ROBERTO A. GANA ( A SPECIAL LOVE FOR THE POOR)

It has already been over a decade since Bobby’s death.  But one those of us who knew him from his earliest days in the Ateneo, there are some things that are difficult to forget.
 
The first thing that many would remember was  that he was always among the bigger, chubbier guys in class.  He was never any kind of athlete, but he was certainly one of the smarter ones.  Yet there was in him not the subtlest, slightest speck of that arrogance that ailed so many an astute Atenean.  Bobby made no effort to show off or to make an impression.  He preferred not to call attention to himself in any way.  He would usually just sit very quietly and unassumingly in the classroom.  He was a good listener and a keen observer.  When he was asked, he would often mumble responses in snippets, which were simple and straightforward, unembellished and unelaborated.  So in the beginning, his classmates could not figure him out.  But as the years went by and people got to know him more and more, it became quite clear to al that one could very easily find in Bobby someone they could relax and be comfortable with, someone they could call a friend. And he was.
 
In high school, Bobby’s naughty side came out a little more, awakened by far more mischievous classmates in those wild days of the mid to late ‘70s.  He laughed a little more, played pranks, mimicked teachers, cracked jokes engaged in banter.  His once super-laconic responses evolved into short quips and witty remarks and he became a little more outspoken-more vocal without ever becoming too verbose.
 
But that serious side never quite left him.  Through both high school and college, he showed himself to be a serious student, who prepared for his classes and studied for his exams.  He was disciplined, conscientious, and self-propelled.  And even as he worked on his academics, he found time and energy to join extra-curricular activities- in high school, there were scouting, Hi-Lites (the school newspaper), and the Forensics Guild (the speech and debating club).  He was also the ever present manager of the softball team.  In college, there was the Ateneo Christian Life Community (ACLC).  In all this, he gave of himself with a generosity that seemed to know no bounds.
 
Bobby could have been many things.
 
He could have been a writer.  He has a way with words.  He was playful, creative, and funny, yet clear and logical.
 
He could have been a cartoonist.  In his youth, he drew a lot in the lull times between periods, or when the teachers got a little too repetitive and uncreative.  He drew mostly funny characters, but his greatest and most intense interest was in monsters and dinosaurs.  Long before Jabba the Hutt, Jurassic Park, Barney, and Avatars came into the scene, Bobby would  draw his creatures in pencil or in ball pen ink- with their sharp teeth, slashing claws, fiery eyes.
 
He could have been a advertising man.  He could have been peddling soap or real estate or some weight loss program.  He could have been part of a creative team, inventing new metaphors, injecting drama into presentations, brainstorming jiggles, crafting strategies to attract attention, engage minds, trigger emotions, and get people to buy what you are selling.
 
In the end, Bobby became a lawyer.  He studied hard for it and excelled, landing fifth in the Philippine Bar Exams of1987.  As a lawyer, he also became a teacher of future lawyers, who valued his mentorship and appreciated his demanding classes and saw through and admired his very human ways.  But what really took up most of his energies was the alternative law group he helped found-  the Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panlegal (SALIGAN).  There, he was a lawyer for the poor, those without resources and power in society-laborers, urban dwellers, political detainees, the informal sector.
 
Of all the sectors, it was to the peasants and farmers that Bobby paid special attention.  He lawyered for them, listened to their issues and concerns, provided them with his expert advice, taught them the basics and subtleties of law to help them advance their causes.  But this lawyer was never going to just sit behind a desk and read up on cases and craft petitions.  Bobby made sure to be with them-accompany and encourage them, laugh and cry with them.
 
Bobby turned out this way because something happened to him.  He was only in Grade 7 in July of 1973, when the Jesuit Superior General at that time, Fr. Pedro Arrupe, first used phrase “man for other.”  That phrase change Bobby’s life, as it did the lives of many other Ateneans.  For Bobby, it provided the battle cry.  It became the principle around which his whole life came to be centered.  Father Arrupe spelled out unequivocally the very concrete attitudes that such a man must have.
 
First, he should live simply, against the dominant current in the world, or those who tend to believe that being more means having more, who compete in order to outdo others in acquiring the many luxuries that contemporary living has to offer.  In challenging this, the man for others lives a life of counterculture.
 
Second, the man for other is determined “to draw no profit whatever from clearly unjust sources.” Because he sees the suffering of the many poor and underpriviledge who are exploited by a system that takes advantage of their powerlessness, and pushes them to even deeper destitution.
 
Third, the man for others not only reacts negatively, but also acts positively to be agents of change and reform.  Because unjust structures are so massive and entrenched and embedded in our cultures, then the idea is to, at least, make a dent on them, and so dismantle them little by little.
 
Many Ateneans were taught all this, and many Ateneans found creative ways of responding.  Bobby took it to heart, and brought it to life in a real, raw, and uncompromising way.  He took the best of what Ateneo had to give – the intellectual training, the sensitivity to culture, the sense of responsibility for society, the love of country and the special love for the poor, the courage to make sacrifices, the deep faith in God – and gave it flesh.
 
Growing up with Bobby, I would never have imagined writing about him as a hero.  But he is – not the type with superhuman strength or extraordinary abilities, or the tragic type from the nobility that falls from grace because of some fundamental flaw of character.  Bobby is the hero of great courage for an age in search of meaning, who dared to show us that is  possible to incarnate the ideal, and that it is only by giving our lives to the service of those who are poor, that we save us from ourselves, from our demons, our ghosts, our monster and truly see the face of God.
 
Source: “Ateneans Inspiring Ateneans” 1859-2009 by Ateneo de Manila University Press.