GCORR Scholars at SPMCI, Philippines
In the Philippines, education is a great equalizer. A degree holder has a better chance to have better opportunities, a better life.
The Southern Philippines Methodist Colleges, Inc. (SPMCI) is the ONLY United Methodist Church managed Higher Educational Institution (HEI) recognized by the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) in the Davao Episcopal Area which comprise the entire Mindanao, Visayas, and Bicol. Around 20% of its students are Indigenous Peoples; around 5% are Moro people and the rest are settlers of various tribes. Most are working students, some are mothers and all want to have a college diploma.
During the closing worship of the Board of Directors meeting in the Philippines on August 23, 2017 Erin Hawkins, the General Secretary of the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR) handed Framer Milla, member of the Board of Directors of GCORR from the Philippines a thank you card with an amount that would help five (5) college students continue their education by covering their tuition fees.
Rev. David Muwaya, member of the Board of Directors from Uganda, Africa gave an inspirational message to the SPMCI community during its chapel service on August 30, 2017. As a representative of GCORR, he handed them their scholarship certificates.
The GCORR scholars are (in the picture from left to right): 1) Shiela Jane D. Ronquillo–1st year Bachelor of Elementary Education (BEEd) student, mother of 3, a pastor’s wife and a Cebuano by ethnicity. 2) Manelyn Sugcawan–1st years BEEd student, 20 years old and a Monobo by ethnicity. She works in a call center and computer shop to support her studies and is the eldest among the five children. 3) Miracle Oking–2nd year BEEd student is the eldest of the five children and who are orphans. She is a Bagobo by ethnicity. She sings her own compositions written in their dialect, Tagalog and English. 4) Shena Mae P. Salayan–1st year Bachelor of Early Childhood Education (BECE) student, 18 years old and a B’laan by ethnicity. She wants to be a deaconess. She is an active member of the theater arts, chorale group and tambourine team of the college. 5) Jessibel L. Jose is 23 years old, the eldest among the five children, who are orphans. She was a working student during high school. She is a Teduray by ethnicity.
All of them were surprised and teary eyed when they received their scholarship certificates.
GCORR in Kampuhan at UP Diliman
Every time I enter the University of the Philippines – UP Diliman campus I feel at home. Maybe because I once dreamed of studying in this prime State University in the country when I was granted admission after high school. I chose to go to the University of St. Tomas, the oldest University in the country and all of Asia but finished at the Philippine Christian University, the first UMC-UCCP (United Methodist Church – United Church of Christ in the Philippines) managed university in the Philippines.
But this sharing is not about me, it is about the people in Mindanao who staged their Kampuhan (camp) inside UP – diliman, a place where they feel most safe and heard.
Most of the Lumads* (a group of non – Muslim people in Southern Mindanao, a Cebuano term meaning native or indigenous) live in the mountainous parts where the mining corporations and plantations are located while most Moro people live near bodies of water such as lakes, basins, and marshlands where minerals, natural gas and oil deposits are already identified.
There were many instances where the Lumads* and the Moro people had to evacuate from their communities even before the Declaration of Martial Law on May 23, 2017.
In February 2015, more than 700 Lumads camped in Haran compound, a property of UCCP. They left their communities in Kitao-tao Bukidnon, Talaingod and Kapalong Davao del Norte because according to them, soldiers and military-backed ALAMARA militia forces occupied their communities. They were recruited into the paramilitary groups or they were tagged as supporters of the New Peoples Army.
In September of the same year, 3 leaders of the Lumads were killed in Brgy, Diatagon, Lianga, and Surigao del Sur. This forced around 3,000 Lumads from the neighboring villages to stay in the sports complex of Tandag, the capital of the province Surigao.
There were reports when the schools for the Lumads were converted by the military into camps, teachers were harassed and students were forced to abandon their schools. In some instances, schools were closed, destroyed, burned and ransacked. I remember being interviewed by the local radio program about similar incidents.
Rius Valles, spokesperson of Save Our School Network (one of those who shared during the GCORR board immersion) once reported that their group documented 95 cases of attacks on schools reportedly by soldiers and paramilitary men all over Mindanao since September 2014.
During the latest State of the Nation Address, President Duterte threatened to bomb the schools of indigenous communities in Mindanao for operating illegally and teaching children to rebel against the government. These motivated more Lumad leaders and children to leave their communities to stay in UP – Diliman to continue with their campaign and their studies. Their teachers were with them. They were welcomed by the UPD Chancellor Michael Tan who allowed them to stay on campus until September 22, a day after the declaration Martial Law in 1972 during Marcos regime. Around 2000 Indigenous Peoples from other places in the country and the Moro People from Mindanao are expected to join them in the Lakbayan 2017 where they will share their stories, struggles and aspirations.
When asked what they want us to know why they are in Kampuhan, common answers are “we want to go back to our homes, to our communities, where our resources are, we want to study…we are Lumads not NPAs, we are Muslims not terrorists…just like you, we want peace.”
GCORR’s Day with Aeta People
Kulot, unat (curly, straight). Itim, puti (black, white). Pandak, tangkad (short, tall). Highlanders, lowlanders. These are the common words used to describe the Aeta people and the non Aetas which denote discrimination. Aeta people live in the Northern part of the Philippines, particularly in Pampanga, Zambales and Tarlac. Traditionally, they are hunting and gathering people, and even at present they are still skilled in jungle survival. They are dark skinned with kinky hairs and are less than 4 feet tall in height.
When Mt. Pinatubo erupted in 1991, many died, more than 10,000 families were driven away from their communities. They were uprooted, and for the first time in their collective history they were homeless. They lived in the evacuation centers while others wandered in the nearby cities to beg especially during Christmas season.
In February 18, 2003, Rev. Leslie dela Cruz first entered the Aeta community in Camachile, Floridablaca, Pampanga. Together with her husband, Ptr. Albert F. dela Cruz of Evangel Christian Church (an independent church), who is an agriculturist, they started doing mission among the Aeta people. Rev. Leslie is a former bank employee and a college teacher before she responded to God’s call to be a pastor. She finished her Master of Divinity from Wesley Divinity School in 2009.
The Lord blessed their ministry. With the couples’ commitment and enthusiasm to mission work, Camachile United Methodist Church opened 7 more mission points: the Tirya, Malipano, Batiawan, Mapanig-panig, Dangas, Tagak and Mawacat. The Evangel Christian Church where most of the members are non Aetas is very supportive. It is where they learn some of the income generating projects through training and demonstration such as mushroom, bitter gourd and sweet potato farming. Collecting wild honey bee is also a source of income.
Aside from regular church worship, Camachile UMC has a feeding program, extension classes among children, and primary health care program. Because they believe that education is very important, they send their children and youth to local elementary, high school and colleges. Some are sent to Immanuel Bible School in Tarlac where they are being prepared to do church ministry especially among the Aeta people.
Immanuel Bible School (IBS) is a theological training institution for young people who want to serve God through local church ministries. Most of their students are Aeta people from Pampanga, Tarlac, Zambales and nearby local churches. IBS also serve as a boarding house for high school and college students who are studying in the local colleges.
IBS teaches theological courses but are contextual in approach that are appropriate among the Aeta communities by integrating Aeta culture: rituals and practices in worship, teaching and church services.
Rev. Angel is the present director of IBS. District Superintendent Elmer Victoria, an Aeata and graduate of M. Div. from the Union Theological Seminary and former Director of IBS, is very supportive of the IBS program.
Written by GCORR Board Member, Framer Milla