went home to Iligan for Christmas after the Hinatuan mission. From January to
February, I spent most of my time in the
Iligan Mission started
on January 1984. Fr. Lassie Corvera, the parish priest, had invited the team to
conduct a mission in the parish of St. Michael,
The general objective of the mission was to evangelize the local communities in the parish and form them into Basic Christian Communities or Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) – as they were officially referred to by this time . We planned to develop the core groups in each BEC and train the potential leaders. At the same time, we to train the parish workers who would be responsible for the post-mission follow-up. The continuing development and strengthening of the BECs and their leaders would depend on the parish team with the support of the parish priest. The role of the mission team was to break the ground and "sow the seed."
The team was made up of two Redemptorists (Frs. Ramon Fruto and myself -- Fr. Manny Cabajar would later replace Ramon) and nine lay missioners (Pablo, Mila, Fe, Popoy, Rolly, Momeng, Meren, Temmy and Sid). There were six parish workers (Efren, Malou, Ester, Titing, Jun and Pantoy).
We started with Pugaan district. This was an area around Mount Agad-agad. There were 16 local communities which were divided into four zones (each zone consisting of four communities). We divided ourselves into two subteams (each subteam consisted of a Redemptorist and several lay missioners). Ramon coordinated one subteam near the centro and the foothills of Mount Agad-agad. I took charge of the subteam up in Dalamas. The lay missioners lived in the communities to which they were assigned. As subteam coordinators our task was to oversee the lay missioners and rove around our respective zones. This meant moving from one area to another. We also celebrated the Eucharist with the people in these communities.
The situation in Pugaan at this time was tense. It was highly militarized. There were Army detachments and Civilian Home Defense Forces (CHDF) units in the area. We were constantly under surveillance since the CHDF suspected that we were working with the NPA guerrillas or preparing the ground for NPA expansion.
Our lay missioners went on house-to-house visits. The purpose of this was to get to know the members of the community, get some data about the place and start the evangelization process on a family basis. Each night they would sleep in different houses. Wherever they sleep, they would have an evening prayer/reflection session with the family. The whole family would gather around the kerosene lamp and listen to the word of God. Then, they would be encouraged to share their thoughts and feelings. The lay missioner would also share her reflections. Afterwards, they would share their prayers based on their needs. Even the children were encouraged to pray for their parents. In this manner, the family would be evangelized and become aware that they were part of a wider community -- the BEC. Whenever I visited the different areas, I would sleep where the lay missioner stayed for the night and join these evening sessions. On one occasion, I visited Pablo's area. After the evening session, I felt the need to respond to the call of nature. Since there was no toilet and it was raining outside, I had to deliver under the house holding on to the post. Then I felt something cold at my backside. When I looked back, it was just a pig trying to wipe my ass with his snout.
Gradually, the lay missioners introduced the Bible-sharing/reflection in the homes. This was usually attended by the neighbors and others who became active -- the core group and potential leaders. Initially, this was conducted by the lay missioners. Later, the potential leaders were trained to facilitate these sessions. Thus, the evangelization moved on from the family level to the neighborhood and community level. At first the people had difficulty sharing their reflections and prayers. As time went on, they became more articulate. From being evangelized, they became evangelizers among themselves. The culture of silence was being broken.
Since it was difficult to give seminars in the chapel due to the militarization, we decided to have a series of Misa-Pamalandong. In the rural areas, it was easy to gather majority of the people for the celebration of the Eucharist. The Misa-Pamalandong was celebrated the either whole morning or the whole afternoon. In some areas, we could even celebrate it the whole day. What made the Mass very long was the liturgy of the Word which was "stretched." After the readings, instead of the priest immediately giving a homily, the people were divided into small groups to discuss the readings and the theme. They were given guide questions. After the small group discussion, there would be someone from each group who would report to the whole group what they have shared. Then the priest would give a long sermon based on the theme of the Misa-Pamalandong. Thus, the Eucharist became a means for evangelization. One of the high points of the Misa-Pamalandong is the agape. The sharing of the meal took place after the Eucharist (or if it was a whole day affair, within the Mass between the liturgy of the word and the liturgy of the Eucharist).
