Today, at the Henry Lee Irwin theatre of the Ateneo de Manila University, a Special Academic Convocation will be held by the Ateneo community to confer 5 Traditional University Awards to people of distinction. I shall be a guest to this afternoon’s affair. I will not only be an ordinary guest… I will be a PROUD guest for among today’s honorees of the Ateneo are special people who I hold dear. This year’s Ozanam Award will be conferred to the Sumilao farmers and their lawyer, Atty. Arlene “Kaka” Bag-ao. I have written so much about the Sumilao farmers and what they have accomplished both in this blog and in the press releases I have written for their campaign in the last 9 months or so. So today I will not write about the Sumilao farmers.
All throughout the long 13 years that the Sumilao farmers struggled for their land, one person have always been their constant companion. She rarely shared the limelight with the farmers, but she shared their miseries, their worries, their fears and their sacrifices. For most of the last 13 years, she was invisible to the eyes of the public, a silent co-traveler of the Sumilao farmers.
I met Atty. Kaka Bag-ao, one rainy day in 1995 at the foot of Mt. Banahaw in Barangay Consolacion, Sariaya, Quezon. I was organizing a group of agrarian reform farmers there as part of my training in community organizing. She was our resource person in one of our paralegal clinics with the farmers. Little did I know that one that rainy day in August 1995 i will come to know a friend who will touch my life immensely. We met a couple of times more for paralegal sessions. I ended my stint in Quezon a couple of months later and returned to my work in Mindanao. A year later, I learned that she has moved to Cagayan de Oro City to work for an NGO working with agrarian reform farmers. We rarely met then until I got drawn into the hunger strike of the Sumilao farmers in October 1997. By then she was already in the center of the Sumilao campaign as their lawyer, tactician, sister, daughter and friend to the farmers.
I rarely meet someone who can both challenge and question my ideas and opinions and build on them as she does. I challenge and build on hers too. Our arguments during tactics sessions are animated (and at times heated). She inspires me like very few people do. I have worked with Kaka in several other cases in Bukidnon but the Sumilao has always been a special one. Working with Kaka, Jun g., Nenen and several others on the Sumilao case and other cases in Bukidnon made me choose to work as an agrarian reform advocate.
In the Sumilao case alone, I have witnessed Kaka’s agonies and heartaches – losing 2 beloved friends Attys. Bob Gana and Caloy Ollado to the Cebu Pacific Flt 387 crash while they were on their way to Sumilao; losing a the Sumilao case in the Supreme Court on a mere technicality and thus experiencing the worst of our pro-rich judicial system.
Kaka was also instrumental in making me decide to join Akbayan, a decision that made significant changes in my life. Somme of these changes made us drift away from each other for a number of years.
The 1,700 kilometer walk of the Sumilao farmers late last year reunited me to the rest of the Sumilao campaign team. Parang di kami nagkahiwalay ng mahahabang taon. I got reunited with Kaka and Jun G. and got to know people who have since become my friends – Jane, Marlon, PI, Jemro, Bro. Javi, Bro. IJ, Tinx, JanJan, Aison, Soc and the people from Ateneo-OSCI.
If only San Miguel Corporation knew how our campaign plans were developed and evolved, they would not have taken this collection of jologs seriously. Our huntahans and Starbucks sessions spewed tactics that shook San Miguel and brought it to the negotiation table. The support of heavyweights like Cardinal Rosales, Bishop Pabillo, Christian Monsod, Fr. Danny Huang made the settlement with the Sumilao farmers compelling for the Asian brewery giant.
By hindsight, our ragtag team of jologs was a dream team of sorts. Our humor and laughter melt tiredness and weariness away. Our warm friendship made our daily pamorningan sessions not only tolerable, but most of all, something to enjoy and look forward to. We were never a bunch of grim and determined cadres, we were just a collection of friends who can find something humorous in the most serious of things. Kaka Bag-ao, co-honoree of the Sumilao farmers in this year’s Ozanam Award was the spirit that held us together (i.e. she was the jologest of us all).
Kaka kong mahal, sana’y wag kang mapapagal, Sana’y wag kang magsawa. Sana’y di ka mauubusan ng tawa. Always remember that the stars are brightest in nights that are darkest, that the pangs of labor give birth to new life. You taught me those things dear friend, and i am just reminding you of the lessons you so lovingly (and funnily) taught me.
The Sumilao victory, the Ozanam award are just a few feathers on your bonnet, and by God you have enough feathers to make a good feather duster.