries.

I also found out from him that he was an ex-seminarian. He asked me if I knew a doctor who was an ex-seminarian like himself. The said doctor injured his leg during a picket to support the workers union. The latter passed away long before Francis did.

My guess is, it was really his deep sense of compassion and spirituality that motivated him to become a priest someday. And it was this same compassion that would make him decide to leave the seminary and work with the people and do human rights work, instead. Obviously, he saw no disconnect between Christian spirituality and community work. It was probably like breaking free from a structure or an institution which probably has been isolated from the people.

I have seen people who practice external piety but never demonstrated compassion. Francis demonstrated spirituality and compassion. And what is more, when he mentioned God, he made sure he called the Supreme Being not only by how the dominant religion would call Him. He never failed to mention Allah (with correct intonation), Manama, and Bathala. He would not be one of those who would evangelize and convert. He respected other religions and was very confident about the spirituality of all, especially the Lumads, in the people’s movement. Religious diversity worked like the principle of biodiversity. It gave life to the people’s movement.

Sometime in 2009, a document containing the 2007 10th Infantry Division Order of Battle List came out and he was on that list. I chided him for that and told him I would never come close to him or I might be collateral damage. I would find out later that a “Dr Lynn Lyndo” was also included among the six doctors and people said that would be me.

I have been blessed to have a friend and a colleague in environmental justice work, in Francis. He was tolerant, gentle, cheerful and very easy to work with. I thought he was so light. Environment work had been very tough and he made it lighter for everyone else.

I have always deeply appreciated Francis’ way of giving importance to all people who needed to understand the environment. My son, a parkour practitioner, was looking for a resource person on Climate Change and Environment. In Davao City, there is only a handful of parkour practitioners. I was so biased for the group, not only because my son was one of them, but because parkour itself developed as a response to commercialism in sports. The founders also had their analysis on how capitalism shaped modern sports. It also had an element of appreciation for one’s body in relation to the environment and it inspired my son to compose “The World is Our Playground.” Francis willingly shared what they needed to know. It was a gloomy day then and I think it was drizzling. Typhoon Ondoy was about to come. Days later, the PKD (Parkour Davao) group became among those who sent boxes of food, clothing and relief goods to Manila.

Francis was one of those who walked me through the anti-coal movement and thus I became a co-convener of NO TO COAL (Network Opposed to Coal Coalition) in Davao. He also worked to have me on the Kalikasan Partylist, which never got the Comelec (Commission on Elections) nod because of lack of understanding on marginalization and climate injustice. My own son commented that it should be Tatay Francis as 3rd nominee instead of me. I would answer, “What can I do? The big boss wants the 5th position.” Then later on, I would be co-chair of Panalipdan!-Mindanao courtesy of Francis M and the other green band members.

The last two and half months I had tremendous opportunity to work regularly with Francis. BALSA-Mindanao and Panalipdan! Mindanao established a radio program One With Nature at 94.7 FM which was being aired every Sunday at 7:30 – 8:30 AM. He was fearless in his statements. He was coughing during our program last November 2, 2014. He was heading for Tacloban to meet the disaster survivors the next day. November 9, 2014 he would be coming home on a land trip. I was informed that he was not well and I advised he should go straight to the hospital.

My last glimpse of him was in a hospital bed… lifeless. That was November 12, 2014 late evening. Nena was crying a river, embracing Francis’ lifeless body…so were activist-friends outside the room. With all the tubes and equipment that had been removed, I was spared from the sight of them. There were hospital personnel attempting to take Francis’ lifeless body for post-mortem care. We let Nena bid her last goodbye for 30 more minutes or so. I tried hard to hold back my tears from the very first minute I stepped into the hospital and gathered enough strength to tell Nena we let him go.

I used to be a reluctant environmentalist because I had so much fear inside me. I have seen environmental activists being killed. The killings and harassments still go on and definitely the victims and survivors cannot wait. Of course, Francis may not be the only great person there is in the environment work. His shoes are too big to fill. Nobody intends to fill in the space he left. But the people’s movement shall create more spaces to fill in to continue the legacy left by the venerable Francis Morales.

I raise my clenched fist as a salute to Francis Morales, environment and climate justice defender [MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Dr. Jean Lindo is an anaesthesiologist, co-convenor of the No to Coal (Network Opposed to Coal) in Davao City, co chair of Panalipdan! Mindanao and third nominee of Kalikasan partylist].

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