This past September 12-21, 2017 I relocated from Davao City, Mindanao, Philippines to the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman in Quezon City, Philippines. I moved from the relative comfort of my apartment to the intense discomfort of living in a camp, the central ‘Kampuhan’ of this year’s Lakbayan
‘Lakbayan’ by Sandugo, an Alliance of National Minorities of the Philippines, is a three week long event taking place in Manila and hosted by UP Diliman wherein national minorities from all parts of the Philippines journey to Manila to air their grievances, lobby the government and affect change to administrative policies that impact their daily lives.
‘Lakbayan’ is an opportunity for national minorities to create news in the political heart of the Philippines, to give birth to waves of change that in turn can breathe life into their traditional ways of life: traditions on the verge of being extinguished due to long practiced national policies of discrimination, oppression and impunity.
I flew into Manila airport the evening after the tropical depression ‘Maring’ inundated the National Capital Region and surrounding areas. I was advised by InPeace (Initiatives for Peace – my placement organization) staff onsite to seek other lodging as the Kampuhan was completely flooded with 1.5-2 feet of water. Therefore I arrived to the camp on the following day, Sept. 13.
Immediately I noticed how large and well organized it seemed, despite not being able to find the proper entrance right away (I attribute that to my tagalog illiteracy, and my skills in getting lost when I don’t know where I am.) I was struck by the welcoming atmosphere and the overall busyness of the Kampuhan.
With the Museo Lumad flanked by the main tent & stage across from the registrar and media center, the entrance was hopping place bustling with students, visitors and volunteers from many walks of life.
Who knows? There were probably some undercover policeman or NBI agents there as well.
I joined the Save Our School steering committee and took part of activities that the Save Our Schools network joined. Lumad schools, and protecting them from President Duterte’s promises of violence upon them, was one of the focal points of this years Lakbayan. There were Lumad scholars present at the Kampuhan for the duration, attending temporary classes at the participating colleges UP-Diliman and the University of Santo Tomas with volunteer teachers from the faculty of those as well as Lumad schools teachers who accompanied their students.
Despite the many difficulties the Lumad scholars and teachers faced in both getting to Manila (some were refused entry to the airport by National Police despite having all necessary paperwork) or staying there (with the Office of the President leaning heavily on the Department of Social Welfare and Development to find reasons/made up paperwork? the children needed to return home or were ‘kidnapped’ by the people entrusted by their guardians) the Lumad scholars made a profound impact on visitors to the Kampuhan and on students and faculty of the schools they in turn visited.
Once such school, De La Salle University (DLSU), I joined for the forum, presentation and culture night there. DLSU is known as a prestigious school in Manila. If not for their academics & intramurals, than it must be for their wealthy alumni and ‘elite’ student body. I am grateful to the local DLSU students who made it possible for us to visit, and to the professors, mostly from the Literature department, for requiring their students to go. I only hope that it was meaningful, perhaps even unexpectedly so, to those who were able to attend.
United Methodists visit the Kampuhan:
On September 17th United Methodists from Manila area churches organized a visit to the Kampuhan. It was touching for me to see that so many people in the United Methodist church are cognisant of and willing to learn more of the reality of the struggle of national minorities in the Philippines. As a United Methodist missionary serving in Mindanao, I am saturated in the struggle of the Lumads, especially as I am serving at the Save Our Schools Network, a project of the Advance (#3022305) so it was a rare moment to enjoy the company of my fellow United Methodists while being immersed among the people I am in ministry with. It was a blessing to reconnect with a former Global Mission Fellow, current Global Ministries missionaries, United Methodist Women, men, young people and clergy. I especially appreciated the community (and eating!) after their visit as we joined together in fellowship, reactions, reflection and prayer.
One of the things that struck me from their visit is hearing directly from people how impressed they were that I lived and slept at the Kampuhan. The conditions at the camp were hard. I suppose they were impressed that a non Filipino, non minority, person of a degree of affluence (because I could afford a hostel if I really wanted too), would remain steadfast in those conditions.
It is not an exaggeration to call it squalor. It wasn’t 100% squalor perhaps but the conditions were very hard at the camp. I would have welcomed going home after the first day, or sleeping in a hostel and commuting every day.
Yet, as a Methodist missionary and a person faith I am called to be in solidarity and marching alongside oppressed people…and in the Philippines, national minorities are oppressed. That solidarity is made stronger by sharing meals and sleeping next to my oppressed brothers and sisters. So steadfastly, barely, I survived the relatively short time I was there through the unbearable head & humidity, the putrid latrines, the incomprehensible overnight construction, speeding and jackhammering, and the gag inducing smell of waste, rotting food and urine.
While my Lakbayan experience was…difficult because of the conditions, it was necessary and good to be in solidarity with the people of Sandugo. I was blessed to hear from fellow United Methodist who may have found inspiration in my commitment to be in solidarity with the people (although honestly a lot of it was just stubbornness to not give up right away.) Whatever thoughts Kampuhan inhabitants and visitors experienced from my presence is not diminished by my own feelings of inadequacy or weakness for wanting to give up. The bottom line is, I made it until the end. Sure, I switched to sleeping outside in my hammock to on a piece of cardboard for the last two days…but in a way that itself is part of the message of solidarity, the call for justice and peace, and working for God’s Kingdom on Earth.
It is not always easy, and I might want to give up often. Yet others will be inspired by the times I choose difficulties, solidarity and steadfastness. Together we support each other and through God all is possible. Even peace and justice for national minorities in the Philippines.
Stop Lumad Killings! Protect Lumad Schools! No to Martial Law!
Visit the United Methodist Advance Project Save Our Schools, Protect Indigenous Life here: http://www.umcmission.org/Give-to-Mission/Search-for-Projects/Projects/3022305
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