KA RODA: Journey to Activism
Tuesday, 27 November 2007
Activists, critics and traffic enforcers know him as Ka Roda, a fiery speaker, a man who never minced words in defence of transport workers and a man that used to drive an extremely old and slow car that no driver would like to get close to. Once an admirer of Marcos Martial Law for its formidable law enforcement, Ka Roda became one of its strongest critics that took him to the streets to topple the dictator. He is one of the few leaders who know the provisions of 1987 Constitution by heart that armed him well in many battles and strikes against oil price hikes, excessive fines and ridiculous regulations on the road.
This is his story… a modest tribute to his great contributions to the militant labour movement and to the many hearts that leapt in joy whenever he sings in huge organizational and political gatherings.
Farmhand by age 12
Born on October 27, 1934, Libmanan, Camarines Sur, Medardo Roda or popularly known as Ka Roda was always called Ding by his parents, Evaristo Rabago Roda and Paz de Lara Rubio. Being 7th of 10 children of a farming family, he grew up a farmer and learned how to plough the field at the age of 12. In between schools, he helped in harvesting and became a farmhand to his father.
He went to Bicol Central Academy where he was a consistent student leader. He finished high school in 1954 and started his journey to the urban jungle, hoping he could make his way to get a bachelor’s degree.
First taste of urban hard life
Like many others, he left his town without his parents’ consent “in search for greener pastures”. He went to Cavite and stayed with his brother who was a body guard-driver to the then Senator Justiniano Montano of Cavite in 1957. The Montanos welcomed him, gave him employment and sent him to an automotive school.
He eventually finished and secured a license but instead of working as automotive mechanic, he was asked to assist in managing the car rental business of Ciriaco Montano, the eldest son of the senator. He was able to support his daily needs. “The daily minimum wage then was only P4.00, a whole pork leg (pata) cost only P0.70cents, and car rental was only P20-P25 and P100 deposit”, Ka Roda recalled.
Ka Roda recalls “I used to refuel cars at the rental shop at a D.Tuazon gasoline station when I met a lady who looked like Gloria Romero. She was the cashier who gave me rebates each time I refuel. I asked her out to watch movie, lunch or dine together. Later on, we eloped, I was then 27 years old.” He was dreaming to get a college degree but when their first child was conceived he knew that it was no longer possible.
Later at work, he was accused of using one of the cars during car barn hours. He cleared it up by telling the truth that it was not him but the manager, a brother-in-law of the car rental owner. Despite regaining his credibility, he left his job after one year of service.
Driving a Taxi Cab
“I will not forget the very first day I started driving a taxi cab, it was on the 8th of July, 1960…” he fondly recalled. “You know, in my 18 years of driving a cab from 1960 to 1978, I was held up only four times, huh…” smiled Ka Roda.
“I remember in the later years of being a taxi driver, that every afternoon at the House of Representatives in front of the Manila City Hall, youngsters hold demonstrations. I could not help but wonder why the teenagers were very determined to hold their protests even if they were continually mauled by the Metrocom. Pag tigil ng mga pulis, tigil din sila. Pag atras ng mga pulis, sunod din sila. Ang kalaban nila may mga baril, sila wala bakit babalik pa. Napaisip ako, bakit kaya ang tatapang ng mga batang ito .…”(If the police stopped, they stopped. If the police stepped back, they followed. Their opponents have guns, they don’t have any and they keep advancing. It made me think, why are those youngsters so brave?) Ka Roda reflected.
“Before my association in transport workers meetings, seminars and discussions, I did not see problems in Marcos Martial Law. In fact, I was a Marcos admirer and happy with the seemingly peaceful environment at the time. As a taxi cab driver, there were no robberies at that time, back then I believe in the effectiveness of the Martial Law. Even if no one was allowed to talk collectively and that the curfew was strictly implemented, I could not disagree with it. There were no robbers at large and criminality in the Metro Manila had dropped. I was even ready to defend Marcos in case an assassination plot against the dictator comes to my attention. I guess, it’s my admiration for effective law enforcement or my experience with the robbers that drew me closer to liking the Martial law.”
“But I could not forget the last robbery. I was on my way home when I accommodated two passengers at Barangay Pinyahan in the middle of the night. When we reached Don Antonio Heights, they took all my earnings the entire day. I was so furious so I went back after few minutes. I was so determined to hit the robbers if I saw them along my way back. But then, I realized that I had cut on my face and ice cold blood was streaming down my face. Actually, I did not notice it until I felt and touched my cheeks. I looked at my hands and it was wet with my blood”, narrated Ka Roda.
The robbery incident made him think of the risks of his job. He thought that it was better to lose all his earnings that night than lose his life and let his family suffer. From that instant he knew he will leave MY taxi.
Ka Roda as a Transport Leader
Leaving the taxi, Ka Roda transferred to jeepney driving –Cubao-V.Luna route in 1978 at the same time the transport organization of the route was being first organized. Here, he began his exposures to meetings and dynamics of transport organization. In meetings, he actively participated in discussions and in decision making processes concerning jeepney operations in the area. Vocal as he always is, he was later elected as the president of the drivers’ and operators’ association despite being a neophyte. Subsequently, he was invited to attend several education seminars that not only honed his knowledge in organization but opened the road to his deeper involvement in social activism.
Times had changed. In July 1981, a general assembly of transport leaders was held and Ka Roda was represented his local transport association. He was elected as the Third Vice President of Pinag-isang Tsuper at Operaytor Nationwide (PISTON). “My years of service to PISTON is equivalent to its years of existence, I was one of its pioneers.” he quipped.