One time, I met Bishop Capalla and he asked me, “Picx, what is this I hear about the Misa-Pamalandong? It seems that you are turning the chapel into a restaurant.”
“Monsignor, the people are afraid to go to the chapel to attend our evangelization seminars because of the militarization. That is why we are forced to have this Misa-Pamalandong. Besides, we are just trying to follow the Eucharists in the early church that were celebrated in the context of a meal.”
“O.K. Picx, I will allow you to do this for pastoral reasons. But I prefer that you have the agape outside the Eucharist. Someday, you will have to give me a more thorough theological justification for the Misa-Pamalandong.”
Reflecting on this, I came to realize that the Eucharist is the celebration of communion -- of unity and fellowship between Christ and the community and among the members of the community. The sharing of a meal -- table fellowship -- is also a concrete expression of this communion that is sacramentally celebrated.
The themes that were covered in the evangelization phase were the following: Faith, God, Christ, the Church as Christian Community, Liturgy, human dignity and human rights. In view of the situation under Martial Law and the ongoing militarization, we felt that it was necessary to give emphasis to human dignity and human rights. However, we had to present this in general terms without referring to specific violations to avoid military repression. We thought that if we just made the people aware of their rights, they themselves will know when these are violated and they would assert or defend their rights. We appealed to the Church's teachings on human rights, especially John XXIII's Pacem in Terris.
The Sunday Bible-service (Kasaulogan sa Pulong) in the chapel was also introduced. We trained the potential leaders to conduct these services. We also encouraged the people to actively participate in this liturgical celebration.
Since Holy Week was fast approaching, we decided to utilize the liturgy as a means for evangelization and organizing. This meant having planning sessions with the leaders and the people. The various communities would have common celebrations. The challenge was how to make the celebration of Holy Week more participative, creative, meaningful and relevant. We came up with liturgies that blended popular religiosity and a prophetic/liberating message. Many became involved in the preparation and actual celebration. We made use of drama and choreography in the liturgy. We tried to link the passion of Christ with the suffering of the people. In the pasyon drama that I improvised and directed, I emphasized the idea that the suffering of Christ was the consequence of his prophetic ministry. He suffered and died because he denounced a sinful and oppressive system and he proclaimed the coming of God’s kingdom of justice and peace. Whenever there is an unjust and sinful system, the just and the innocent will always suffer. When we carry out our prophetic mission today, we too will have to be ready to carry our cross.
For the Via Crucis (way of the cross) we made use of a prayer book which linked the passion of Christ with the passion of the people. For example, the prayer of the first station – Jesus is condemned to death—went like this: “Lord, you were condemned to death by a sinful and evil system. You denounced this system and announced the coming of God’s kingdom. Lord, today, so many of our people are condemned to suffer and die by a regime that is unjust and oppressive. Give us the strength and the courage to carry our cross and continue your mission.”
For the salubong or sugat (The Easter dawn encounter between Jesus and his mother Mary), instead of having an encounter between the statues of the risen Christ and the sorrowful mother with little angels taking her veil, we dramatized the encounter with live actors. The scene opens with a soft background music, with a sorrowful Mary walking with a dark veil covering her head and followed by several women. Then, she meets the risen Christ on the way. The background music changes into a joyful one. Jesus takes off the veil from Mary’s head and her face lights up and the sorrow is turned into joy.
Thus, the liturgy became a means of conscientization – it helped the people became more aware of their own situation and its relation to the mysteries of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection.
After several months, the core group or nucleus in each local community emerged and we started giving leadership seminars to the leaders of the BECs. When we moved to the poblacion, Pugaan became a follow-up area of the parish workers that we had trained.
The city proper was more difficult to evangelize and organize. We had to modify our approach. We were aware that what may have worked for the rural area was not necessarily effective in the urban area. The poblacion area was thickly populated and there were many mandated organizations and renewal movements that were active.
