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C.M. Fernando - Devout Catholic and founder member of SLFP

The birth centenary of C. M. Fernando, the well-known lawyer, politician, social and religious worker, writer and philanthropist falls on February 02, 2009. A devout Catholic, he was one of the founder members of the SLFP.

Charles Matthew Fernando was born on February 02, 1909 at Kotahena as a son of Leo Peter Fernando and Mrs. Mary Rosaline de Silva Wjeyarante. He was the fourth child of a family of six children - four boys and two girls. He was a nephew of (brother’s son) of the famous freedom fighter, Dr. H. M. Fernando who was later knighted as Sir Marcus Fernando.

Fernando was educated at St. Joseph’s College, Colombo where he was a brilliant student, keen debater and scintillating dramatist. He passed the London Matriculation at the age of 16. He entered Law College in 1926 and passed out in 1930. He took his oaths as a lawyer when he was just 21.

He started his practice as a lawyer in Kegalle. On May 01, 1937, he got married to Inez Germaine, the daughter of Lintotage Solomon Fernando who was better known as the Prince of Katana. They had a grand wedding with thirteen pandols, the first of which was at Copra Junction in Negombo. The celebrations lasted for seven days till 19th birthday of Inez.

After their marriage, they settled down in Negombo and C. M. Fernando joined the Negombo Bar to practice his profession, in Courts of Negombo. As a lawyer, he appeared pro-diem for poor fishermen who could not afford to pay the fees. All the notarial and other legal work of Catholic churches and schools in Negombo area received free services from him.

C. M. Fernando was soon lured to local politics in Negombo. In the 1943 Negombo Urban Council elections he contested the Bolawalana Ward. He was pitted against a formidable opponent Dr. Hector Fernando who was one time the LSSP MP for Negombo.

In fact Dr. Hector Fernando was his own step uncle-in-law (father-in-law’s step brother). In a keenly fought election, C. M. Fernando convincingly won Bolawalana. All the nuns in numerous convents in Bolanwalana enthusiastically supported C. M. Fernando against the Leftist candidate and it is said that he won because of their votes.

Although C. M. Fernando was a devout Catholic he worked in close collaboration with the rebels in the Church like Fr. Marcelline Jayakody and Warnakulasuriya Santiago Fernando. A progressive he was, as a city father he found a close ally in Santiago Fernando the first Leftist elected to Negombo U. C.

As members from 1944 to 1946, free school books, a free mid-day meal in schools, implementation of the Rent Restriction Act, elimination of bribery and corruption and recording of meetings in Sinhala were some of the measures put into effect by the duo, through Negombo Urban Council.

In 1946 C. M. Fernando was re-elected to the Negombo U. C., this time as the member for Kundanwila Ward. In 1947, C. M. Fernando was elected unanimously as the Chairman of the Council. In this capacity C. M. Fernando did a yeoman service to the city of Negombo. It was he who paved the way to make Negombo a Municipal Council.

C. M. Fernando built two housing schemes for fisherfolk, one in Munnakkara and the other in Kudapaduwa. He built another housing scheme for the general poor in the Bandaranaike Square which was considered one of the best in the island.

He was instrumental in building the Kotelawala Bridge connecting Duwa to Negombo mainland and the bridge in Pitipana. He renovated and improved the Negombo New Rest House, improved electricity supply and drainage system, tackled sea erosion problem and dredged the Negombo lagoon to help the fishermen.

In appreciation of his magnificent services as the chairman of the Negombo Council, the photograph of C. M. Fernando was unveiled in the Council Chamber by S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, the then Minister of Health and Local Government. Recently a by-way in the Negombo-Colombo main road was named as C. M. Fernando Mawatha.

C. M. Fernando was so close to S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike that in 1949, he resigned from the post of chairman, Negombo U. C. on his request to become the Chairman of Local Government Service Commission. However he relinquished this post in 1951 too, to join S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike when he left the UNP and formed the SLFP.

C. M. Fernando was one of the founder members of the SLFP and was a convenor of the inaugural meeting of the party held on September 02, 1951, for its formation. He was one of the six leaders selected by S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike to address the inaugural meeting. He addressed the gathering on behalf of Catholics.

A devout Catholic C. M. Fernando got the blessings of the Archbishop of Colombo for paying an active role in forming the SLFP as a democratic alternative to the UNP. In 1952 general elections C. M. Fernando contested Negombo seat from the SLFP. He expected that at least the Church would not stand on his way.

However in that election the Catholic clergy in Negombo openly supported the UNP. Some priests even advised Catholics not to vote for C. M. Fernando perhaps fearing that he would split the Catholic vote as the UNP candidate was a Buddhist. C. M. Fernando was badly defeated losing his deposit as well.

Just before the 1956 elections C. M. Fernando left the SLFP. It is said that this was done because that his son had won a scohlanrship to India and the UNP had insisted that C. M. Fernando should leave the SLFP if the scholarship were to be approved.

Some say that C. M. Fernando would have been made the Minister of Justice or Minister of Fisheries if he had remained in the SLFP at the time of the victory of the MEP, through the Senate.

Although the Catholic Church let him down, C. M. Fernando never betrayed the religion.

He was the creator and initiator of the idea that gave birth to the Negombo Catholic Lawyers Guild. He was the first Secretary of the Guild and was its President from 1964 to 1967. He was also the founder Editor of the Magazine of the Guild - The pilgrim Lawyer’ which was the first of its kind published by Catholic lawyers anywhere in the World.

C. M. Fernando built the grotto as the church of Our Lady of Lourdes at Ottupallama in Bingiriya, where his estates were. At his request the Archbishop J. M., Masson, brought a stone stepped by Our Lady from Masbiel in France, which is enshrined in the grotto.He donated a space from his plot of land in Canal Road, Negombo and built a statue of Our Lady of Madhu.

In this endeavour he made it a point to collect even fifty cents from the Catholics in the area to make the people feel that it is their statue.

He put the balance himself and after constructing the statue he got the land next to it named Madhu Mawatha. Today you could see at nightfall people gathering round the statue and praying there.

That is not all. C. M. Fernando has served the State and the society in other ways as well. He was a Hon. Secretary and a Treasurer of the Urban Councils Association. He was the President of the Volleyball Association.

He was the chairman of Boys’ Scouts Association and the District Commissioner of the Boys Scouts Movement. He was awarded the “Thanka Badge” by E. W. Kannangara, the then Commissioner of Boys Scouts. He was a member of the Board of Review of the Paddy Lands Act.

He was the Chairman of the Negombo Rent Control Board and has published a book ‘Rent control in ceylon’. He was also the Crown Proctor in Negombo.C. M. Fernando sacrificed all his life, energy and wealth for the betterment of mankind.

In fact he had to sell a land of 126 acres in Makandura because of his social commitments.

He passed away on August 28, 1972 at the age of 63 years after making his indelible impression of society. Although he died as a not-so-well-to-do man, he died rich - rich in his service to humanity. C. M. Fernando has left his footprints on the sands of time.

(The writer is a former High Court Judge and Vice - President of the Newman Society Alumini Association.)

 

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