Fr. Joe Dizon celebrated his 40th year in the priesthood on October 15, 2013 in Rosario, Cavite, with a holy mass presided by Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle. Those 40 years as a priest he devoted to serving workers, the urban poor, landless farmers and fisher folk. During that celebration, Fr. Joe summed up his lifelong passion ‒ “Sandigan ang masa; paglingkuran ang sambayanan.” (Rely on the masses; serve the people.)
Fr. Joe Dizon was an activist who was devoted to his vocation, and a priest who was committed to his activism. His passion for justice and love for the poor drove him to devote his life in the service of the “poor, deprived and oppressed.”
As a seminarian, he defied his bishop’s wishes to stay out of the fray and consequently compromised his enrollment in the archdiocesan seminary of Manila when he defended five professors who were dismissed without due process. With ten other students he was dismissed and had to seek another bishop who would take him in. That person was the late first bishop of the Diocese of Imus, Msgr. Felix Perez, who welcomed and guided him until the bishop’s death in 1992.
Fr. Dizon was a familiar face to street parliamentarians and media persons who covered rallies and press conferences. One of his activist friends summed up his religious views and worldview in a tribute after his death:
I have never heard Fr. Joe express moral conflict about his being a priest and a dyed-in-the-wool activist. I attribute this to his clear-minded understanding about what it is, and what it must be, to be a priest in a society driven by class exploitation and oppression; with a state characterized by the deceitful and violent defense of the status quo; and in light of an institutional Catholic Church weighed down by feudal tradition as well as socio-economic ties to the ruling elites.
Armed with his experience of sustained immersion in the lives of the basic masses of workers and peasants and his avid study of the Church’s social teachings, Fr. Joe embarked on efforts to build and rebuild projects that would bring church people once more to the front lines of the people’s movement for change. Thus was begun the Clergy Discernment project which counts scores of priests nationwide in their renewed effort to find their “prophetic” role in Philippine society. Fr. Joe was indefatigable in bringing the issues and causes of the people to the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and individual bishops through such mechanisms as the Church-Labor and Church-Peasant conferences.
It has been said that Fr. Joe’s parishioners are in fact the Filipino people. This truism is perhaps best seen in his work helping to build social movements and alliances on a range of national concerns and issues. These include the multi-sectoral alliances that fought against the US-backed Marcos dictatorship such as the People’s Alliance for the Pope’s Visit (PAPA), the Justice for Aquino, Justice for All (JAJA), the Nationalist Alliance for Freedom, Justice and Democracy, BagongAlyansangMakabayan (BAYAN) and the Coalition for the Restoration of democracy (CORD).
(Carol P. Araullo, in a tribute published in Business Day)
History of political involvement
Fr. Joe spoke and led various organizations launching protest actions against injustices, corruption in government and violation of human rights during martial law and through succeeding administrations until the time of his death. He also fought for honest elections.
During martial law, he supported workers’ strikes and the right to organize unions — basic constitutional rights that were both banned by the Marcos dictatorship. The Basic Christian Communities-Community Organizing (BCC-CO), which he headed as National Director, helped form and strengthen people’s organizations in rural areas so they could deal with issues such as land grabbing, military abuses and hamletting. Fr. Joe Dizon was a supporter of the underground opposition before he became known as a leader in the open protest movement. He provided facilities for secret meetings called to assess or plan protests in Metro Manila against the fascist rule.
When Senator Benigno Aquino was assassinated in August 1983, Fr. Joe became a key figure in broad alliances against martial law and the Marcos dictatorship. These included the Justice for Aquino and Justice for All movement (JAJA), which held numerous demonstrations to oust the dictatorship. He would say mass during rallies both to prevent brutal dispersion as well as to boost the courage of demonstrators.
Fr. Joe was sought to bring the issues and causes of the people to the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and individual bishops through such mechanisms as the Church-Labor and Church-Peasant conferences. He also urged fellow priests to carry out the Church’s social teachings by convening and joining Solidarity Philippines and the National Clergy Discernment Group.
Circumstance of death
After the EDSA people power revolution of 1986, Fr. Joe continued to support workers’ rights; was active in the Estrada Resign Movement and the impeachment of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo; spoke against graft and corruption, abuse of power, andpuppetry to US-led wars of aggression, such as the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq.
He also became the face of poll watchdog KontraDaya and, in two elections (legislative and local elections in 2007 and the national elections in 2010), was a fixture at protest actions in front of the Comelec main office in Manila. At one of the rallies, Comelec security personnel shoved and pushed him and other KontraDaya leaders to prevent them from entering the building to deliver a letter to the commissioners. At that time, Fr. Joe was already weakbecause of his diabetes. He finally succumbed from its complications on November 4, 2013.
Impact of Fr. Joe’s death on the community
Among his last involvements were first, the formation of the Workers Assistance Center where he taught workers the value of self-organization, self-help, collective action, unionism, just wages and benefits and second, the campaign against the pork barrel and use of the national budget for political patronage.
Because of the above involvements, Fr. Joe was given a number of appellations during the tributes given to him: chaplain of the parliament of the streets, priest of the people, consummate patriot, a thoroughgoing democrat, and an unwavering pastor-servant of the people.