Philippines Delegation Members Bear Witness After August Trip

September 29, 2011

By Lindsey Kerr
PSR Student and delegation member

A 10-member delegation from the Philippines Solidarity Task Force of the California-Nevada Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church was in Manila and surrounding areas in Luzon on a pastoral visit and solidarity mission, August 19-31. Hosted by the National Council of Churches, Philippines, the delegation team visited farming, fishing, and urban poor communities, and met with political prisoners and human rights violations survivors. 
Team member Nikki Salde, a lay member at Buena Vista United Methodist Church, had the following initial reflection to share: 
"Reverend Victor Bote at the Church of the Risen Lord (University of the Philippines Ecumenical Ministry) said in his sermon on Sunday, August 22, 'Happiness is external, while joy is internal. Happiness depends on chance, while joy depends on choice.'
"The people we have visited in the two weeks we've been here had nothing in economic standing, nothing in political power, nothing in social status, but they had everything in joy. For a society whose history consists of struggle for survival and preservation from foreign powers, the people have so much lakas ng loob (inner strength and resilience), determination, and assurance in what they believe. Although the people may be oppressed by the institutions, the institutions can never oppress the mind, the beliefs, and the spirit of the people.
"Whoever says that the Filipino people are backward in their thinking and lifestyle, I say that person can learn a lot from these people. The Philippines is poor in status, but rich in culture, in community, and in pakikisama (collective resistance).
"I have been an international witness to the struggles of the people, and to the constant fight for justice. The bahala na (que sera, sera) spirit of the people will forever be with me."
Lauren Quock is a delegation member from Chinatown Presbyterian Church. Lauren had the following reflection about her first time in the Philippines:
"On August 30th, the newspaper reported that a typhoon had hit the Philippines. According to the article, 57,000 people in a 'gold-mining region' had to evacuate their villages due to landslides.
"Two days ago, our delegation traveled to another 'gold-mining region' in Batangas, two hours north of Manila, then two more hours into the mountains, to Lobo. The mountains were lush and green, filled with coconut and banana trees and tamarind forests. We met with a barangay captain who told us that a foreign mining company had come to their village five years ago. The company offered jobs that would pay 300 pesos per day (US $7.14) and bonuses of educational scholarships for their children. Though the contracts lasted only one month at a time, the income allowed them to buy boats so that they could fish in the sea near their village.
"The mining company has since left, and despite these economic benefits, many villagers hope they do not return. With the mining company came militarization, for the Philippines Army was dispatched to protect the interests of the company. The company also cut down trees and put chemicals into the soil so that they could drill holes deep into the ground. These chemicals pollute the village's drinking water and the sea that they depend on for fishing. The holes create cavernous voids under the surface. So it is no coincidence that the landslides happened in a 'mining region.'"
For Pastor Elmar de Ocera of South Hayward United Methodist Church, this Task Force trip was the first time he has been back in the Philippines since he immigrated to the United States 20 years ago. He had the following to share:
"When I first learned about the Philippines Solidarity Task Force and [its] plans to visit the Philippines to witness and experience the plight of the common tao (people), I was disturbed. I thought that these 'human rights violations' have been going on since time immemorial; they are fighting a losing battle. When I was asked to be part of the Task Force team, I had second thoughts. Will this just be another waste of time and resources? Will we accomplish something?
"Then I learned about the Morong 43 (a group of political prisoners in Luzon), and how the Philippines Solidarity Task Force was instrumental to their release, [and] I agreed to come on the trip.
"Visiting Hacienda Luisita, Pangarap Village, and Lobo, Batangas was a real eye opener. My conscience was jolted to see how people who have the people in power could take away land, and more so, life, in the name of progress. The peasant farmers are struggling for the land that they till, that their ancestors tilled – the land that was promised to them. The story is the same with the people of Pangarap Village, and their homes that are about to be demolished. Men and women there risk their lives to fight injustice. The story is the same with the Freedom Fighters of Batangas, who are now considered enemies of the country for standing up for rights of the people. They are now political prisoners.
"Experiencing all of this broke my heart, and I can now say, 'This is a battle worth fighting.' These human rights violations must be shared, and we must encourage others to join in the struggle. The battle is rough, but we must never surrender. We must fight for social justice, equality, and the right to live."
Ben Luis is the music director at Buena Vista United Methodist Church. Born in the Philippines, this has been Ben's first time back in more than 60 years. Ben wrote a song that was performed on the delegation's last night in the Philippines – a "thank you" to all of the people in the Philippines who hosted the delegation. 
Here are the words:
"Thank You" (to the tune of Sly and the Family Stone's "Thank You")
Listen to the People
They won't tell a lie
Every day people
Struggling to survive
Thank you for letting us be with you… again.
Salamat for letting us be with you… again.
Let's get motivated
To try and spread the word
Justice needs to follow
'Til struggling folks are heard
Mobilize, globalize
Humanize shore to shore
Someone tell Aquino
Ain't takin' it no more.
Thank you for letting us be with you… again.
Salamat for letting us be with you… again.
There's no backing down
Time for action now
Every day people
The Movement shows us how
Thank you for letting us be with you… again.
Salamat for letting us be with you… again.
Thank you for letting us be with you… again… SALAMAT!

Watch video of the delegation singing "Thank You" at the Solidarity Fellowship Dinner on YouTube at (Run time 3 min. 25 sec.)