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Chapter Thirteen

THE MISSION IN SAN FERNANDO

 

 

On the morning of March 3, 1987, the members of the Iligan Mission Team left for San Fernando, Bukidnon. The team was composed of three Redemptorists  (Fr. Manny Cabajar, Bro. James and myself), and eight lay missioners (Portia, Mila, Fe, Meren, Lily, Bebeth, Dodong and Alan). We travelled for seven hours  on board our new Izuzu vehicle,  going up the long winding roads of Bukidnon. As we neared San Fernando, we saw a  river that snaked through the valley. The mountains and hills were brown. Along the narrow and bumpy road we met several trucks filled with logs. Men with M-16 rifles accompanied them. At four in the afternoon, we reached  Halapitan – the center of San Fernando -- and  proceeded to the convento. We were welcomed by Frs. Patrick Kelly and Charles Gervais. They were Scarborough Missionaries. Fr. Pat was the parish priest and Fr. Charles worked among the indigenous peoples up in the mountains. We had a  dinner of rice and chicken curry  cooked by Clarita, the parish secretary.

The following days we went around the parish to gather data. We visited all the communities  and talked to the people. We also met the lay leaders who gathered in the seminar house. When we came back after a couple of weeks we draw a general profile  of San Fernando: the socio-economic, political, cultural and religious situation. We also made a detailed parish map. From this data and the parish priest’s expectation, we drew up the general and specific objectives of the mission.

The general objective was  to form and strengthen the BECs.  The specific objectives were:

 

1. To foster a sense of community among the members of the BECs

2. To conscienticize and evangelize the BECs

3. To enable the BECs to celebrate participative, relevant and creative liturgies

4. To spot and develop core group of leaders in each BEC

5. To mobilize the BECs to respond to concrete socio-economic issues and needs

 


There were  50 barrios and sitios in the parish which meant forming 50 BECs.  There were 30 to a hundred families in each BEC.  We identified the BEC clusters and saw that they could constitute seven zones with around seven BECs per zone.  We then divided ourselves into subteams.  Each subteam was composed of around four members assigned to specific BECs.  The priest in each subteam acted as the coordinator and was responsible for the whole zone.  For me it meant  moving from one barrio to another and supervising the members of the subteam.  We lived and worked in the specific BECs and zones for six months and moved to the next zones until we covered all the zones and BECs.

Since we were in the Lenten season at the beginning of the mission, we decided to make the celebration of the liturgical season as the focal point of evangelizing and organizing.  The bible-reflections and the regular Sunday katilingbanong pag-ampo (community worship) in each BEC focused on the theme of "sin and conversion."  We organized communal celebration of penance and reconciliation.  A couple of weeks before Holy Week, the focus of reflection shifted to Christology:  the mission of Christ and his consequent passion, death and resurrection.  We  had Misa-Pamalandong (Mass-Reflection) in each BEC.  The Misa-Pamalandong usually lasted from 10 am to 3 pm.  The theme was: Christology. These were the questions for reflection and sharing among the people: Who is Christ for you?  What are the dominant symbols of Christ in our culture?  What message do these symbols convey?  What is the meaning and relevance of Christ's death and resurrection for our situation today?  The group discussion was followed by reporting.  The facilitator collated the various reports and then the presider gave his homily/input. Before proceeding to the liturgy of the Eucharist, the agape was celebrated -- which meant that the participants shared the food that they brought with them.  The liturgy of the Eucharist was celebrated in the afternoon and this was followed by the scheduling and tasking for the liturgy planning for the Holy Week.

Most of the liturgies during the Holy Week were celebrated at the BEC level – especially on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  There were also  zone level celebrations which brought the BEC clusters together – on Palm Sunday and Holy Thursday.  The liturgy preparations were done by  the people themselves with the guidance of the lay missionaries and seminarians.  Seminars on liturgy were conducted.  Various planning groups were formed to prepare for  different liturgies during the Holy Week.  The main thrust at this stage was the celebration of meaningful and participative liturgies.  We also made an effort to reorient the traditional devotional activities like the Via Crucis and Siete Palabras by bringing in the liberation theme and making them more relevant and participatory.


When we evaluated this mission phase we observed that the liturgical activities helped considerably in fostering a sense of community and solidarity at the BEC level.  In the process, the people also learned to actively participate in the planning, celebration and evaluation of their liturgies. We were also able to test the capabilities of existing leaders and spot potential leaders.  There were also issues and concerns that emerged, especially about the ongoing deforestation caused by logging operations in the area..  Thus, Frs. Kelly and Gervais came out with an Easter message about the ecology issue. The letter discussed the ecological crisis that the people in San Fernando was facing due to the continuing logging operations. It warned the people that their children will be asking them in the future, what they did to defend the environment. It ended with a call for people to act.

