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Speech/Homily of His Excellency Most Rev. Ramon B. Villena, D.D., Bishop of Bayombong

NAMFREL 30th Anniversary Thanksgiving Mass, October 26, 2013
National Shrine of the Divine Child, La Salle Green Hills, Mandaluyong City

Congratulations to NAMFREL, congratulations to us. NAMFREL is not just a name, it is a story, it is history, made up of people abounding in love of GOD and country, with deep commitment, undying spirit of sacrifice, and even fearless martyrdom. We are gathered together to celebrate the 30th founding anniversary of NAMFREL, our anniversary.

The motto and mantra of NAMFREL, “It is better to light a candle, than to curse the darkness” is a recurring refrain that inspires every one of us who have volunteered through the years through thick or thin, in danger and in peace, in abundance and in want and many more.

Remembering the history of NAMFREL, is remembering the story of each of us who have journeyed with the organization since its inception.

Am sure all of us have our own story to tell. Our celebration this afternoon is enriched by our own experiences and stories, told and untold.

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of NAMFREL is to tell her story like telling our own.

Please allow me to share with you my short NAMFREL story.

As a young Bishop, I was assigned in Mindanao for more than 3 years. They were the challenging years that made me stronger, more committed and more convinced that we needed then to act and move to liberate us from the many fears that froze us and knots that bound us as a nation, as a people. The atmosphere that prevailed then was cramped and suffocating. There were two kinds of 'air' that prevailed in the atmosphere. One was the seemingly 'free air' that the powers-that-be were inhaling; the other was a 'stale air' that suffocated many of the voiceless, fearful Filipinos.

I am blessed and privileged to serve as an active volunteer, as Diocesan Chair since the beginning. The flame in me has begun when the Citizens National Electoral Assembly (CNEA) was born.

The seed of Filipino patriotism has been planted in every volunteer and up to this day, we remember those who have nurtured this seed with their own blood. We remember our own volunteer in the Diocese of Bayombong, Gerry Tapas, of good memory, of Belance, Dupax del Norte, who was killed during election. He is just one of the NAMFREL heroes we are remembering and dedicating this anniversary. The crucial snap presidential election of 1986 was one defining moment for NAMFREL. The event was the start of the writing of the new leaf in the history of the Philippines.

People and events have stamped the indelible mark of NAMFREL in the Philippines, especially in our politically history.

This was the spark that lighted the candle, the light of Love. The simple light blended with the Light of God, has become a flame of hope for and in our country.

The light that has been started will continue since this light is now inside the heart of each NAMFREL volunteer.

This year, as we celebrate the year of faith, is a fitting blend with the feast we are commemorating today.

Indeed, no one and no amount of trial and challenges can extinguish the light of NAMFREL because it is in confidence with the light of God, the light of FAITH.

May God conttinue to pour His blessing in each of us. MABUHAY, NAMFREL!


+RAMON B. VILLENA, D.D
Bishop, Diocese of Bayombong
October 26, 2013

Homily

When I was assigned as Auxilliary bishop of Tagum in the 1980's, my passion for justice and peace was awakened. It was there that I was faced with life's realities and struggles of our brothers and sisters. As my memory tells me, it was there that I started to involve myself more passionately to fight for the rights of our people. It was also in Tagum that I started to be actively involved in the mission and works of the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections or NAMFREL.

During that time, the process of election in Tagum was not that free and peaceful. Just like what is happening still today, politicians were employing all sorts of means just to win the election. Unfortunately, this kind of dirty politics leads to nothing but the sacrifice of precious life and relationships. How can I forget the violent and regrettable death of Ireneo Magbanua? He was a NAMFREL volunteer of San Vicente, Davao del Norte. He was violently killed on account of protecting the sanctity of the ballot.

When I was assigned to the Diocese of Bayombong, I carried with me my advocacy and passion for peace and justice. Every election time, as their bishop and pastor, I commit in my capacity to fight for the sanctity of the will of the people. I always seek the partnership and assistance of the NAMFREL. In my diocese, there are many NAMFREL volunteers who give themselves to protect and guard the votes of the people. There are many who are willing to sacrifice their time, effort and talent for the sale of the ballot. How can I also forget one NAMFREL hero in my diocese whose life he dedicated, all for the sake of the people's vote. His name is Tanas. He is a member of the indigenous tribe in the Municipality of Dupax del Norte, Nueva Vizcaya. His death paved the way to the search and proclamation of truth.

Since my early years as a bishop until now, I believe and continue to support the mission and ministry of the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections. In NAMFREL, I am a witness to countless ordinary citizens who are willing to sacrifice their time and life all for the sake of upholding the will of the people. Yes, I can never forget Rodrigo Ponce, Jaime Alcala, Fructoso Javines, Alexis Parao, and many other martyrs and heroes who are willing to volunteer to die for the sake of this country. We can also never forget all other countless fellow Filipinos who are volunteering to join us in this noble task of protecting our votes every election times. Let us remember, they are volunteers. It means to say, they are never paid. But in their humble and ordinary means, they offer their lives for the sake of this country and its citizens. Is this not their way of lighting their one little candle. From these heroes, martyrs and many other volunteers, we can never stumble in the dark. We can never curse darkness... but as Filipinos, we light our own little candle to guide us on our way towards peace, justice and prosperity.

As we gather today to celebrate the anniversary of NAMFREL, we remember in a special way all our brothers and sisters who are brave and generous enough to light their candles every election time. We remember our heroes and martyrs. We remember their humility to dedicate themselves freely without expecting for any returns. May their humble death, volunteerism and passion inspire and enflame us to continue to light even just one little candle than to curse the darkness.

Throughout its existence to protect and defend the Filipino people's will, NAMFREL and the many unnamed volunteers teach us all the value of humility. From its beginnings, from the sense of volunteerism, even to its process of securing votes, NAMFREL is propelled and fortified by humility. Because of this, I believe that the good Lord is at our side... He is with us in our noble task and mission. He sustains us to live this long for the good and benefit of our Filipino people. NAMFREL is the mission of every citizen... much more, this is the movement of our poor people. As such, the Lord is with us because as the Psalmist reminds us, “The Lord hears the cry of the poor.” NAMFREL will always go along the history of our country as long as there are humble volunteers and supporters like you and I.

As we continue our joyful anniversary celebrations, may the lessons of our gospel and also of NAMFREL keep us rooted in our beginnings. May it enable us to be grounded as we remember all those ordinary Filipinos. May it enable us to be grounded as we remember all those ordinary Filipinos who sacrificed their precious lives for the sanctity of the ballot. May it always keep us humble. As the gospel warns us, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted!” This is best expressed in the motto of NAMFREL: “It is better to light a candle, than to curse the darkness!” It is only in humility that we can truly light our candles... it is only in humility that we can volunteer and commit ourselves to fight for our people's will... it is only in humility that we can truly be exalted in our noble mission and task as defenders of the people's will!

Amen