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IN MEMORIAM: We have just lost a prophet for peace and justice

By Albert E. Alejo, SJ

We have just lost a dedicated activist and fervent defender of human rights in the Philippines, Fr. Amado “Picx” Picardal, CSsR. He passed away on May 29, on the anniversary of his religious profession, near his personally-built mountain heritage in Cebu City. His commitment to denouncing the extrajudicial killings and arbitrary arrests orchestrated by the government of Rodrigo Duterte as well as in defending the families of the victims is undoubtedly a model of inspiration and courage.

I first met “Picx” way back in early 2000s when he was already active in documenting the extrajudicial killings in Davao City. He was introduced to me by journalist Carol Arguillas, the pillar of Mindanews Network, and by Bro. Karl Gaspar, his fellow Redemptorist, also a prolific writer and veteran missionary. Slowly, I got to know the great human being in the person of Fr. Picx.

In the struggle for peace in Mindanao, both in the face of the Communist and Moro armed movements, Fr. Picx was in the forefront of the campaign for dialogue. His heart was always on the side of the victims. And just as Fr. Robert Reyes was known as the “running priest,” Fr. Picx was respected as the biking priest, traveling to different parts of Mindanao and all over the Philippines, calling attention to the crucial issues of the day.

The brutal administration of his city mayor, Rodrigo Duterte, who later became our president, catapulted Picx to even greater prominence in the work for human rights. He synthesized the data collected by the Coalition Against Summary Execution (CASE) into a clear and disturbing piece. And the very prompt publication of his essay exposed the crucial connection between the one thousand extrajudicial killings a month during the first seven months of Duterte’s presidency and the summary murders in during Duterte’s mayorship. The numbers in his statistics expanded the already growing impact of the disquieting images posted by the brave and bold photojournalists known as the “Night Crawlers.”

Fr. Picx’ insider’s insights formed as substance to many PowerPoint presentations to religious and civil society groups who dared to conduct forums despite the palpable risks of defying the sentiment of the vast majority who developed an allure for the new toxic leader. I for one, made use of Picardal’s theological notes and the Night Crawlers’ visual testimonies in exposing the virus of violence that has deceived our nation’s mindset.

Together with another down-to-earth theologian, Vincentian priest Fr. Danny Pilario, Picx offered moral guidelines for a more vigilant Church action. And unknown to many, Picx was a constant support to the humanitarian and activist ministry of SVD priest, Fr. Flavie Villanueva, who has been a sanctuary to the homeless and the families of the EJK victims.

Behind Fr. Picx’ public activist image is a mystic, a contemplative, a spiritual journeyer. Picx was an incurable pilgrim who would find huge chunks of time to walk, to walk alone, touching the earth and the sky as he climbed hills and crossed rivers. He liked to cook and he nurtured his vegetable garden. He also played the guitar even as he built his hut with his hands. And we his friends would share in his literary harvest, from mystical poetry to political theology. (At some point, he also served as head of their theological seminary.)

I was personally privileged to have received a draft of his multi-volume autobiography, which included some of his poems, prayers and personal challenges.

It is public knowledge that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has made use of the leads provided by Fr. Picx, both in his writings as well as in personal communication. This was especially true when the late Chito Gascon was Chair of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights (CHR). The details of his valuable contribution to the Filipinos’ fight for human rights and the rule of law, for sanity and for the awakening of the collective conscience of the nation as well as of the Church — all this will be revealed in due time.

As for now, we can only pay tribute to this great mystic-prophet who had walked among us, and thank the Lord whom he had served for giving him a serene death in his garden-hermitage after a fierce fight for peace and justice.

(Albert E. Alejo, SJ, is a board member of No Peace Without Justice)


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