DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 14 March) — A Mindanawon priest who biked “for life and peace” from Mindanao to Luzon four times since 2000 and walked from Mindanao to Aparri in 2011, embarked on another “Bike for Life and Peace” Wednesday from Baclaran in Metro Manila to Iligan City in Mindanao, his last long-distance bike journey before staring “a life of solitude, silence and prayer as a hermit.”
From the Redemptorist Church in Baclaran, “biking priest” Fr. Amado Picardal of the Redemptorists, will travel 1,500 kilometers in 16 days, through Southern Luzon, Bicol, Samar, Leyte before crossing over to Surigao in Caraga and moving towards Cagayan de Oro in Northern Mindanao en route to Iligan City where he is expected to arrive on Maundy Thursday, March 29, 2018.
Picardal, who hails from Iligan, left Baclaran Church after the 8 a.m. mass Wednesday.
“Extrajudicial Killings, total war and martial law will not solve the basic problems of our people. Thus, I make this appeal to all concerned — especially to President Duterte, government officials, the police and military: Stop the Killing, start the healing. Resume Peace Talks. End Martial Law in Mindanao,” Picardal said in his pre-departure statement.
This 16-day bike journey will be his last, said Picardal, who served as Executive Secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) until December last year.
The priest, who is turning 64 in October, biked “for peace” across the country for 18 days in 2000, meeting truckloads of soldiers on their way to the Estrada administration’s “all-out war” in Mindanao; “for life and peace” around Mindanao for 21 days in 2006; “for life and peace” from Davao to Aparri and back or 5,000 kilometers for 56 days in 2008; walked “for life and peace” from Davao to Aparri in the summer of 2011 and in the stormy month of December 2014, went on a 1,800 kilometer 14-day “Climate Ride” from Manila to Iligan via Bicol, Samar, Leyte, Compostela Valley, Davao, Bukidnon, and Cagayan de Oro.
“I know that my bike advocacy will not make a lot of difference. I am just a tiny voice or a mere point of light in the dark. But I believe and hope that even small acts that we do will add to the collective efforts to awaken the conscience of the nation and bring about goodness and decency in our country,” Picardal said.
He explained he is “fully aware of the risks and danger” he is facing, that “I too can be a target of extrajudicial killing.”
“I will not cower in fear. I will not back down. I believe that there is still goodness and humanity within each one no matter how sinful. Even hardened killers can change. I have seen this in the former members of the DDS (Davao Death Squad) that I have met and who have gone through a process of conversion. I pray for the day when we recognize each as siblings and friends,” said Picardal, who narrated he was “almost ‘salvaged’ having undergone torture and imprisonment under Martial Law.”
“As I bike and preach the Gospel of Life and Peace, I put my trust in God to whom I have given my life,” he said.
“They should not become what they abhor”
Picardal echoed the appeal of the CBCP which, he said, “echoes the cry of so many people in our land” on the killing of “over 16,000” suspected drug users and pushers since President Duterte launched his war on drugs.
Government statistics cited in #RealNumbersPH reported 3,987 drug personalities killed in anti-drug operations from July 1,2016 to January 17, 2018.
Picardal said EJK “has been a strategic component of the Duterte administration’s war on drugs which has been proven to be ineffective.”
Picardal was based in Davao City from 1995 to 2011. He once served as spokesperson of the Coalition Against Summary Executions (CASE) that documented and denounced alleged summary killings of suspected drug users and pushers and petty criminals, during the administration of Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.
Duterte has repeatedly said there were no state-sanctioned killings in the city.
As CASE spokesperson, Picardal in a speech in 2003 said, “by all means, those in authority should go after the criminals, bring them to justice and punish them appropriately. But they should use means that are legally and morally right. They should not become what they abhor.”
“There is no need to become criminals in the fight against criminals,” he said.
In his pre-departure statement on Wednesday, Picardal appealed for “respect of human rights – especially the right to life – and the rule of law” as he stressed that the solution to the drug problem “should focus on healing, on the rehabilitation of addicts, on addressing “poverty, violence, dysfunctional families, psychological trauma and alienation that breed addiction should be addressed.”
He urged government to resume the peace negotiations with the NDF “and come with a comprehensive peace agreement” because “there can be no military solution to the age-old insurgency problem” and urged an end to martial law in Mindanao.
He said the basis for its declaration on May 23, 2017 and its extension from July to yearend 2017 was the Marawi Siege but government forces have defeated the ISIS-inspired Maute Group and its allies.
Duterte declared Marawi City “liberated from the terrorist influence” on October 17 and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana terminated all combat operations in Marawi on October 23.
In December last year, Duterte asked and was again granted another extension of martial law, this time, until yearend 2018.
“Martial Law has been extended all over Mindanao even in the absence of actual invasion and widespread rebellion, simply on the basis of the threats of ISIS resurgence or expansion and the ongoing communist insurgency. Martial Law will lead to further human rights violation, the escalation of the armed conflict and the spiral of violence. It closes the avenue to peace and will fail to address poverty, injustice, the destruction of the environment and underdevelopment,” Picardal said.
As he did in previous advocacy rides, Picardal will fast during the daytime and preach in the parish churches where he will stay for the night. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)