We spent the following months  further training the people to actively participate in the planning, celebration and evaluation of their regular Sunday priestless liturgy (the Katilingbanong Pag-ampo).  The BECs with larger membership were subdivided into family groupings, usually  10 to 15 families per grouping.  There were between four to eight family groupings per BECs.  These groupings began to take turns in sponsoring the Katilingbanong Pag-ampo.  The lay missionaries helped these family groupings prepare the liturgy.  The preparation involved a period of reflection on relevant events and themes that could be the focus for liturgical celebration.  This would be followed by the actual planning of the liturgy, the tasking, the preparation of the readings and the prayers, and selecting what symbols to use.  There would also be rehearsals since many of the people were not used to reading, sharing or praying in public.  Oftentimes, the readings for the coming  Sunday would be used for the bible-reflection of the family groupings during the week.  These bible-reflections were held  in the homes of the members of the family groupings.

Many BECs celebrated their fiestas during the months of May and June.  We made use of this opportunity to make the preparation and celebration of the fiesta as a focal point for evangelization, organization and  the training of leaders.  As part of the  fiesta preparation, Misa-Pamalandongs were celebrated with the theme centered on the meaning of the devotion to the saints, the life and virtues of the patron saint of the BEC.  There was emphasis on the saints as models for Christian living.  The virtues of the saints (e.g., faith, hope, love, service, option for  the poor, prayer, etc.) were used as themes for the nine nights of the fiesta novena.  The various family groupings  within the BECs prepared these novena-liturgies.  The fiesta liturgy was prepared by a group that represented the family groupings.  There were also committees that planned the other festivities, the agape, and the procession. 

There were five  major seminarians from St. Mary’s of Gango, Ozamis City who joined us at the beginning of June for a four-month exposure. This was a program for those who were going to be ordained deacons. The seminarians lived among the people in the BECs and helped facilitate the mission activities. They also taught the people the songs that they composed.


During the early part of July, I was out of the mission area.  I went to Cebu to lead the nine-days of "Fasting for Rudy and the other Victims of Involuntary Disappearances." Originally, I planned a 40-day fast in front of Camp Sergio Osmeña.  But my confreres in Cebu convinced me to cut it down to nine days and hold it at the Redemptorist church.  The purpose of the fast was to draw attention to the case of Fr. Rudy Romano and other desaparecidos and to touch the conscience of those responsible for their abduction.  The fast lasted from July 2 to 11.  There were three Redemptorists who fasted and prayed during the whole nine days (Frs. Mortalla, Rollon and myself).  The other confreres joined us for a day or two.  Different groups in the parish and in the city also came and joined us for a time.  We also got letters of support from Ireland and the United States.  The event was covered by TV, radio and newspapers.  It was a very prayerful atmosphere.  We subsisted on water and tea.  I didn't feel any hunger.  By the  end of the fast I lost ten pounds.  The fast culminated with the Eucharist presided by Cardinal Vidal and concelebrated by over 30 priests on July 11, 1987 -- the second anniversary of Fr. Romano's disappearance.

One of those who helped organized the Fast for Rudy was Bro. Karl Gaspar. Karl was professed in May 1987 as a religious brother. Before he joined us, Karl was already  well known as the former secretary of the Mindanao-Sulu Pastoral Conference, an award-winning artist, writer and member of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians. He was imprisoned for two years and he joined us after he was released. His first assignment after his profession was the Iligan Redemptorist Community and Mission Team. He reported to San Fernando a week after the Fast for Rudy. We immediately hit it off together – not only as confreres but as friends.

When I went back to San Fernando, the ecology issue had blown up. During the past months, the concern for ecology had continued  to grow in the mission areas.  The texts and themes for bible-reflection and liturgies focused on the theology of creation, the care for the earth and the need to preserve and protect the environment.  We tried to make people aware that the droughts and floods that they had been experiencing were not punishments willed by God for their sins but rather the effect of the greed of the loggers who were denuding the forest.   Many people began to realize that it was not enough to talk and pray about the environment.  A series of meetings were held which were initiated by the BEC leaders and the leaders of a people's organization -- the Pagbugtaw sa Kamatuoran (PSK).  Representatives  of various BECs attended the meetings. Education teams trained by the mission team started to give seminars on the ecology in every BEC. 