Our approach was two-pronged:
(1) evangelize and organize BEC core groups or nuclei in selected urban areas
(2) re-orient mandated organizations and movements
Based on previous experiences, we were aware that the mandated organizations and renewal movements could be resistant to our efforts to renew the parish and build BECs. These groups and movement have a tendency to be conservative and even reactionary. The challenge was how to re-orient them so that they could be open to change. The parish priest asked the members of these organizations and movements to attend seminars and recollections conducted by the mission team. We gave seminars to the Knights of Columbus, Daughters of Mary Immaculate, Legion of Mary, Catholic Women's League, Charismatics, etc. The content of the seminars focused on the reforms of Vatican II, the need to participate in the building of Christian communities in the neighborhood, and the social dimension of our faith. Some of those who attended later became actively involved in the mission in their own communities. Others remained suspicious and were unaffected by these efforts.
the city proper was big, we selected the areas that already had a sense of
community and that were not exactly well-off:
The house-to-house visitation continued, but this time the number was limited. We also introduced the Bible-sharing/reflection. The Misa-Pamalandong could only be done in the evenings and limited to two hours. There were usually more than a hundred people who attended the Masses. Due to the big number we had to dispense with the small group discussion. Instead, we asked people to share their reflections on the readings or theme before the priest gave his long sermon. There was no Agape since the mass was often celebrated after supper.
activity that we also introduced was Mass-sponsoring. This meant that the
various local communities in the city took turns in sponsoring the Sunday mass
in the Cathedral and at the
The system if mass-sponsoring was again used during the Aguinaldo Masses. The general theme that we adopted was “Human Dignity and Human Rights.” Each day would focus on a specific right mentioned in Pacem in Terris:
Day 1: Incarnation, human dignity and human rights according to Pacem in Terris
Day 2: Bodily Rights
Day 3: Communication Rights
Day 4: Religious Rights
Day 5: Family and Vocational Rights
Day 6: Economic Rights
Day 7: Associational Rights
Day 8: Rights of Movement
Day 9: Political Rights
This theme was adopted by all the churches and chapels within the parish. The sponsoring groups prepared the prayers, reflections, symbolic offering, drama or choreography. People attending the Misa-Aguinaldo at the Cathedral and the Redemptorist church became acquainted with their rights. The BECs in their novena-aguinaldo held in the chapels also adopted the human rights theme. At a time when resistance to the Marcos dictatorial regime had grown and the military became more repressive, the theme of human rights in the liturgy became appropriate and prophetic. This helped in raising the awareness of the people about their rights. It was not surprising, therefore, that the military would suspect the liturgy we celebrated as subversive.
There were two radio commentators who reacted to the human rights theme in the liturgy. They criticized me several times in their radio program. They sarcastically called me Monsignor Picardal. One of them, Charlie Aberilla, was also vocal against the NPA Sparrow units operating in the city. One morning, while making his usual tirade over the radio, two members of the Sparrow unit walked into the announcer's booth and shot him point blank. The radio listeners heard him die. Although his death was not connected to his criticism against me, I was shocked by what happened. Even if he criticized the movement, he did not deserve to be silenced brutally. The NPA justified the killing by saying that he was part of the propaganda machine of the military dictatorship.
After Christmas, we continued with the leadership training of the spotted potential leaders in the poblacion.
the beginning of the season of Lent, the lay missioners moved to the Hinaplanon area while at the
same time following up the poblacion.
Even during the early phase (data-gathering and integration), the
military and the CHDF waged a black propaganda campaign against us. They told
the people that we were working with the communists. Two of our lay missioners
(Rolly and Temy) were picked up by the CHDF and interrogated. They were later released. Because of this we held a dialogue with the
army officers headed by
After Bishop Capalla said the opening prayer, Fr. Manny told Col. Cacanando,“We are Redemptorist missioners. We had been invited by the bishop and the parish priest to give a mission in St. Michael’s parish. Recently, the CHDF picked up two of our lay missioners assigned in Tambo.”
