By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Two weeks ago, Fr. Wilfredo Ruazol of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente received a rather bittersweet news.
The perjury case against him and other human rights defenders filed by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. before a Quezon City court was dismissed. All except for Sr. Elenita Belardo, former national coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines.
The case supposedly stemmed from the protection order that human rights defenders and church workers asked from the Supreme Court, following the rampant red-tagging by state security forces. This, Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said, was a retaliation designed to harass these organizations.
Ruazol found himself pushed to the fore for “finding meaning in the work we have doing for the realization of human dignity and living out the imperative of Christian life as an Aglipayan priest that has a strong tradition of ministry for the poor, the deprived, and oppressed.”
Finding his calling
Ruazol, the eldest in a brood of six, grew up in a parish in Cavite, where his father served before entering the military chaplaincy in 1973 until his retirement. At the age of seven, he expressed his wanting to enter priesthood.
His family, however, was not at all thrilled.
Being the eldest, Ruazol was expected to eventually help put food in the table. Entering priesthood, especially in IFI, where they are known for leading a “congregation of the least coin” is not an option.
In an attempt to sway his attention, he was sent to the Polytechnic University of the Philippines to study electrical engineering. But his heart knew all too well what he really wanted to pursue. Ruazol eventually took his two-year pre-seminary studies before he studied Theology at St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary.
In jest, Bulatlat quizzed him on his misdemeanors as a seminarian. But Ruazol said he was rather “introvert” as a student. His only trespasses, he added, was when they would leave the seminary to attend protest actions against US bases.
Before entering priesthood, Ruazol’s exposure to to “socially-relevant” ministry was under the care of their former parish priest Fr. Edwin Quince, whose sermons, he added, were contextualized on the plight of the least.
Fr. Quince served as a big inspiration to Ruazol, equipping him with a sense of justice when he formally entered the seminary.
“We were taught to appreciate God’s word not just on a spiritual level or be confined to religious rites and traditions. I learned that issues of justice and peace are all in the Bible,” Ruazon said.
He brought this with him when he was invited to join protest actions. In his first demonstration, Ruazon was hit by a water cannon. He said this incident led him to deepen his awareness on inequality and injustice.
He became more aware of the people’s plight when they visited and lived among the marginalized as part of their pastoral immersion and exposure. Slowly, he said, he considered himself as an activist.
Ruazol eventually served as chairperson of the Seminarians on Transformation and Nationalism.
Living out his faith
Sometime in 1991, however, while protesting against the US bases, a photo of him holding a placard made its way to the pages of the Free Press. His father saw it and immediately recognized him among the throng of seminarians.
Ruazol vividly remembered how his father rolled the papers and began to hit him saying, “I’m in the military. I’m able to bring food on the table because of the government. And now you are joining a rally.”
He tried to explain why he decided to join these protest actions. His father, on the other hand, attempted to convince him to join the military chaplaincy. Still, Ruazol continued to be involved in protest actions.
In 1993, he graduated from seminary and was ordained into priesthood a year later.
As a young priest, he was sent to serve communities peasant and fisherfolk communities in Cavite. Later, he was tapped as a part-time volunteer for the National Priest Organization, where he later served as its education officer. His work with NPO under its then governor Fr. Eleuterio Revollido, he said, influenced him on his social engagements.
Among the biggest influence in his life, he said, was no less than IFI’s former Obispo Maximo Alberto Ramento, who ordained him back in 1994. Bishop Ramento was stabbed to death on Oct. 3 2006, following his strong support for the struggling workers of Hacienda Lusita.
“He was very ‘fatherly.’ Many Cavite-based priests remember him for that,” Ruazol said, adding that he considers the late supreme bishop as like a father to him.
Ruazol was already working as an executive assistant to then Obispo Maximo Tomas Millamena when he learned of Ramento’s killing. He said he would forever remember that fateful day as perhaps one of the saddest and enraging moments of his life.
A month before the bishop’s killing, Ruazol said he had a small talk with Ramento who told him that he is likely to be stabbed to death than shot, after sharing to the IFI’s Executive Commission that he was receiving death threats for his active involvement in the struggle of the Luisita farmers.
“Church people, bishops, and anyone who dares to carry out the prophetic mission is not spared from killings,” he said.
Along with his contemporary Fr. Jonash Joyohoy and the prodding of Bishop Godofredo David, they spearheaded the forging of the Ramento Project for Rights Defenders to immortalize the advocacies of the martyred bishop. Ruazol is currently one of the officers of the RPRD.
Apart from his involvement in the human rights movement, Ruazol was also involved in various engagements such as their ministry to poor communities, to urban poor children, and on humanitarian and development work.
Today, there is a sigh of momentary relief for Ruazol. But his humble contribution in the defense of Sr. Belardo, and for the rest of the Church workers under siege, and the Filipino people continues.