The abduction and disappearance of Redemptorist priest Rudy Romano in 1985 was one of the best known such cases under the Marcos dictatorship. It drew numerous appeals for his release both here and abroad, and even from Pope John Paul II.
Romano was an activist priest who was at the forefront of the anti-dictatorship movement in the Visayas (he was executive secretary of the Coalition against People’s Persecution, based in Cebu, and national vice-president for the Visayas of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan).
He was on board his motorcycle, returning to Cebu City, when he was stopped by a group of armed men in Tisa, Labangon, a city suburb. Local residents had seen the group apparently waiting for him for hours. There were several strong indications that the military was involved in the crime. Later, two men were tried by a military court for their role in the abduction and kidnapping, but were eventually cleared.
The authorities made a show of finding out what happened to Romano, but his family and supporters were to be disappointed. The brother of one witness was killed while the investigation was going on, and Alfonso Surigao, a lawyer for the Redemptorist priests, was also shot dead in his own backyard.
Romano, 44 years old at the time of his disappearance, was the eldest of nine children of a devout Catholic couple. He spent his boyhood in the family’s hometown of Villareal, Samar. After high school, he began studying to be a Redemptorist missionary in India and Cebu. He was ordained a priest in 1964.
His first assignments were in Samar and Leyte and later to other areas in the Visayas and Mindanao. Then he was appointed regional vocation director for Visayas and Mindanao, traveling to different provinces seeking out candidates for the priesthood and brotherhood. In 1982 he went to Ireland for further studies in theology.
Romano returned to the Philippines in 1983 just as the social and political movement was growing tremendously in the wake of the assassination of Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr. He enthusiastically stepped into his tasks for the Redemptorist Social Apostolate for the Urban Poor in Cebu.
Laborers in Cebu wanted to rise up after years of oppression and exploitation. Romano took their struggles to heart. He helped put up the AMA-Sugbu, a militant workers' alliance in Cebu. He was also spokesman for three city-wide transport strikes in 1984 and 1985.
As the country grew increasingly militarized, he joined Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, helping give shelter and refuge to victims of military harassment. He was himself arrested twice and briefly detained.
But he knew that his safety was in danger. On his last visit home, his father tried to turn him away from his activities in behalf of the poor. “I know they will torture you, they will punish you,” the old man pleaded. “You will die early… And he said, Tatay, don’t you worry… if I die, I have no family and you will know who have killed me. Those were the last words I heard from my son.”
PARENTS Gaudencio Romano and Adelaida Boller
Secondary: Villareal West Coast Academy, Samar
College: Redemptorist Preparatory Seminary, Iloilo; Redemptorist Novitiate, Cebu;
Redemptorist House of Studies, India; Redemptorist Major Seminary, Cebu