The leaders of the PSK and the BECs sent their demands to the Department of Energy and Natural Resources (DENR) to order a stop of all logging operations in the area. By July 20, the hundreds of people  put up barricades in the main roads. No logging trucks could pass and many of these were stranded on the road.  This paralyzed the logging operations. There were bible-reflection sessions and liturgies celebrated in the barricade.  One night, Bishop Gaudencio Rosales came and he  listened to the people as they shared their reflections. He encouraged them to continue their struggle and to make sure that they remain peaceful.


The barricade was a manifestation of people power.  There were men and women, young and old. Some mothers even brought their babies.  The people shared their food with the drivers of the logging trucks that were stranded because of the barricade.  The people were aware that they were up against powerful opponents.  The logging companies were owned by powerful politicians.  They used the military as their security.  They even controlled a judge in Malaybalay who gave a court injunction against the barricade and ordered the military to break it up.

On August 1, 1987, a truckload of Philippine Constabulary soldiers arrived in Halapitan. People at that time were in the barricade, celebrating the Eucharist with Father Kelly. The platoon carrying truncheons and shields marched toward them.The officer showed the court injunction and told the people to dismantle the barricade and go home. But the people did not move. They continued praying and singing. Then an officer gave the dispersal order. The soldiers moved in and started beating the people with their truncheon.  The people continued to sing and cry while the military beat them. A pregnant woman was hit in the thigh. The statue of the Sacred Heart was not spared from the beating.  The soldiers grabbed Fr. Kelly and told him that he was under  arrest.  As they put Fr. Kelly on the truck,  the people also clambered up demanding to be imprisoned with their parish priest. Many people also encircled the military truck. After a few hours of stand-off, the soldiers released Fr. Kelly. 

That night, the people who gathered at the side of the road for bible-reflection felt dejected. Their eyes were filled with tears as the logging trucks passed by. They felt they were defeated.    

However, this incident did not go unnoticed.  That night and the following morning,  what happened in San Fernando was reported  in the radio, TV and newspapers all over the country.  The editorial pages in the newspapers condemned the brutal dispersion of the barricade and praised the people of San Fernando for their defense of the environment.  The image of a heroic people who defended the forest and readily accepted  violence perpetrated by the military  created an impact and generated sympathy and support  all over land. 

Several days later, the rains and flood came.  The bridge collapsed and there were landslides along the logging roads.  During the bible-reflection that night, the people celebrated the event as an act of God.  The barricade was still on -- with the help of mother nature. 

On the second week of August, we accompanied Fr. Kelly and the leaders of the barricade to Malaybalay.  They had received a subpoena to appear before the court  for preliminary hearing. The logging company had filed  a multi-million pesos lawsuit against them for causing loses to the company due to the barricade.  We were able to mobilize 5  truckloads of people. Since we could not all fit inside the court-house, many of the people surrounded the building. After the judge read the charges, he scolded the people for setting up the barricade against the logging company. It was very clear to us that he was on the side of the loggers. He set the date of the hearing and we all marched from the courthouse to the cathedral.  There were over three-hundred of us and some were carrying placards and streamers demanding the stop of the logging operations. After praying in the cathedral, we met Bishop Rosales who encouraged us to remain steadfast. He told us that he was going to a meeting of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference and will bring up the ecology issue. 

After a week,  the Department of Energy and Natural Resources (DENR) upon the order of President Aquino suspended all logging operations in the municipality of San Fernando. The case against the leaders of the barricade was dropped.  There was great rejoicing in San Fernando. We celebrated a thanksgiving mass with the people and afterwards gathered in the convento for a festive meal.

 We were aware that this was only a temporary victory.  The struggle was far from over.  Yet we were also aware of God's saving presence.  For many it was an experience of the paschal mystery, an experience of God's wondrous deeds after experiencing an apparent defeat a few weeks before.


The San Fernando experience created a "ripple-effect" not only within the diocese. Some communities in other parts of Mindanao began to  use a similar strategy.  There arose a growing awareness  of the urgency of the ecological issue. Even the governor and mayors of the province of Bukidnon expressed their support for the San Fernando struggle and began to demand a total log ban in the province.  Ecology became a pressing concern of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).  A couple of months later, the CBCP came out with a pastoral letter on the ecology issue.  In that pastoral letter which was read in all the Catholic churches and chapels all over the country, the bishops expressed their grave concern about the destruction of the environment.  They praised the courageous people of San Fernando for their struggle to protect the environment and for being signs of hope in the country.  It was with great pride that the pastoral letter was read in the parish and BEC liturgies.

