ANDRES, Trifonio N.

andres, trifonioFriends remember him as warm, loving, and hardworking. His closest friend, a priest, said Trifonio, or Ponyong, saw life as something to offer to others “selflessly, for the sake of justice and peace, love and unity.”

Andres was a seminarian in Davao City when he became involved in human rights work. He became a volunteer for the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines under the auspices of the Citizens’ Council for Justice and Peace. He visited political prisoners and other detainees inside police and constabulary jails in Davao City. In 1979, he testified as one of the witnesses during an investigation of a massacre by soldiers of 14 people in Catalunan Grande, near Xavier Seminary where he was studying.

Seeing with his own eyes the grave abuses inflicted on the people, he became a committed opponent of the martial law regime. He told his family stories about how a government-supported fanatic group (the Ilaga) was waging a “genocidal war” against Muslims in remote towns.

In a Biblical preaching in 1981, he expressed solidarity with dispossessed farmers and indigenous communities, as well as with the underpaid workers, denouncing the injustice that was being done to them. “This community of ours,” he wrote, “is not anymore a community…based on love, but money, power and prestige.” When one speaks of love, there must be justice: “Justice is the minimum of love. There is no love where there is no justice.”

Although Andres had already become a deacon in 1981, his bishop delayed his ordination into the priesthood. Undeterred, he continued serving as fulltime volunteer of TFDP and CCJP in Davao.

On August 17, 1983, some 50 heavily-armed soldiers and militia men belonging to the Integrated Civilian Home Defense Force swooped down on a wedding ceremony being held in Libungan, North Cotabato, and arrested and interrogated 15 people. The soldiers said they were looking for communist guerrillas.

The male prisoners were hogtied, their eyes and mouths taped, and taken to the military camp. Four were taken to the Metrodiscom Headquarters in Digos, Davao del Sur, where they were executed.

Trifonio Andres was one of them. His body bore multiple signs of brutal torture, and there were gunshot wounds in the chest. He was 29 years old.

“He died,” said his friend Fr. Antonio S. Mayo, “in the darkest night of our struggle to get out from the land of bondage and slavery in order to bring light, to bring justice and peace, to bring love and unity to our brethren groaning because of the excruciating pain of hunger and deprivation….”

Reflecting on Ponyong’s life, his brother Sergio Jr. wrote, “His deep conviction [was that] man’s spirituality should grow hand in hand with the growth of technology. Spirituality to him [was] a consciousness that should develop in all men that will be expressed as service to fellowmen, justice, love, sharing and giving without preconditions even to the point of sacrificing one’s life.”