Attorney Francisco B. Cruz

‘A light in the darkness during those Martial Law years’

By Fr Seán Coyle

Attorney Francisco B. Cruz, Knight of St Sylvester

(8 July 1931 – 18 October 2015)

This article is an edited version of a letter published in The Visayan Daily Star on 23 October 2015.

On 18 October 2015 a great human being and outstanding Christian died in Bacolod City, Attorney Francisco B. Cruz, on the eve of the sixth anniversary of his receiving the City’s Banwahanon Award.

This was given ‘for his selfless and free legal service extended to the poor and his vigilance and devotion to the practice of law for over 40 years. He was also cited for his untiring efforts to give an example of law as the vehicle for justice and peace.’

Attorney Cruz was made a Knight of the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St Sylvester, Pope and Martyr, by the Vatican. Membership of the Order ‘is intended to award Roman Catholic laymen who are actively involved in the life of the church, particularly as it is exemplified in the exercise of their professional duties and mastership of the different arts.’

On the occasion of Attorney Cruz’s receiving the Banwahanon Award columnist Rolly Espina of The Visayan Daily Star wrote : ‘Lawyer Francisco Cruz is one who remained committed to the rule of law and stood pat on his fight for human rights. During the Martial Law years, Cruz often was battered and pilloried by minions of the late President Ferdinand E. Marcos. But he remained indomitable in his courageous advocacy of what is right despite the resources of the administration.’

Attorney Cruz addressing people in a parish church

My Columban confrere Fr. Donal Hogan, who worked for many years in southern Negros Occidental, echoed the words of Rolly Espina in an email from Ireland: ‘Thinking of Frank, Luke 4:16 - 21 comes to mind. By his professional advocacy he proclaimed good news to the poor, obtaining the release of captives and liberty for those who were oppressed. In the 1970s and 1980s when I was in Magballo and Candoni (Negros Occidental) this scripture was fulfilled through Frank's courageous efforts on behalf of the poor who were hungering for justice.

‘For me personally he was a rock of support, always available to listen and then to take up cases that seemed hopeless. He was truly a light in the darkness during those martial law years. He brought a ray of hope to people in seemingly hopeless situations. He was a true friend who sacrificed his life for others.’

Attorney Cruz in a courtroom with Bishop Antonio Y. Fortich, Bishop of Bacolod 1967 - 1989

We Columbans will be forever grateful to the late Attorney Cruz for his defense in the mid-1980s of the Negros Nine, among whom were two Columban priests, Fr Brian Gore and the late Fr. Niall O’Brien, falsely accused of murder.

I was particularly touched that Attorney Cruz died on the day on which these words of Jesus were proclaimed at all Masses throughout the world in the Gospel:  ‘Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:43-45).

In Ireland we have a beautiful prayer when someone dies: ‘Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal’ – ‘May his noble soul be at the right hand of God.’

A young Attorney Cruz

Homily at Funeral Mass of
Attorney Francisco Cruz

By Bishop Vicente M. Navarra, Bishop of Bacolod

Bishop Vicente M. Navarra

Bishop Navarra gave this homily at the funeral Mass of Attorney Cruz in San Sebastian Cathedral, Bacolod City, on 24 October 2015.

The bereaved family of the late SK (Sir Knight) Francisco Frankie Cruz, dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

The Book of Revelation 14:13 says, ‘Write this down: Happy now are the dead who die in the Lord... Yes they shall find rest from their labors, for their good works accompany them.’

But, last October 19, most of us felt a contrary feeling, human as we are, because of the tragic news we heard, that a great man and a very good friend had succumbed to death after months of illness that most of us did not even know about.

Yes, SK and Attorney Francisco ‘Frankie’ Cruz had died. In the relatively limited span of years that I knew Frankie - for me he was a man of faith, of dedication to his profession and work, a man of honor, a loving husband to his wife and a model father to his children. To his friends and acquaintances, like me, he was a man of honor.

Attorney Cruz at a barrio seminar

It was in 1988, when I was appointed as first bishop of the newly-created Diocese of Kabankalan, that I came to know Attorney Frankie Cruz, because he used to visit our Social Action Office in order to attend to poor and harassed church workers of the southernmost part of Negros Occidental who were his clients when that area was still part of the Diocese of Bacolod. And his services pro bono continued on behalf of the Diocese of Kabankalan until the early 1990s.

That time, I already learned to appreciate the goodness and nobility of Attorney Frankie Cruz when it comes to service in helping the cause of the poor and upholding the rights of the Church. His work and his dedication to his profession as a lawyer impressed me. I saw that he was a person who could be trusted, because he relied not only on his professional proficiency and expertise. Even more, I saw him as a man of conscience who felt what a good Christian should feel towards his fellow Christians or fellowmen who were oppressed and unjustly treated.