Ka Roda could not forget how mad the former Quezon City Mayor Mathay when strikers had the strike on weekdays. “We were demanding the repeal of PD 1605 which penalizes drivers violating any of the traffic laws and cancels the driver’s license on the third offense. Excessive fine shall not be imposed or cruel and unusual punishment,” Ka Roda quoted the constitutional provision. “Paralyzed namin yan, talagang walang pumapasada” (Transportation system was paralyzed, no one was plying their route).
Organized Ants and Stories behind Bars
Ka Roda’s active involvements in issues of transport sector brought him to a different kind of popularity. His previous admiration for Marcos did not save him from a dangerous branding as the most rebellious driver in the Philippines by Marcos himself. On September 5,1983, he was arrested and charged with rebellion under the Arrest, Seize and Seizure Order (ASSO). He was detained for one year and three months.
“Dun ko napagmasdan ang mga langgam. Napaka-interesting,” (It was where I observed the ants. They are very interesting), Ka Roda said when asked what kept him busy inside the jail. He continuously observed the ants collectively working to transport their food. Ants walk in an organized way along one line for several days getting food. Probably, ants have stocked their food for the rainy days. What a good value, isn’t it?
“Ka Bel (Anakpawis Representative Crispin Beltran) was also detained then. We are friends since our days as taxi drivers.”
Even in detention, Ka Roda and his friends did not miss an opportunity to make their miserable conditions quite entertaining. There was a time when the jail wardens did not allow their families to visit them. All the activists held a noise barrage, hitting the iron bars in protest. Nothing could silence them. And when the jail guards began hosing them with water, they took their soaps and started bathing.
A little more than a year, Ka Roda and some of his colleagues were released. His feet were heavy, not because he did want to be free, but because he left the others behind including a very good friend, Ka Bel. His detention fired his desire more to struggle for justice. From the local transport association he began his journey to activism.
Ka Roda is a proud father of seven (7) children, to a loving wife, Teresita Yunzon Velasquez. They have five daughters and two sons. Tough as it is, Ka Roda managed to send all his kids to school and all of them finished secondary school. Despite financial constraints, his two sons, Bobby and Gerry reached tertiary education but only Gerry got a diploma. “Gerry was lucky because he was the youngest. He was able to get through college.”
Ka Roda was protective of his children he did not encourage nor discourage them to get involved as he is. But his commitment was well accepted and understood by his family. He takes pride in the knowledge that his relatives from Libmanan are proud of him, his being “Oragon” critical of the anti-people policies. He considers his popularity a big encouragement for him to continue to fight for social justice. He felt honored in the public recognition of him as Ka Roda.
On February 2, 2002, he survived a stroke. The left side of his body was partially paralyzed. “It was because of stress, I think because heart ailments do not run in my family.” he claims. His reparation took almost a year, but his mobility took only a month to revive. He never considered it an obstacle though.
Ka Roda spent and continues to spend his life in expanding the chapters of PISTON. He succeeded in bringing together other transport groups, moderates included in several battles against oil price hikes and unreasonable toll fees. In fact, he was again arrested during mass mobilizations in October 1988 and October 1990. He was never discouraged. The media respects him and sought his opinion on issues that may affect the transport sector, even up to present. He even gets invited to consultations about the transport sector by the LTFRB and DOTC.
Now despite his physical limitations, Ka Roda refuses to retire. There are still many things to be done. The struggle to make the public office a public trust is an uphill battle. To several questions that CTUHR asked, his answers are crisp and clear:
CTUHR: what would you tell GMA if given a chance to talk to her?
I would like all the public officials to bear in their hearts and in their minds the constitutional provision about public officials. “Dapat nilang tandaan ang (They should remember) Article 11 Section 1 of the Philippine Constitution… Public Office is Public Trust. Public officers and employees must at all times be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency, act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.”
I would like to add “Article 9 of the Civil Service Commission Section 4 which states that: All public officers and employees shall take an oath or affirmation to uphold and defend this Constitution. Di ka nangangako, sumusumpa ka…”(You don’t just promise, you take an oath)
CTUHR: What outrages you at present?
I am angry against the several attempts to revise the 1987 constitution by recollecting a provision in the constitution. “Kung tutuparin nila ang probisyon ng Saligang Batas, Article I, Section 9, ay napakaganda sana. (If only they will abide by the provisions of the Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution, it will be an excellent set-up). ” The State shall promote a just and dynamic social order that will ensure the prosperity and independence of the nation and free the people from poverty through policies that will provide adequate social services, promote full employment, a rising standard of living and an improved quality of life for all.
Ano yan? E kung pumunta ka sa tapat ng SSS, ang daming di kumakain diyan. Tapos eto ka papalitan mo ang Konstitusyon.”. (What is that? If you go to SSS, there are many who do not have something to eat. Then, they are changing the Constitution.)
Specifically, in the transport services, I do not agree with the implementation of the Ordinance Traffic Receipt. “Ang mga driver ngayon, P200-P300 lang ang kinikita sa maghapon tapos sisingilin ka ng P500 pag nagkamali ka. Yun ang pinakamaliit na penalty sa ngayon, compounded pa. Tumataas pa habang tumatagal. Tapos pipila ka pa sa LTO…”(Drivers today are only earning P200-300 a day, when they misbehave, authorities will ask them to pay P500. This is the smallest amount of penalty and it continues to increase. Then, you still have to queue at the LTO.)
CTUHR: What is your message to the youth?
The youth should continue to fight for justice and be one with the people. “Dapat sundan nila ang tama…”(They should follow what is right).#