27 febbraio 2008

Quel prete rivoluzionario di Manila

C'è il giornalismo cattolico di Avvenire, il quotidiano vescovile che ritiene Umberto Veronesi - uno che in materia di lotta alla sofferenza vera, concreta, quotidiana, non astratta o magari embrionale, forse può dirci molto più di certi vescovi - inadatto a rappresentare gli elettori italiani in Parlamento. E c'è il giornalismo cattolico di Efren Dato, notevole figura di prete militante (non mercenario) che dai microfoni dell'emittente cattolica filippina Radio Veritas, vent'anni fa, fu una delle voci più seguite della rivoluzione anti-Marcos. Una rivoluzione pacifica, che ebbe il suo culmine nelle manifestazioni lungo la EDSA, ovvero la Epifanio de Los Santos Avenue, la lunga tangenziale che abbraccia la megalopoli nota come Metro Manila. Ferdinand Marcos, che a quanto dicono gli storici fu secondo, per corruzione, al dittatore indonesiano Suharto, fu in pratica costretto alla fuga dalla rabbia espressa senza violenza dalla folla. Aveva accumulato una ricchezza personale immensa scaricando una montagna di debiti sui suoi connazionali. Il ricordo di sua moglie Imelda resterà per sempre scolpita nell'immaginario collettivo di mezzo mondo per gli armadi pieni di scarpe (almeno un migliaio di paia). Efren denunciava regolarmente le porcherie dei "cleptocrati" dalle sue trasmissioni e per il suo incredibile lavoro di rivoluzionario di stampo gandhiano ottenne un premio intitolato alla libertà di stampa riconosciutogli dalla Philippines Catholic Mass Media Award e dal Rotary International Club di Manila. Sembra di sognare, guardando ai giornalisti che oggi vengono premiati dalle istituzioni cattoliche...
Ma torniamo a Efren. La sua biografia è davvero sorprendente. Dopo la rivoluzione in patria Efren si spreta, emigra negli Stati Uniti, mette su famiglia e si fa eleggere pubblico funzionario nella contea del New Jersey dove risiede. Gli avvenimenti di allora e il suo ruolo a Radio Veritas e nelle altre emittenti radiotelevisive che guidarono, vent'anni fa, non ventimila, l'opinione pubblica filippina, viene revocato in questo lungo articolo apparso sul Global Nation Inquirer, testata online filippina, e firmato da Carlo Osi. E' solo la prima parte della storia, spero che la seconda venga pubblicata presto. Per una dettagliata cronologia degli avvenimenti, potete consultare il sito di Angela Stuart-Santiago e anche questo approfondimento sul ruolo della radio nelle Filippine, firmato da Ramon Tuazon.
[Il mio post è stato linkato sul sito della società di consulenza di Efren Dato! Thanks, Efren, for having linked my post on your company's Web site, EDGlobal.biz. Reading about your own personal history was great.]
Once there was a Radio Veritas Priest

By Carlo Osi INQUIRER.net Posted date: February 26, 2008 (Part 1)

PHILADELPHIA, USA – Those fateful days in February 1986 now known as EDSA I are glibly remembered as a peaceful uprising that overthrew a cruel, overstaying and money-laundering dictator.
It also rekindles memorable images of Jaime Cardinal Sin, Cory Aquino, Johnny Enrile, Fidel Ramos, June Keithley and Gringo Honasan, all important, popular figures then and now. Media has contributed to cementing their historical image in books, articles, documentaries and clips.
But they were not the only ones who played a vital role in turning the tide against the dictator. Thousands of activists who had rallied, mobilized, organized and gave up their lives in the late sixties and seventies had paved the way. There were the millions who lined EDSA, Channel 4 in Quezon City and other urban areas nationwide, rallying until the Marcos government finally relinquished control.
And there were other, lesser known personalities who contributed tangibly to the fight for a better Philippines. Among them is Fr. Efren Dato whose biography is an amazing journey through all forms of activism – from his student days at the University of the Philippines, young priesthood and struggles as a progressive priest in a highly conservative Catholic jurisdiction, his unplanned venture into Radio Veritas, and eventual self-exile in the United States where he left the priesthood, started a family and ran for public office.
Fr. Dato, now just Efren Dato, is a remarkable source on the history of EDSA I and the years immediately following. His voice, analyses and appeal for peaceful resolution had lent a significant hand in the last days of struggle against the dictatorship - a man of the cloth in a dramatic role at a most critical time.

