Son of a poor couple in northern Luzon, Jeremias Aquino was ordained a priest of the Philippine Independent Church in 1974, after struggling to finance his theological studies with the help of his family. He graduated with honors.
Aquino came to activism through the Student Christian Movement of the Philippines. Despite the restrictions under martial law, he joined rallies to denounce the regime’s injustices and human rights violations. He also joined the Christians for National Liberation.
As a young church worker, he was able to visit France and Switzerland. The experience of life in these European countries showed him the vast difference between them and the Philippines. He returned to the country to work among the urban and rural poor. The crowded communities of Tatalon and Navotas in Metro Manila, and the highland villages in the Cordillera region, became his “church.”
In 1975-1976, Aquino was a member of the Workers Institute for Social Enlightenment under the National Council of Churches in the Philippines; he also served in a Quezon City parish and as Aglipayan chaplain of the University of the Philippines. His next assignments (1977-1978) were as director of the Manila-based Ecumenical Center for Development, staff member of the Christian Conference of Asia’s rural youth program, and missionary priest of the PIC diocese of Greater Manila. Then he was named acting program coordinator and youth director of the Laoag (Ilocos Norte) diocese, and concurrently acting associate rector of Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte.
It was in this latter posting that Aquino was arrested in September 1979, at a constabulary checkpoint in Sadanga, Mountain Province. With several companions, he was held at the constabulary stockade in Bontoc, before being transferred to the Bicutan jail in Metro Manila. He was released on Christmas Eve of 1980 together with other political detainees, after prolonged fasting and hunger strikes to protest prison conditions.
After his release, Aquino received offers for work even abroad, but he chose to stay in the country and helped found the Freedom Shop, a carpentry shop for unemployed former political prisoners. He also took in editing jobs for religious publications, where he wrote about problems faced by his people, his church the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, and the ecumenical movement.
He was a man of many talents: proficient in several languages, a good musician, a sensitive poet, a man of the church who lived and felt deeply for the poor.
Aquino died in a Manila hospital on December 14, 1981, after one week of battling for his life following a road accident. He was 32 years old.