One last bike trip for the fearless Father Picx

MANILA, Philippines – Father Amado “Picx” Picardal is about to embark on the last phase of his life – “a life of solitude, silence, and prayer” as a hermit in the mountains. But before he goes into seclusion, he is going on a 1,500-kilometer bike trip around Northern Mindanao with nothing but a bag of basic necessities, a list of appeals, and threats on his life.

There 64-year old activist priest has 3 appeals, which he plans to spread during his 16-day bike ride he has dubbed “Bike for Life and Peace.”

His appeals are:

On Wednesday, March 14, Picardal celebrated his last mass as a Redemptorist priest in Baclaran Church, Parañaque, where he has been based for the last 6 years. In the homily, he read his departure statement before a packed audience of church-goers –  mostly devotees of the Mother of Perpetual Help.

"I know that my bike advocacy will not make a lot of difference. I am just a tiny voice or a mere point of light in the dark,” Picardal said. "But I believe and hope that even small acts that we do will add to the collective efforts to awaken the conscience of the nation and bring about goodness and decency in our country."

BLESSING FOR A SAFE JOURNEY. 'Running priest' Robert Reyes holds Father Picardal and lay person Chito Generoso before he sends them off to their 1500-kilometer bike trip.Photo by Eloisa Lopez / Rappler.com

BLESSING FOR A SAFE JOURNEY. 'Running priest' Robert Reyes holds Father Picardal and lay person Chito Generoso before he sends them off to their 1500-kilometer bike trip.Photo by Eloisa Lopez / Rappler.

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The mass was concelebrated by his fellow activist priest Flavie Chalaf and “running priest” Robert Reyes. As a send-off, Reyes ran with him to the gate of the church and gave his blessing to Picardal.  Mass goers were unsure who Picardal was, but still took selfies with him, and wished him a safe ride. Then off went Picardal and lay person Chito Generoso, who will accompany him on the trip, to the congested streets around Baclaran Church. 

Witness to wars

The day before his departure, Rappler interviewed Picardal after his talk at the Ateneo de Manila University about witnessing the drug war.

Born and raised in Davao City, where President Rodrigo Duterte governed as mayor for more than two decades, Picardal said he was very familiar with extrajudicial killings.

In fact, before the 2016 presidential elections, Picardal published a report on his personal blog containing details of killings perpetuated by the so-called Davao Death Squad (DDS) in Davao City from 1998 to 2015. He said he posted it for the only purpose of “warning” the public.

Of the 1,424 DDS victims in Davao City, Picardal said 57 were females and 132 were minors. He added that he worked closely with the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and the Human Rights Watch (HRW) to reach such findings.

"I believe that to hide this would be a disservice to the nation since I believe that the body count could multiply many times over throughout the whole country in the next 6 years,” he said in the post dated April 19, 2016, predicting bloodshed under a Duterte presidency.

Nearly two years later, at the Ateneo forum, Picardal made another grim prediction: "If the trend continues, there will be over 70,000 killings by the end of 2022."

He calls this the “Davao template,” this “systematic" way of killing in which barangay officials are made to draw a list, and suspected criminals and drug offenders are tagged as targets. He said this was a replica of the war on crime in Davao, except the scale of the current drug war is nationwide.

Picardal said Duterte’s popularity was likewise celebrated in the city. His policies made people say, “Buti nga (Good riddance),  whenever suspected criminals were killed. The middle class loved him.

No more fear

With this much knowledge, it is no surprise that Picardal has been receiving death threats. In his departure statement, he acknowledged that he would probably be killed during his bike trip.

"I am doing this fully aware of the risks and the danger I am facing. I am aware that I too can be a target of extrajudicial killing,” Picardal said.

Picardal does not cower in fear at the prospect. He said he has gone through lots of grim experiences, especially during the dark days of the Marcos regime, back when “salvage” was the term used for extrajudicial killing.

“I was one of those abducted, tortured, and almost salvaged,” Picardal said. “I was imprisoned for 4 months. A gun was pointed inside my mouth.”

Ever since that traumatizing experience, he had lost his sense of fear. In his mind, he’s gone through the worst.

No one could stop him from his perilous bike journey. Even as death threats have come his way, Picardal said he believes in the goodness of humanity. He has so much faith in humanity that he believes even “hardened killers can change."

“I have planned this long before – even before Duterte,” he told Rappler. “I am 64 years old. I dont want to wait longer. This is part of my plan.”

Besides, this is not the first time Picardal is doing this. Since 2000, he has been doing advocacy rides around the Philippines as a form of protest. This is his fourth and probably the last.

A legacy of courage

Many have asked Picardal whether or not this is the right time to go into seclusion, considering the political climate in the country. A man like him is needed at a time like this.

But Picardal is not worried. In fact he is confident, knowing fully well that an army of activists are actively appealing for the same goals.

“I’m happy that when I leave the scene, marami nang nangyayari (a lot things are happening) ,” Picardal told Rappler. “It’s slow, but it’s building up. I expect it to be more but it takes time,” he added.

He hopes that fellow priests would continue to preach, and not remain silent. He hopes more doors are opened for concrete community rehabiliation centers, as they have successfully done in Baclaran Church.

To church members who fear for their lives, Picardal said all they really must do is take seriously their “prophetic mission.”

“We have to speak the truth, we have to denounce evil. When we do just that, there is no need to be afraid. You wouldn’t be afraid. I for one don’t care much about my life.”

As Picardal begins his solitary life in the mountains after 16 days, he will write his third book – a more memoir on his life as a priest and an activist.

His second book, The Beloved Memoirs, Diaries of a Priest, will be released later this year. – Rappler.com