Brief Activism in UP

His political activism can be traced back to his days at the University of the Philippines in the late 60s. Unrest and dissension under Marcos’s draconian rule swept the country, particularly the state university. Fraternities instituted harsh physical initiations to weed out government infiltrator-applicants from legitimate students wishing to join their ranks. The First Quarter Storm – the mass demonstrations and street protests from January to March 1970 – was brewing.
A product of the public school system, Efren spent two years studying Political Science at the UP. He became a member of a then activist UP Student Catholic Action, a theatre society and, if his memory serves, even a left-leaning fraternity. A year into UP, Dato’s mother passed away unexpectedly In July 1968, with a dying wish for him to become a priest. At her funeral, he openly vowed to enter the seminary. A year later, he left the UP for San Carlos Seminary.

Entering Priesthood

Efren Dato’s transition from UP activism to the calmer setting of the seminary was inordinately difficult. He was still a reformer, even a revolutionary – aggressive, forthright, frank but with amazingly great people skills. He was, first and foremost, an organizer.
The seminary’s conservative doctrinal values were working on him but his activism seeped through. With a band of seminary classmates (later to be known as “The Eleven”), he led a protest against the decision of the late Cardinal Rufino Santos to dismiss five progressive Belgian priests from the Philippines. Intolerant of dissent, Cardinal Santos kicked the seminarian protesters out of the seminary due to “lack of vocation or desire to serve the priesthood.”
This meant that to continue with their priestly studies, adoptive Bishops had to accept The Eleven into his fold. They were scattered everywhere; Dato landed in Malolos, Bulacan. Surprisingly, despite the Cardinal’s admonition but perhaps due in part to the need of more priests in the countryside, he was ordained a priest on his third year of theological studies. In April 1974, only five years removed from UP, he became a priest at 23. He recalls those five years as a rather “short, unorthodox and simply irregular formation for most ordained priests.” He entered the seminary bearing a sickle; he left in a white cassock.
As a priest, he marshaled his efforts on community organizing rather than lead mass demonstrations against Martial Rule. Efren Dato was appointed Youth-Student Director of the Malolos Diocese, assisting the Student Catholic Action of the Philippines. Through these organizations, he was able to use his strong personality and enigmatic charisma to mobilize and empower the youth, as well as attend conferences and training abroad.
As a young priest and organizer in Malolos, his trainees including the future Bulacan governor Josie dela Cruz and the incumbent governor, her brother Jon-Jon Mendoza. While professing love for God in his homilies, Fr. Efren Dato was involved in political transformation in that period’s street protests and political rallies. He believed then that his “priestly ministry included politicizing the people as a constitutive part of evangelizing.”

