Jesús Reynaldo Roda

                                             ACCIPE OBLATIONEM NOSTRAM

            A mission for God’s kingdom does not die because a missionary is killed no matter how violent and brutal his death might have been. The mission lives on and even stronger because the blood of the martyr will nourish and strengthen the growth of that mission for God’s kingdom.

“If you want me, then just kill me here in God’s chapel!” Those   were the words heard from Fr. Rey as he was being forcedly taken out by his killers from the chapel where he was praying. There were shouts for help. Outside the chapel, near the flag pole in the quadrangle of Notre Dame of Tabawan High School, a piercing shot was heard loud in the dark. After this, except for the silhouettes of the killers dragging their victim, nothing more was seen by those peeping through the jalousies from the second  floor of the school building.

Later, Fr. Rey’s body was found just outside the school premises, left on a road near the shoreline from where the murderers sped away in a motorized boat. His body bore several wounds from gunshots, stabs and lacerations in the head, face, neck, abdomen and on the back. From the wounds it is quite clear that he was meant to be killed and not to be kidnapped. As regards who killed him or who had ordered the assassins to kill him, up to this writing, we are still waiting for a satisfactory investigation result from the authorities.  

Fr. Jesus Reynaldo Roda, OMI., was mercilessly killed at about 8:30 in that bleak and starless evening of  January 15, 2008 in the remote island of Tabawan, South Ubian, Tawi-Tawi, Philippines. Not so distant southward is already Indonesian territory. He had been Director of Notre Dame of Tabawan High School and head of the OMI Mission Station there under the Apostolic Vicariate of Jolo for ten years.

Fr. Rey was born to  Bonifacio Roda and Benigna Albores  on February 5, 1954 at Cotabato City. He had one brother and 3 sisters. He entered the Oblate Juniorate in 1970 after graduating from Notre Dame of Cotabato High School, took his perpetual vows as an Oblate of Mary Immaculate in 1979 and was ordained priest at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral on May 10, 1980.

After his ordination he had been  assigned as Parish Vicar in Grace Park, Caloocan City in 1980 and in Midsayap, North Cotabato in 1981, as Parish Priest and Notre Dame high school Director in 1982 at Lebak, Cotabato, as Parish Priest in Magpet, Cotabato in 1984, as Chancellor of Kidapawan diocese in 1988 and as Parish Priest of Pres. Roxas, Cotabato in 1991. He did a stint in the foreign mission. He was sent to Thailand in 1992 and became the Rector of the Oblate Juniorate in Bankok. He came back to the Philippines in 1997 to be in Batu-Batu Mission in Tawi-Tawi and in June 1998 he took over as Director of Notre Dame of Tabawan High School and head of the Mission Station there up to his death just about 2 weeks before his 54rth birthday.

Fr. Rey had been ministering to the people of Tabawan and neighboring islands through education, infra-structure and developmental projects to alleviate poverty. The people are more than 99%  Muslims, mostly Samals with a sprinkling of Tausug. The Christians are less than 1% and not all Catholics. The other Christians have their own Pastor, a good friend of Fr. Rey.

Every year, Fr. Rey used to write a Christmas letter expressing his greetings and  summarizing the big events of that year in Tabawan. He sent this to friends who were helping him somehow in his mission. I have copies of his letters sent to our common friend who works and live in Rome, Italy. She was on vacation and intending to visit Rey in Tabawan but unfortunately and sadly she attended Fr. Rey’s funeral instead in Cotabato City.

In his December 20, 2000 letter, Fr. Rey said: “ A holy Christmas greetings from Tabawan, "probably, the most peaceful island’ in the world!” Although near the end of that letter, he also mentioned that Southern Philippines is besieged, among others, by “Abu Sayaff’s terrorism and the rise of Muslim fundamentalism.” In 2005, he also wrote: “We are losing hope in the corrupt-ridden government bureaucracy. We expect little from our power-hungry elected officials.”

He wrote:”As we end this year 2006, we thank the merciful and compassionate God for  His countless blessings to me and to the peace-loving Sama people of Tabawan.” Then,  he mentioned his development projects achieved through the assistance of Tabang Mindanao and Pagtabangan Basulta, a coalition of NGOs: the feeding program of 6 months for 120 Grade One pupils; the sending of public school teachers to the capability-building seminars in Bongao and Davao city. The latter because of distance would entail tremendous expense even just the transportation alone; the rehabilitation of 7 units of Grade One classroom and the construction of 2 water tanks for the public school. Most of all he was thankful that God spared him from the evil intent of kidnappers who barged into the rectory in November. He was in bongao then. 

In that letter, he added this: “As I, together with my trusted aides Jularino and Sayatul engage in doing more development projects with the people, I know I will be somehow concerned for my safety and security. I will be less mobile than before. … Hopefully, the community will assist the police in monitoring and warding off violent men. I need such peaceful atmosphere in order to live, to work and to pray. Tabawan has been my place for 9 years now.”

Fr. Rey wrote his 2007 Christmas letter without knowing it would be his last. He was so happy to report that at the beginning of the year 2007, ND Tabawan’s Community Extention Services, which he had organized years before, facilitated the coming of GMA Kapuso Foundation all the way from Manila to distribute Christmas gifts to   2,500 children of Tabawan and Bintawlan, the neighboring island.  He had also mentioned in the letter that the 7 units of Grade 1 classroom and 2 cement water tanks had been completed  for the public schools and 150 children including those from the neighboring island are still in the feeding program.

Aside from all these, out of some 357 high school students enrolled at Notre Dame of Tabawan, more than 30 are under scholarship. There are also 8 college students at Notre dame of Jolo College, Ateneo de Zamboanga University, Notre dame University, Cotabato City and Mindanao State University at Marawi City.  Their being at school is dependent so much on what fr. Rey was able to receive from donors personally contacted or through his solicitation letters.

At his death, the people of Tabawan, particularly the scholars, were all asking: What will happen to us now? “Other Oblates will come to serve you,” the Oblates responded.

I have been with Fr. Rey for 5 years in Magpet parish, North Cotabato, and that created in us a special bonding. Fr. Rey, where you are now in that Great Beyond where there are no more tears nor sweat nor fears, know that I am writing this as my best tribute to you. We honor you as our choice mission offering and we say to God, paraphrasing the Episcopal Motto of our present bishop, Angelito Lampon: Accipe Oblationem Nostram (Receive our oblation). 

                             Fr. Romeo P. Villanueva, OMI
                                   Director Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) Ministry
                                   Apostolic Vicariate of  Jolo
                                   Jolo, Sulu