Son of a poor farming family in Cebu, Mateo Olivar migrated with his young family to Tukuran, Zamboanga del Sur in search of better opportunities in life. After high school he had gone to college but could not afford to continue after one year.
Adding to his meager income from tilling the soil, Olivar found work as a janitor at the municipal hall in Tukuran. In 1978 he was invited by his pastor to attend a five-week seminar called Christian Living in the World Today. He was so inspired and enlightened by it that he left his janitorial job to become a fulltime churchworker in the Tukuran parish.
As such, he attended more seminars, shared experiences with other people, travelled to far-ﬂung villages of the parish.
Even greater challenges and opportunities came when Olivar joined the staff of the diocese of Pagadian’s Community-Based Health Program and Family Life Apostolate. He learned herbal medicine, applying it to help the people in villages all over the 15 towns covered by the diocese. He traveled long distances over very bad roads, and on any available transport. But he thrived. “He never wavered, never hesitated,” said his parish priest.
However, because his work entailed going deep into the villages, discussing with people and spreading new ideas, Olivar attracted the military’s attention. He started receiving threats. One day in August 1985, a group of armed militia men stopped the jeep he was riding, looking for him. Fortunately, none of them knew how he looked like and the other passengers covered up for him. His friends were worried.
Apparently, “Tiyong” Olivar had come under suspicion as a revolutionary organizer. But the priests defended him, saying he was organizing “for liberation, not revolution.”
Olivar’s “work for liberation” came to an end on November 7, 1985 when three men fired at him while he was riding his motorbike on his way home. The ambush happened less than 500 yards from a military checkpoint in Dimasangca, Labangan, Zamboanga del Sur. Church workers deeply mourned this religious man’s death. On the day he was buried, the bishop of Pagadian declared that no other mass would be said in the diocese that day except for Tiyong’s funeral mass.