Col. Cacanando said, “Yes, we received reports that your lay missioners were going house to house, carrying firearms. That’s why they wer picked up.”
I answered,“That is not true, Colonel. Our lay missioners do not have any firearms nor do they carry any firearm. They are there to encourage the people to join the mission activities like the bible-service and the mass.”
“Our sources told us that they were seen by the people themselves carrying firearms.” Col. Cacanando retorted.
Manny said, “Colonel, we assure you that that is not true. Why don’t we have a dialogue with the people in the area and ask them if they really saw our lay missioners carrying firearms?”
“O.K. Let’s do that. When do you want the dialogue to take place?” Cacanando asked.
After conferring with Manny, I replied, “If it is all right with you, let’s have the dialogue with the people this coming Saturday in their chapel. At nine in the morning?”
“O.K. we will be there. We will also bring the barangay chairman and the CHDF with us.” Col. Cacanando said.
Before we parted ways, Bishop Capalla told Col. Cacanando that if they receive any report about the mission, it would be beneficial if we have dialogue like this so that we can immediately clarify any misunderstanding or false report.
So that Saturday, we gathered in the chapel with the people in the area at nine in the morning. They were all excited to meet the Army battalion commander and the barangay chairman. We waited until one in the afternoon but they did not come. So everybody went home hungry.
The people in the upper barrio of Hinaplanon became hesitant to accept the missioners in their homes for fear of being branded as communist supporters. Pablo, one of our lay missioners, walked seven kilometers back to the monastery one night because there was no one in his area who would let him sleep in their homes.
"Pantoy" Zapanta was a parish worker whom we trained and who was working with us in the Hinaplanon area. Pantoy was formerly a member of the
CHDF. He quit and
became actively involved in the local BEC as a Kaabag -- a lay liturgical
leader. Later, he was recruited and
trained as a parish worker. On
“Where is he?”
“He is on the side of the road.”
We immediately took the motorbike and speeded towards Pugaan. When we arrived, I saw his body sprawling on the side of the road with a hole in his head and his arm pits. There were flies on his face. His white shirt was filled with blood. His bicycle was on the ground. His wife, Naty, was wailing beside him. There were tears in my eyes as I put my arms around her shoulder. Nobody knew who killed him but we immediately suspected that this was the work of the military and CHDF who had threatened him several times. The funeral of Pantoy turned into a protest march attended by over 4,000 people from the mission areas carrying placards and streamers. His bicycle and bloodied white shirt were brought before the altar as symbolic offering during the funeral mass concelebrated by 14 priests. Pantoy was hailed as martyr. But his former CHDF companions regarded him a traitor.
were shocked by Pantoy's brutal death. At that time we had not recovered from
Victoria "Vicky" Hatague's death. Just several months before, Vicky, a parish
worker of Jimenez whom we trained during
the mission was shot to death by the
CHDF. A month before Pantoy's death, our
Redemptorist confrere, Fr. Rudy Romano, was picked up by military intelligence
In spite of the harassment, we continued our mission work. It was difficult to evangelize and organize the people because the military kept telling them that we were subversives. Consequently, our approach became liturgical-centered. We also used some of the methods of the traditional mission. We focused on popular religious practices and organized mass weddings for the mancibados -- couples living as husband and wife without the benefit of the sacrament of marriage. We also continued the Misa-Pamalandong. It was very difficult to hold Bible-reflection in the homes because of the black propaganda against us.
Towards the end of the mission, the representatives of the local communities in the mission areas held regular meetings. This was called the Inter-Chapel Assembly Meeting. This was a follow-up structure to monitor the developments of the BECs in the parish.
