Fr. Eliseo “Jun” Mercado Jr. made his mark as a peace champion in behalf of the Bangsamoro. Quite unknown or forgotten however was his past as one of the founding leaders of the militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan).
In a tribute, Bayan chairperson Dr. Carol Araullo revealed Mercado was one of the first vice presidents of the country’s biggest alliance of progressive organizations. He was a stalwart of the national alliance of patriotic and democratic mass organizations at the height of the Filipino people’s struggle against the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship, Araullo wrote. She added that Mercado was once of its founding leaders when the alliance was founded in 1985 and served as one of the vice presidents of Bayan’s founding chairperson Senator Lorenzo Tañada.
“[Fr. Jun] spearheaded the formation of the People’s Caucus after the fall of the Marcos dictatorship. The People’s Caucus was organized by Bayan in order to form a broad front that would continue to push for fundamental socio-economic and political reforms in the post-Marcos era,” Araullo said.
Araullo recalled that one of the main projects of the People’s Caucus was to put together a blueprint for the conversion of the former United States military bases into productive industrial and commercial hubs once the Philippines would be able to reassert national sovereignty over the sprawling prime real estate in Subic, Olongapo and Clark, Pampanga.
“This was to disprove allegations of pro-US quarters that the local economy built around and dependent on the US military installations would collapse should the US pull out. This was important in the campaign to reject the renewal of the RP-US military bases agreement in 1991,” Araullo said.
Both the former US Navy base in Subic and the US Air Force base in Clark have since become economic enclaves when the Americans left in a hurry as Mt. Pinatubo erupted in the early 90s.
Mercado died last May 23 in a Cotabato hospital of a heart attack as he was battling Covid-19.
‘Jovial and untiring’
Araullo remembered Mercado as a “very jovial, unassuming, cooperative, sincere and untiring Bayan official and People’s Caucus secretary general.”
“[He] lent his sharp intellect, articulate voice, persuasive charm and warm hearted generosity for the pursuit of BAYAN’s advocacies through its political education and information campaigns as well as mass mobilizations including people’s strikes under the Cory Aquino administration,” she said.
The priest was born and raised in Bulacan and Manila, respectively. His father was an American -trained World War II pilot.
Far from being a priest, Mercado originally wanted to become a politician. His plans drastically changed when he heard Oblate priest Bertrand de Merz introduce the Oblates of the Missionary Immaculate (OMI) in a visit to his school. The young Mercado entered the seminary in 1964 after high school at age 16 and professed his first vows as an Oblate in 1967. Mercado went on to study Classics and Philosophy at the University of Santo Tomas and Theology and Missiology at the Gregorian University in Rome.
As a seminarian, Mercado’s scholarship was drawn to the rituals of birth to death of the Tausug in Sulu province. This influenced his decision to pursue Islamic Studies and Arabic Studies in Italy and Special Studies in Islamic Archaeology in Cairo. In a Philippine Daily Inquirer interview, Mercado described his dedication to study Islam as a “great passion (and) thirst.”
Thus, after his historic role as one of Bayan’s founding leaders and helmsman for the People’s Caucus, Mercado transferred himself to Mindanao from where he became active and well known for his championship of the Bangsamoro. From his Notre Dame University base in Cotobato City, Mercado played the role of peacemaker.
In so doing, Araullo said Mercado was being consistent in his advocacy for the Moro’s right to self determination, a role he played in all of his five decades as a religious.
“[He was] unwavering, if at times critical (in his) support for the GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines)-MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) peace negotiations…[as well as in] his courageous and unflinching role as a human rights advocate and defender of civil and political rights in the troubled island,” Araullo said
She added that Mercado took a principled stand against the Rodrigo Duterte administration’s martial law declaration in Mindanao in the wake of the Marawi Siege and became a convenor of Mindanaoans for Civil Liberties and Barug Katungod Mindanao.
Araullo said Mercado exemplified the activist priest who found and practiced the highest convergence of being the servant of God and service to the people.
“He did not shirk from social and political activism as unbecoming of a man of the cloth but embraced it with scholarly enthusiasm and imbued it with a high moral and spiritual conviction. His life-long focus on the plight, struggles and aspirations of the Moro people is a testament to his profound understanding and embrace of the most exploited, oppressed and discriminated against among God’s people,” Araullo said.
The Bayan leader said they are privileged and proud to have been a part of Mercado’s life’s journey as a “remarkable human being.”
“May his fine example shine a light on many more religious men and women who aspire to be relevant and contribute significantly to our people’s national and social liberation,” she said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)