COTANGENT – By Daphne Cardillo
In a span of four hours I had a chance encounter with two people whom I have not seen for over two decades—Mano Jojo and Aileen. This happened on the 1st of November this year when I went to my hometown in Sogod in the south of Leyte. Mano Jojo is a distant relative while Aileen and I share a set of common cousins. Both are from Sogod and have left the place to follow on roads less traveled and have made an impact on a lot of people and the world at large.
I saw Mano Jojo first at around two in the afternoon in their house, seated in a nook, and he appeared to me like a monk or an Indian guru with his shaved head. Mano Jojo is named Patricio, like his father, the late Judge Patricio de los Reyes. But as he wrote in a Botswana paper, “I was never meant to be just like my father…I wanted to become a missionary priest.” So he joined the Society of the Divine Word in 1973 and was ordained an SVD priest on the 23rd of October 1982.
Ten months after his ordination, Fr. Patricio de los Reyes Jr., SVD left the country for Africa where he spent the next twenty-five years doing missionary work. By 1983, he began parish ministry in Serowe, Botswana after learning the native language Setswana. And there he spent three years before starting a new mission in Zambia. In recollection, Fr. Pat said that “one of my experiences in Serowe that has really made an impact on my missionary orientation was our weekly home visits to the sick and the old.”
In Zambia, Fr. Pat again had to learn another language before immersing in church work from 1986-1994. He later became a formator and opened the Formation Program of Botswana Province, covering the countries of Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Then he took further studies in the US before going back to Botswana in 1997 to become a Novice Master. His last task in the African continent was as Provincial Superior of Botswana Province (2002-2008) which by then included South Africa. Fr. Patricio de los Reyes Jr., SVD is now back in the country and serving as University Chaplain at the University of San Carlos in CebuCity.
Aileen, I met later at about six in the evening at their old residence. I simply dropped by their house to visit her mother when she and her husband and son were in town. Our last meeting was in the summer of 1982 and we have not crossed paths since then. She had followed the noble and challenging path of serving the people in the struggle for human rights. After college, she joined the Visayas Secretariat for Social Action and several years later became the Chairperson of Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearances (FIND).
It was as chairperson of FIND that Aileen helped much in giving justice to the victims of the Marcos regime and the later dispensations. FIND does not only assist in the search of the disappeared in order to save lives but give cognizance of the disappeared that died. I remember Aileen’s father telling me once that “may mga bungo” in Aileen’s office. And it was as chairperson of FIND that a bigger formation working on the issue of enforced or involuntary disappearances was established in the Asian region.
Mary Aileen Diez-Bacalso, or Aileen, is now the Secretary General of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD). A federation of human rights organizations, AFAD “works for the attainment of truth, justice, redress and the reconstruction of the historical memory of the disappeared.” It envisions a world without desaparecidos and currently has members from six countries in the Asian continent. And as secretary general of AFAD, Mary Aileen Diez-Bacalso took an “active participation in the three-year drafting and negotiation process of the UN Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.”
It is inspiring indeed to find two great souls who live beyond their selves, beyond family, and even beyond their own country in order to serve others, and in order to make the world a better place to live in. Fr. Patricio de los Reyes Jr., SVD, a missionary priest, and Mary Aileen Diez-Bacalso, a human rights worker, give us pride in being a part of this historical island of Leyte.