Thursday, October 9, 2008

‘Isang bagsak’ for Oca

My heart broke that I couldn’t be present at the Oct. 3 fund-raising evening for Oscar D. Francisco (Oca to his friends) but I told myself that I will do my part to help him. The affair was held at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani (Monument of Heroes).

Oca’s name is not about to be etched on the black granite wall at Bantayog where the names of martial law heroes and martyrs are etched. Oh no. Oca is alive is not about to go into the night. With the prayers and help of his friends, he will get well and again serve communities in the Oca style of bursting energy, intensity and, most of all, laughter.

Oca, hang in there.

Pilgrim of change, social reformer, development activist. Oca is all those and more. With his verve, vigor, vision, intelligence and gift for communication, Oca could have made it to the big league of the so-called financially successful. But Oca, although not poor, chose to work among the poor and wretched of this earth.

Oca is seriously ill with diabetes and other related ailments. More than a month ago, Oca developed a serious infection that almost cost him his legs. Repeated medication to address his declining health led to kidney failure. Dialysis was the only option to remove the unwanted substances in his body and cleanse his blood.

Oca is now undergoing dialysis twice a week which costs his family a whopping P100,000 a month. His wife Edna and children, one of them a doctor of medicine, know how heavy this is for the family.

Oca’s condition has curbed his mobility and made him vulnerable to other threatening ailments. This means limiting his crucial interventions in projects and movements that benefit the “PDO”. For babes in the woods, PDO was part of activists’ jargon. It means poor, deprived and oppressed. I don’t hear that often anymore.

For years Oca worked sans salary or with little material compensation. He was always busy out there. He could be tapped at moment’s notice gratis et amore. He was great at mobilizing people, facilitating conferences and workshops and bringing life to boring meetings.

With his great speaking voice and Spanish features, Oca could easily blend with the well-heeled, but no, he chose the downtrodden to be his companions in the journey. Oh, but he knew how to have fun and could easily get people involved in merrymaking such as karaoke singing and ballroom dancing in his new base in the Visayas. Although Oca travelled to many remote places in the country he was based in Luzon most of his life.

Whenever Oca was in town and joined the regular potluck dinners (at Maring Feria’s, where else) of former Nassa (National Secretariat of Social Action) church workers, we would always ask Oca for a “nat-sit”.

The letter of appeal written by my “ex-Nassa” friends Mano and Tess describes Oca as “a critical instrument in the building of alliances between the included and the excluded in our society, a crucial hand in coalition building, and a determined reformer and bridge builder between civil society and the state. His service can be traced to his Student Catholic Action days, his role as Justice and Peace coordinator of Nassa (of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines), his stewardship of various foundations and NGOs and his clear and participatory leadership within the National Anti-Poverty Commission.”

Oca is stubbornly committed to this country and its people. Those of us who have known him for decades know his inner strength. Oca’s case is not hopeless. He just crossed over the threshold of 60. As soon as he is strong enough, Oca will undergo life-saving surgery. He might just get convinced and say yes to a kidney transplant.
All ye comrades of different stripes, ideologues of different colors, subversives and non-subversives, activists underground, above ground and in exile, ye mitered and sceptered men in robes, women religious, social action workers, political beings of vision, academics, please hear the pleas of Oca’s friends in the “Isang Bagsak for Oca Committee”.

You may send email to For those who were born yesterday, isang bagsak is the cue for one, just one, loud clap and stomping of one foot which is a sign of approval and appreciation. Isang bagsak could make tyrants shudder. When Oca yelled “Isang bagsak!” the room thundered.

Those who wish to help may deposit their donation at the Oscar D. Francisco savings account 1756-1032-13 at the Bank of the Philippine Islands, in Better Living, Paranaque. Isang Bagsak for Oca hopes to raise P1 million for Oca’s surgery/transplant. That’s less than the price of one SUV.

My fellow countrymen and countrywomen, here is a man who deserves our help and gratitude.

My good friend Daphne Ceniza-Kuok, now based in Hong Kong, blew into town last week to once again give International Care Ministries (ICM), a church-based organization, a boost. ICM has many development projects in the Philippines. A friend of Oca’s, this former activist (she still is) did not simply settle in her Kuok comfort zone, she is always on the move to reach out to her fellow Filipinos here and in HK. Last year she entrusted me with a sum for 10 poor women’s livelihood in a typhoon-devastated province.

Last week I wrote about the “A-Book-Saya” book donation project started by Christian-Muslim couple Armand (a former Inquirer reporter) and Annora Nocum (PDI, Oct. 1, page 1). The books are for the children of war in Mindanao. If you want to donate books, old or new, contact 9323609, 3393732, 09228169510, or