Around this time, two newly-ordained Redemptorist priests were assigned to the team – Frs. Joshua Manubag and Rolly Rollon. They were to spend their pastoral year with us. As the director of the pastoral year, my task was to be their guide and mentor. They were assigned to live and work in the BECs and I often visited them to see how they were doing. We also met once a week as a group.  

With the beginning of the advent season, the liturgical celebrations focused on the themes of  Christ’s incarnation and his future coming in the end-time.  The BECs began to prepare the liturgy of the novena-aguinaldo, the traditional nine days of dawn liturgy before Christmas.  The family groupings in each BEC were mobilized to prepare the liturgies.  This time, the emphasis was not only on active participation but on creativity as well.  This was also another opportunity to test the competence of the emerging leaders in facilitating and organizing skills.  The BECs also emphasized the communal celebration of Christmas. 

After Christmas, I took a one month break from the mission. I went to my hermitage in Busay where I spent most of my time in relaxation, prayer, reading and writing. I also made my final preparation for the marathon. I went to Manila on the last week of January to visit old friends and run the Manila Marathon.

When I came back to San Fernando in  February 1988, we continued our mission of evangelizing and organizing the BECs. We also started introducing rituals and liturgies for planting and harvesting.  Majority of the people were farmers and farming was a communal activity.  Although each family had their individual plots, they would help each other in plowing, planting and harvesting.  We noticed that during these busy periods the attendance of the people in the mission activities declined.  Most of them where out in their farms.  We realized that the liturgies would have to be celebrated in the fields and farms to ritualize their farming seasons.  Some farmers were using the ancient "animistic" rituals while many had given these up.  Our task was to come up with inculturated rituals – liturgies that made use of the existing cultural forms and symbols and link these with biblical texts and themes. One time, I accompanied Fe, a lay missioner, to a farm in here area early in the morning. When we got there, the people had already gathered ready for the planting. We formed a circle and began the ritual with an opening hymn. At the center were the bible, the rice stalks, and the farm tools. We then acknowledged the presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst. Then we listened to the reading of the Gospel – the parable of the sower. After the reading we had a brief moment of silent reflection and then some of the people shared their reflections. This was followed by the prayers of petition where the people asked God to pour his blessing on their work, protect their crops from pests and give them a bountiful harvest. Then we asked God to bless the rice stalks and the farm tools. After the final blessing we sang the final hymn.  Rituals like these helped the BECs experience their unity and solidarity as a community.

Since part of  the goal of the mission was to assist the communities in responding to their basic needs, we helped  BECs organize socio-economic projects. Among these were: the organic farming method, carabao dispersal and community-based health program. We also encouraged some BECs to set up cooperatives. Members of the mission team who had special training helped set up these programs.

As the BECs in the periphery developed, our mission subteams moved closer to the center of the parish.  It was part of our strategy to build up first the BECs in the remote barangays of the parish and gradually move towards the poblacion or town which was the center of the parish.  While most of the liturgies in the remote BECs were non-eucharistic, the liturgies in the poblacion were mostly eucharistic.  The thickly populated town was subdivided into smaller BEC  groupings or neighborhood communities.  These groupings were to take turns in sponsoring and preparing the liturgy in the parish church.  The lenten season and the Holy Week became the occasion for this.  The same process of liturgy planning, celebration and evaluation was used.  The people participated in preparing the environment (church decoration), choosing the symbols, composing the prayers, performing liturgical drama and dance, etc.  So much creativity was unleashed.  This process was continued  in the regular Sunday liturgy.  This became the focal point for developing a sense of identity and solidarity for the BECs in the town.


As the process of building up the BECs continued, I noticed  that the military were intensifying their operations in San Fernando. While crossing a river one day, I saw helicopters flying above me and strafing a nearby mountain. There was no firefight but it was later made to appear in the radio and news-reports that there was an encounters with the NPA.

The harrassment against the mission team and Fr. Kelly also started.  Military special operation teams went around the barrios telling the people that the members of the mission team and the parish priest were communists.  They accused the BECs of supporting the communists and told them to surrender.  They also tried to form vigilante and para-military groups in every barangay. They organized weekend seminars under which they claimed as part of the National Reconciliation and Development Program (NRDP). The people were forced to attend these seminars. At the end the seminars they were required to pledge their allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines. At the final ceremony, with the attendance of top government and military officials, the people were referred to as surrenderees. The media were given impression that they were NPA supporters and that they had surrendered.

