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In memoriam: Denis Murphy

/ 12:24 AM October 06, 2016

A dear friend of more than 20 years passed on last Sunday at 4 a.m. Death came peacefully to Denis Murphy, 86, after months of fighting the Big C. A quiet man with profound ideas on how to improve the lives of the poor, he was relentless in pursuing his dream for our people. While many of us Filipinos are busy tearing this country apart through graft and corruption and other forms of wickedness, Denis, an American citizen and a former Jesuit priest, helped in building the Philippines according to his vision: a robust nation where goodness, truth and justice rule and where the government treats the poor with fairness.

Denis has mentored generations of community organizers on how to empower the urban poor so that, being organized, they could effectively pressure the government to be more responsive to their plight. He worked for their in-city relocation, rather than being dumped in miserable places bereft of basic necessities like water, electricity, jobs, medical services, and schools for their children.

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He did not allow his advanced age to prevent him from touching base with the homeless poor who had always been his magnificent obsession since he was a young Jesuit priest. After he left the priesthood and married his loving wife, Alice, together with like-minded friends they founded the Urban Poor Associates, which is dedicated to help the maralitang tagalungsod get their own land and permanent houses.

Over many years, Denis helped organize thousands of urban poor into pressure groups that would not bend to the government’s short-sighted relocation programs. Like the burning bush at Mount Sinai, he was a light that would not be extinguished even by the government’s indifference and the lukewarm attitude of the Church toward the plight of the urban poor.

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Almost up until the end of his life, he was working among the victims of Typhoon “Yolanda” in Samar and Leyte, that they would be beneficiaries of housing programs worthy of their dignity as human beings. Through his articles published in Inquirer Opinion, he articulated the dreams of the urban poor for a better deal from the government. Sometimes, the sharp edges of his articles did not spare the Catholic bishops, many of whom make propoor statements but sometimes fail to walk the talk.

My friend Denis has now gone to a much better world. His dream of liberating the urban poor from the miseries that shackle them will continue to resonate and live in their hearts and minds. The group that he, Alice and their friends founded will continue to light the way until the urban poor find their rightful place in Philippine society.

We remember Denis and his wisdom, and mourn his passing. We comfort ourselves with the beautiful lines of Rabindranath Tagore; “Death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.”

Carlos D. Isles ([email protected]), a writer, poet and professional harmonica player with a degree in philosophy from San Jose Seminary (Ateneo de Manila).

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