Growing militancy/Encounters with the Underground
Meanwhile, the people in our mission area in Pugaan were becoming more militant. Majority of the farmers who participated in the various Welgang Bayan (nationwide strike) came from Pugaan district. We found out later that the NPA had already penetrated the area after we pulled out and moved to the poblacion. They were actually transforming our mission areas into their mass base and they were recruiting our leaders. We felt helpless, we could not do anything to prevent them from expanding into our mission areas. They wanted to coordinate with us but we were firm about our "no-linkage" policy. We were not going to collaborate with them but we told them that were open to dialogue with them.
were two top-ranking leaders of the revolutionary movement whom I occasionally
met: Ike and
Jogan. Ike was a former seminarian at
the Regional Major Seminary in
Merlyn, who was pregnant, was living in Iligan and she sometimes accompanied Fe in one of the team’s recreation in Samburon beach. Once she asked me to read her palm and I told her that she was going to be a widow. A few days later Fe told me that Leonardo had been killed. She said that we should not tell Merlyn about it because she might have a miscarriage. Her parents were massacred by the military a year earlier and we thought she might not be able to accept the news of her husband's death. After giving birth to Mark, she was told the bad news. She was devastated. When Mark was baptized, I was asked to be his godfather. I wrote this poem for Mark and Merlyn:
A Lullaby for Mark
Sleep, poor Mark, sleep
may you dream your father's dream.
He will never hold you in his arms
he never saw you, you'll never see his face.
He was gone before you could see
the tears in my eyes.
No, your father did not go to Saudi.
No, he did not run off with another woman
he just disappeared into the hills and forests.
There's no use waiting for your father, son
he can't come home anymore.
He has disappeared into the belly of the earth
somewhere in the countryside
beheaded by the monsters in uniform.
Someday, when you are old enough
you will understand
why your father had to leave us.
It was not that he did not love us,
he loved you and me and the millions of people
victimized by this diabolical system.
Like many he had a dream
that this unbearable reality will be changed.
Someday, when this nightmare will be over
when these monsters and their alien masters
will disappear from the land,
when terror and hunger will only be a distant memory
it will no longer be necessary
for you to leave your pregnant wife
and disappear into the hills and forest
to fight the monsters that rule our land.
Sleep, dear child, sleep
may your father's dream become your reality
Jogan occasionally visited Fe and Merlyn to discuss some family matters. He would sometimes bring Ike along. They would also talk to me about the developments in the movement. We became friends but we did not work together. I kept on reminding them that we had a “no-linkage policy.” They told me that they understood my position. Once they asked me for the use of our vehicle but I told him that I could not allow it because it would mean that we were supporting them. I was also afraid that if they were caught with the vehicle, the Redemptorists would be in trouble.
What worried me about the presence of the NPA in our mission areas was that this could provoke the military to repress the communities that we had organized. True enough, when the military learned that the NPA had penetrated the Pugaan area, they conducted several military operations. Many were killed including some of the former youth leaders who were active during the mission. Some parts of Pugaan became a "no man's land." Many people left their farms and evacuated to other places. With a heavy heart, I wrote this poem:
Peace and quiet all over the land
the ears of corn have fallen to the ground
and the weeds overwhelm the furrows.
Peace and quiet within the hut,
the dust has gathered on the floor,
the spider spins its web
across the broken door.
A putrid stench pervades the air
it does not come from a mere carcass
for no prisoners were taken
except the pigs and the chickens.
that can easily be broken
by the staccato of M‑16
should any movement stir
the pacific landscape.
This used to be the promised land,
and now it is a no man's land.
As we were ending the mission in October 1985, the underground movement was wracked by the so-called DPA problem (Deep Penetration Agents). The leadership of the CPP had just discovered that military agents had penetrated their ranks. Many of the top ranking leaders in the party and the NPA were suspected of being DPAs. There was panic. The party conducted the Zoombie Operation to weed out these agents. Many of the Church institutions that were infiltrated by the party folded up. The mission team was the only group that was not affected due to our "no-linkage" policy. The military intelligence probably knew that we did not have any connection with the party. Had we collaborated with the movement, they could have easily suppressed us. However, the parish priest – Fr. Lassie -- left his post in a hurry. Some suspected that he was linked with the movement.
