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Sister Mariani: A woman of courage and conviction

When Sister Mariani Dimaranan joined the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, her mission was simply to do charitable work to help the poor in their struggle for a better life. By force of circumstance, however, martial law found her in a detention center at Ipil, Bicutan for alleged support of the Communist party.


In October 1973, only two years after the declaration of martial law, Sister Mariani, who was then a college teacher, was tasked by the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP) to conduct a survey on the effects of martial law on the poor, especially farmers. One Saturday morning, she found herself confronted by military officers and interrogated about publications on Chinese leaders and Mao Tse Tung which were found in her office. The fact that she was teaching Chinese history and thus needed those books for her profession was totally ignored by the military.


On the following Saturday, she received an "invitation" to visit the military camp where she found herself suddenly detained. On Monday, the interrogation began with 52 questions which were repeated for eight to nine days.


In the end, Sister Mariani was accused of being a communist, of financing an underground movement, of writing articles against then President Marcos, etc. She denied all the charges. But to no avail. She was sent to a detention camp for 47 days where the interrogation continued over the next 10 days.


Subsequently, she was transferred to a regular camp already occupied by 33 women and their children. Sister Mariani used this time to talk to the prisoners about their horrifying experiences and unspeakable trials in the hands of their captors.


Upon her release in December, she became part of then newly established Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) and served as its chairperson for 20 years. She then became better known as the Franciscan nun who devoted her life to the protection of the rights of political prisoners and their families. Consequently, she was nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize.


In the years after her incarceration, Sister Mariani had visited more than 100 detention camps all over the country with the message of hope for detainees and their families. She offered them comfort while working for their release.


During those 20 years of Marcos dictatorship, Sister Mariani could not be silenced: "Human rights is at the core of Gospel teachings... Sufferings unite victims. Inside Marcos’ prisons, the victims and their families learned to care for each other and share everything with others. It is the link to the victims that gives the activist real participants strength."


In 1994, a major heart surgery did not deter Sister Mariani from continuing her crusade among victims of human rights violations, especially with their families.


In 2003, De La Salle honored her the La Sallian Star of Faith Award in recognition of her non-traditional and radical commitment to the cause of the Filipino people.


For the most part of 2004, after a series of strokes, Sister Mariani remained bed-ridden. As she grew weaker, she shed tears, and in her muted voice, she uttered the words, "...God’s reign where justice, peace and love prevail are just specks in the horizon... the fight for the restoration of human rights is very far from over. With God’s grace, with the support of my superiors and my co-sisters, friends, I did my best to make alive our spirit and charism, especially for the upliftment of the poor, to bring justice to them... I can do no more but pray, pray and pray... it is now your turn..." and finally succumbed to death in December 2005 at the age of 81.

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On Feb. 27, 2006, the 19th death anniversary of the late Sen. Jose Wright Diokno, a distinguished De La Salle alumnus, and "Father of the Human Rights Advocacy," Sister Mariani, SFIC, was posthumously bestowed the Second Ka Pepe Diokno Award of Recognition as a champion of Human Rights.


In delivering his welcome remarks during the Ka Pepe Diokno Human Rights Awards, Dean Philip Ella Juico of the De La Salle-Professional Schools, Inc. Graduate School of Business, unraveled a poignant story of oppression and sacrifice culled from writers Manisha Thomas and Maria Ceres Doyo, who in the 1980s, accompanied the Franciscan nun on a 16-hour mountain trek to reach tribes threatened by militarization.


In a message read by lawyer Andres D. Bautista, dean of the FEU Institute of Law, Supreme Court Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban cited the event as a momentous occasion to rekindle the spirit among Filipinos to safeguard liberty to ensure the country’s prosperity.


Giving her response on behalf of the congregation, Sr. Mercedes E. Salud, SFIC, provincial board liaison, affirmed that Sister Mariani and Senator Diokno had both left a legacy of freedom and justice, and the challenge to fight for human rights in no uncertain terms.


Her Citation, read by Br. Raymundo B. Suplido, SFC, DLS-PSI GSB Board of Trustees member, and handed over to Sr. Crescencia L. Lucero, SFIC, TFDP executive director, is a final testament: "... for her selfless dedication in serving the Catholic Church and the poor, and for valiantly risking her life in order to set the victims of human rights violation free. During the dark days of martial law, she bravely confronted the powers-that-be and brought hope to countless Filipino detainees, whose lives and dignity were trampled by tyranny and injustice. She became the symbol of collective courage and through her leadership, the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines became the voice of the oppressed and freedom fighters. A true daughter of the Church, Sister Mariani shall remain in the hearts and minds of Filipinos as a woman who showed the nation the true essence of justice."


(You may e-mail me at joanneraeramirez@yahoo.com)

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