faith in action

Solidarity Mission to the Philippines

The California-Pacific Annual Conference Philippines Task Force has entered into a partnership with the Philippines Central Conference to make life better for the people of the Philippines.

A six-member Solidarity Mission team, led by Joy Prim and Andrew Esposo, traveled to the Philippines July 23-Aug. 8 to learn about the treatment of marginalized peoples there and about the ecumenical work that the National Council of Churches in the Philippines is doing in response.

The people committed to this justice work include many United Methodists. The team, which included the Rev. Janet McKeithen, deaconess Sharon McCart, and students Idda Colcol and Carmen Wei, met with Manila-area Bishop Ciriaco Q. Francisco, who welcomed them warmly.

The Cal-Pac Philippines Task Force has sent solidarity mission teams to the Philippines for more than five years and is now ready to move forward to formalize the partnership between Cal-Pac and the Philippines Central Conference.

The team learned about the human rights violations and the ecumenical work being done to resist them. The church is responding to extrajudicial killings to incarceration without a hearing (and often with planted evidence and too often torture to elicit confessions), violent dispersal of mistreated employees who are walking a picket line, immoral taking of land from indigenous peoples. The church is bringing hope and relief.

It is not an easy task, as the team learned. It is hoped that this growing partnership will make it easier.

After six days of learning, five team members went north to Capas, Tarlac, hiking two hours to stay with the indigenous people called the Aetas for six days.

There, the use of ancestral lands by the Philippine army and U.S. troops each year in training exercises occurs without notification to the community, often keeping people from returning home for prolonged periods. The government plans to turn this ancestral land into a military complex and develop New Clark City in the area that Clark Air Force Base occupied during and after World War II.

The Aetas are resisting this attempt to force them from their lands but the military, assisted by U.S. troops, harass them regularly. Also, the children have a great distance to travel to school, returning home only on the weekends. If the people are forced to move, they will not be able to return home from school even on the weekends.

Meanwhile, McCart remained in Manila. She learned about the new proposed constitution and the ecumenical work being organized to fight this effort to convert the country to federalism and codifying dictatorship.

She also learned that 15 striking workers from NutriAsia and four reporters were arrested when the workers’ picket line was violently dispersed July 30. The National Council of Churches in the Philippines was part of the behind-the-scenes work to bring about the release of those arrested. At the news conference announcing their release, each of the 19 spoke about the beatings they experienced during their arrests.

McCart and Prim visited a Lumad school in Mindanao last year. (The Lumad are another indigenous people.) Church workers, including United Methodist deaconesses, created the school. It was built and run without government support. But Mindanao is no longer safe. The Philippine army is occupying their school, which is an unconstitutional act, even under martial law.

Some of the students at that school are now at a bakwit — an evacuation center — in Manila. They are safe there, but the faculty, staff, and other students who are still in Mindanao are in danger. Their families are still in Mindanao and are not safe.

These students are determined to finish their education, however. The Save Our Schools organization, which is supported by many church people, is sponsoring them. The goal — in addition to keeping them safe — is that they will finish their education.

The team reunited for a day and then went separate ways. As they reflected, the team is grateful to be part of the justice work in the Philippines.