The new parish priest was not supportive of the mission and he had no commitment to do the follow-up. He actually was able to undo the fruits of our labor. First, he dismissed the parish workers that we had trained. He told them that the parish could not afford to pay their salaries (although it could afford to hire security guards). So there was no one who could do the follow-up. With the lack of support from the parish priest, the development of the emerging BEC nuclei, core groups and leaders could not be sustained. Worst, the leaders of the BECs who were leading the Bible-service in the chapels were no longer allowed to do so. They were replaced by the lay ministers coming from the Cathedral. Thus, after the Iligan mission, we were filled with foreboding that all our efforts would be in vain. But there were lessons that I learned from this debacle:
q The parish priest is vital to the sustainable development of BECs. With his support the newly emerging BECs can continue to grow and develop.
The parish priest can also weaken the BECs by his lack of support or even antagonism.
q Without a Parish Formation Team (or parish workers) it would be difficult to form and develop BECs.
q Unless the formation of BECs is adopted as the thrust of the diocese and the program in every parish, it would be difficult to form BECs. The parish would be at the mercy of the whim and caprices of the new parish priest who takes over. The BEC should be considered as the basic pastoral unit in the parish and diocese.
q In areas where there is armed conflict, we should form our BECs and their leaders to maintain autonomy and independence from both the ideological movements and the government forces and to pursue the path of peace and active non-violence.
Community Life and Family Life
The Redemptorist community during the Iligan mission consisted of Frs. Ramon, Manny, Dan Baragry, Eddie Creamer, Bro. James and myself. When our missions were conducted in distant parishes, it was difficult for us to develop our community life. We could only meet once a month for a few days. Our community activities would consist in monthly community meetings, recollections and recreation. The mission in Iligan gave us the opportunity to live a regular community life. Since the mission area was near, we could go home to the monastery more frequently. When we moved out of Pugaan and began our mission in the Poblacion and in Hinaplanon we could even come home every night. We reserved Mondays for community activities like meetings, recollections and recreation. We made it a habit to talk to each other over San Migue beer late at night after the missioners had come home. We would also have regular morning prayer after breakfast. We, therefore, became closer to one another.
the mission in Iligan, I was able to pursue three hobbies: Karate, running and
cycling. I took Karate lessons three nights a week at the Shorin-Ryu Karate
Club. I advance rapidly from white belt to green belt. Near the end the
mission, I was preparing for my exams in brown belt. I also continued running
regularly. I would go out for long runs to Pugaan with a group of runners and I shared
with them some training techniques that I picked up from the Runner’s World
Magazine. I also started cycling. I bought a racer and used it on the days that
I wasn’t running. I would bike up the
The mission in Iligan also gave me more time to be with my family. When our mission was in other distant parishes, I could only come home once a month and stay for a few days. Most of this time would be spent with my religious community -- in meetings and recollections. With the mission in Iligan I could frequently visit home. I joined the various family celebrations and outings. Once, I gave the whole family a retreat at our uncle's beach house in Samburon. For the first time we shared with one another our life-stories, our problems, and our inmost thoughts and feelings. We celebrated the Eucharist as a family. This was also the moment of reconciliation especially between my parents and some of my brothers and sisters. It was a time to ask forgiveness from one another and to forgive each other. This was a special moment for me for I felt that close bond among ourselves. From that time on, I would kiss my sisters on the cheek whenever we saw each other.
Whenever we saw each other, I would kiss her on the cheek. This was something I wouldn’t do when I was a child or an adolescent. We would spend a lot of time talking – mostly about Papa and about my siblings. She would pour out her problems to me. She was no longer just a mother. She was also my friend. When she celebrated her 59th birthday in September 1985, I cooked spaghetti, kare-kare, and lengua estofada for dinner. I often accompanied her on the piano as she sang her favorite songs: I’m in the Mood for Love, It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie, I’ll be Seeing You.. She told me that one of her regrets was that she did not learn to play the piano as a child. So, I offered to teach her. Once a week, I would go home and we would sit side by side for our piano lesson. My father would usually sit nearby and watch us. He would smile and say, “You’re too old for that Nick.”