Voice of Radio Veritas

In the 1980s, actress Nova Villa and the late veteran broadcaster Orly Punzalan were hosts of Radio Veritas, a Catholic broadcasting station transmitting from Fairview, Quezon City. While serving as guest entertainers in a San Carlos Seminary alumni function, they spotted the emcee with a credible radio voice. He turned out to be Fr. Efren Dato and they immediately invited him to be a guest on their radio program.
Guest broadcasting on Radio Veritas appealed to him immensely; it was his cup of tea. In 1981, he accepted the offer to be a full-fledged broadcaster, in time for the Papal Visit of the well-loved Pope John Paul II. Assigned to cover the historic visit, he was stationed close to the Pope as he himself was living at the papal nuncio’s residence.
Without formal broadcasting or media training, he was immediately rose in Radio Veritas ranks as an anchorman, producer and reporter. It even allowed him to take up broadcasting and management courses in Washington, DC, as a scholar in the mid 80s.
Fr. Efren Dato was on board when the EDSA uprising began in late February 1986. It was an ordeal that would forever change his life. He continued broadcasting during those tumultuous days without ever going home, shaving or getting well-deserved sleep.
One of the newsbreaks he broadcast then was the destruction of Radio Veritas’s Malolos transmitter by troops loyal to Marcos on February 23, 1986. Feeling that the Catholic radio station was not only highly critical of him but also moving in consonance with radical fronts bent on ousting him, the besieged President wanted to silence the station’s exhortative messages along with its influential broadcasters.
Angry to his radical core, Fr. Dato sought brief temporary relief from broadcasting lest he spew bitter words and livid outrage against the people shoring up the faltering Marcos regime. Several times he was cautioned by his bishop manager to either shut up or to at least tone down his dissidence. He was temporarily relieved by Fr. Larry Faraon, also a Radio Veritas priest but with a much calmer tone. Returning soon after, a less anxious Fr. Efren Dato resumed his radio voice.
Several times they received phone calls from Malacañang, instructing them to cease sensationalizing Defense Minister Enrile’s defection from the Marcos government. They did not heed these calls, a prime reason for the bombing of the Malolos transmitter.
With the destruction of the transmitter, Radio Veritas they needed another medium to speak the truth and encourage people to go to EDSA. With Lt. Col. Mariano Santiago leading a band of rebel soldiers, Fr. Efren Dato in a white cassock accompanied the raid on Channel 4, the “government-owned” TV station on Bohol Avenue in Quezon City. Gunfire from Marcos loyalist soldiers from inside the station greeted their arrival.
Fr. Dato and the soldiers had no a clear plan on what to do in case they succeeded in liberating Channel 4. All he knew was that “a medium to inform the people and broadcast the truth was of severe importance.” The rebels were able to seize control of the station with minor fatalities.
Fr. Efren Dato did not have the blessings of the Catholic hierarchy at Channel 4 but Channel 4 was an important continuation of Radio Veritas as the battle shifted from radio to TV broadcasting. Again the dictator Marcos threatened to bomb Channel 4 if they did not desist from broadcasting. Fr. Efren Dato, Maan Hontiveros, Orly Punzalan, a bandana-clad Lt. Col. Santiago and the rest of the contingent continued broadcasting.

Crystallizer of Cardinal Sin’s Advocacy

At that moment, helicopters were bombarding buildings along EDSA between Ortigas and Shaw Boulevards where rebel soldiers were strategically deployed. Meanwhile Fr. Dato and his Radio Veritas colleagues knew that bloodshed would ensue if they did not pacify the people. They needed to tell the truth about the actions of Marcos but could not incite people to take up arms and engage in bloodletting.
A key player in EDSA I was also the administrative superior of the Radio Veritas priests – the late Jaime Cardinal Sin. What Fr. Efren Dato and the rest of the broadcasters did was patch interviews with the Cardinal calling for peace and calm amid the storm of protest. They would then repeat his prerecorded voice over and over again. It was this sense of calm from the spiritual leader of the Catholic Church that stemmed the public’s seething rage.
As Cardinal Sin advocated a peaceful resolution of the crisis, Fr. Efren Dato crystallized his advocacy –quoting from the Bible and narrating scriptural teachings to shift a building momentum for violence to love, sacrifice, peace and brotherhood. Even as a radical priest, he knew that a provocative stance would not only counter the Cardinal’s message but also endanger life.
Some time in his UP years, he was tempted to go to the hills and continue the fight for change from there. As a priest in the turbulent 70s, he revisited that option but opted to empower the youth instead. From the radio and TV platform he next mounted, he could have brought back his revolutionary ghost and incited the people to depose Marcos by whatever means. Fr. Efren Dato did not do that. Though his voice quivered with emotion, he toed the Church’s and his own line.
Eventually he would find himself in America, where his radical temper would find new expression, but that’s for another day.
(To be continued)

The author is a Master of Laws candidate at the University of Pennsylvania Law School concurrently undergoing a cross-disciplinary program at the Wharton School. Send comments through http://eastofturtleisland.blogspot.com/.

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