The Infanta bishop was one of the champions of human and civil rights in the country. In 60 years of priestly life he faced down the dictator’s martial law and corruption of his successors, pledging to protect the environment and respect for the dignity of workers. The Philippine Church, says the bishop of Caceres, "was blessed by his service".
Infanta (AsiaNews) - Filipino Catholics, lay and consecrated, are paying homage to the memory of Bishop Julio Xavier Labayen, champion of human rights and victor in the battle of civil society against the dictatorship of General Marcos. The prelate died yesterday at age 89 in a hospital in Manila, where he was hospitalized for several health problems. Fr. Eliseo Marcado, a well-known peace activist, remembers him as "a towering figure in the Philippine Church from the beginning to the end of his service ".
A native of Negros Occidental, Labayen was ordained a priest of the Order of Discalced Carmelites in July 1955. Eleven years later, he was appointed Prelate of Infanta where he served for almost 50 years. He founded and directed the first Nassa (National Secretariat for Social Action - Justice and Peace, which is the national Caritas), and from 1966 to 1982 he held the position of National Director of the Bishops' Commission for Justice and Peace.
The current head of NASSA, the bishop of Caceres Rolando Tria Tirona, remembers him as a giant: " offered his 60 years of priestly ministry serving the marginalized and fighting for the protection of the environment. He lived a dedicated life serving and loving the Church especially the poor. The Philippine Church has been blessed by this person and his commitment".
From 1965 to 1986, during the years of military dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, Msgr. Labayen was always at the forefront in defending the rights of the population. Along with Card. Sin - thelate archbishop of Manila - and five other prelates, they created a group of bishops "committed to democracy and freedom." The "Magnificent 7", as they were dubbed, played a crucial role in freeing the country from dictatorship without bloodshed.
Fr. Marcado stresses, however, that "the prelate's commitment did not stop with the fall of Marcos. After removal of martial laws and the restoration of democracy, he remained firm in denouncing the abuses of human rights and economic inequality in the country, always remaining firm in the Gospel".
After retiring in 2003, he continued to serve the weakest: November 29, 2007 he was arrested by the Arroyo Government together with Msgr. Antonio Tobias for defending the exploited workers of Makati City.