The Cruz Family
Standing (l to r): Manuel Fortun, Joaquin Fortun, Franco Fortun,
Kerl Cruz, Kiara Cruz, Girl Cruz (all grandchildren)

Sitting (l to r): Jenna Fortun (daughter), Frankie Cruz, Julio Fortun, Lita Cruz, Kerr Cruz (son)

When I was transferred to Bacolod as bishop (in 2001), I became close to Frankie and his family because he was present at most of the solemn and official liturgical celebrations of the diocese, being a knight of St Sylvester. He was also our consultant in legal matters of the diocese involving the rights of the Church and of the materially poor sectors of society.

I knew him as a faithful and model husband and family man, because on several occasions, we would go together, enjoying our lunch of paella and callos at the then eatery El Rincon at the Robinsons Place Mall, managed and partly-owned by Lita his beloved wife. And as we relished our food, we enjoyed together his sharing of current events and his jokes.

El Rincon, Robinsons Place, Bacolod City
El Rincon is no longer in operation

But, I really came to have a great appreciation and respect for his courage and nobility of spirit, when he experienced the ‘Waterloo’ in his career as a lawyer, because as I understood his case, he incurred the ire of the Supreme Court, as he defended the case of his client. The human but fallible intricacies of civil law led to his disbarment (in 2005) - a stigma which he himself said he would carry with him to his grave, because he wouldn’t budge - in to what is demanded of him by the Supreme Court, believing in conscience that he was right and was on the side of Truth and Justice. [Editor’s note: Attorney Cruz was suspended but not disbarred. At the time of the suspension in 2005 reported: ‘Bishop Vicente Navarra, the clerics and staff of the Diocese of Bacolod expressed shock, saying how can it be done to “a good man, who has faithfully served indigent clients not just for free but even spent his own resources for travel, food and other expenses.”’]

And I believe that the persons responsible for the persecution of Attorney Frank Cruz must have been stricken to the core by his resolute defense of his rights and the rights of his client, which alone was vindication enough coming from God on behalf of people who are ready to remain faithful in defense of the Truth despite martyrdom of mind and spirit like what Attorney Cruz did and eventually suffered its adverse consequences.

Supreme Court Building, Manila [Wikipedia]

I was talking to Lita, his beloved wife and widow, on October 19 when I blessed the remains of Frankie at Acropolis Garden Funeral Homes. She shared how Frankie practiced his faith: A Catholic man who would regularly go to confession, a man of prayer and contemplation who could memorize devotional prayers which she herself could not. And she showed me the regalia Frank would wear as a Knight of St Sylvester during solemn liturgical services, when his attendance was needed.

What consoled me most about the pious death of Attorney Frank Cruz, was what Lita confided to me, that the priest who heard the last confession of Frankie, and who anointed him a few days before he expired, told her that Frankie made a very good confession. He was at peace and all ready to meet his Lord and King whom he had served and guarded as a loyal Knight of St Sylvester.

San Sebastian Cathedral, Bacolod City [Wikipedia]

My dear friends, as you were listening to my homily, you might have thought that I was giving a eulogy to our beloved departed. Take it as you want it, but I have to mention everything I know of Frank, because I want to arouse in you and in all of us the truth of the scriptural passage I mentioned at the start of my homily, when I quoted the Book of Revelation 14: 13 – ‘Happy now are the dead who die in the Lord... Yes they shall find rest from their labors, for their good works accompany them.’What is the reason or the reasons why our good and dear Frankie refused to have attached to him all the tubes that doctors prescribe to prolong or to revive the life of a dying person? Why did he make Lita decide to discontinue the use of the respirator on him? Why was he so well composed and disposed, calm and peaceful, resigned and ready, as he lay on his ICU bed waiting for his dear divine Friend to come and fetch him to the everlasting abode?

Why? Because he was ready and was all set to go. He was ready because he knew he was with the Lord… and that he would eventually rest from the labors of this world that can only oppress and depress, but because he labored not for himself or for any other despicable worldly ambitions… so he was ready, because all his labor turned out to be meritorious good works, and they turned to be his full spiritual regalia, not only as a good and faithful Knight of St Sylvester and a conscientious Catholic layman, a faithful husband, an exemplary father, and a very good friend, but most of all as an exemplary Christian soul clothed with the paraphernalia of good works and with his lamps lighted because of his exemplary Christian life which invites all of us to do the same.

May his blessed soul rest in peace. Amen!