In the Sunday liturgies, we denounced  the military operations,  the false encounters and false surrenders. The BECs organized fact-finding teams to monitor, document and report military abuses and human rights violations.  With the support of Bishop  Gaudencio Rosales, the BEC leaders held a series of dialogue with the top military commanders in the area. The BEC leaders complained to them that all the reports about the encounters and mass surrenders were false. They also asked the military officers not to force them to organize the paramilitary/vigilante groups in their areas. Consequently, the militarization of San Fernando was stopped.

On August 1, 1988, the first anniversary of the brutal dispersal of the barricade was celebrated in the same place where it happened.  A drama  depicting the experience of the people was presented during the liturgy. The songs that were sung during the time of the barricade were once again sung.  The liturgical celebration kept alive the people's memory of God's liberating presence in their midst.  It also challenged them to continue their struggle.

In  September, preparation for the celebration of the parish fiesta was under way.  This was the occasion for fostering a sense of parish-consciousness and solidarity among the various BECs.  The novena-liturgies were sponsored and prepared by the BEC groupings in the town and the BEC zones.  The BECs from the periphery came down to celebrate the parish fiesta.  As part of preparation for the fiesta liturgy, the BEC leaders had a workshop where they composed the creed based on their own understanding and praxis of the faith.  The creed of San Fernando was first recited during the fiesta liturgy. During the liturgy, a liturgical drama was presented by the  young people who had earlier undergone a creative dramatics seminar.


After the evaluation of the fiesta activities, there was a growing awareness of the need to continue the ecology campaign.  This became urgent when  logging operations were detected  in the mountains near the boundary of San Fernando.  The people became aware that it was not  enough to stop the logging operations within the municipality since the loggers could continue  near the area but outside its boundary.  They decided to struggle for a total log ban in the whole  province of Bukidnon.  The Pagbugtaw sa Kamatuoran (PSK) and BEC leaders met the leaders the nearby parishes in the diocese to ask for their support. Our team helped mobilize the BECs in the areas where we were working. We also help plan the logistical support and set up the various committees.      On the last week of November over 500 people from San  Fernando travelled 50 kilometers to the provincial capital in Malaybalay and started to picket the office of the DENR.   We were joined by others from the neighboring parishes. We set up our tents around the office and celebrated the Eucharist every day. After five days, I noticed that that the picket was not making any impact. There was no report about it in the media and the government just ignored us. The people were becoming bored. Our  food supplies were dwindling. As I roved around on my motorbike, I noticed the DENR checkpoint at the out-skirt of Malaybalay . All the logging trucks from Bukidnon  had to pass this check-point on their way to Cagayan.  At the back of the checkpoint was a mini-forest  with a stream. So we called for a general assembly and I suggested to the people that we move out from the DENR office and transfer to the DENR checkpoint where we could set up human barricades.   The initial reaction was fear. Many thought that it was dangerous. They said it was difficult to stop the logging trucks on the national highway. They might just run over us. I told them that if we wanted to create an impact, there was no other way. We had to be prepared to take risks. When they asked how we could stop the trucks, I drew on the blackboard the step by step process. Motorbike riders would be posted two kilometers from the checkpoint and as soon as a logging truck approaches, they would speed towards the checkpoint and warn the people of its coming. The people would immediate form a human barricade. As the truck slows down, several people would draw near and one would tell the driver that he could not proceed while others would put stones before the tires so that the truck could not move anymore. Once we were able to stop one logging truck, it would be easy to stop the others. It looked easy and the people finally approved the plan.  

 The following day, we marched from the DENR office to the DENR check-point. We were carrying placards and streamers. When the DENR guards saw us approaching, they ran and abandoned the check-point. So we took over, set-up our tents at the back of the check-point and formed a human barricade. We let the buses, cars and other vehicles pass except the logging trucks. Thus, many logging trucks were stranded. On the first night, a truckload of army soldiers arrived. I approached their officer who was a second lieutenant and introduced myself. He told me not to worry. They were not there to disperse us but to provide security. He told me to make sure that we remain peaceful and not do anything that will provoke a violent response from them.

The barricade was general peaceful except for one incident when a drunk and angry driver drove his truck through the barricade. The people avoided the speeding truck but the truck almost turned turtle when his tires were punctured. Somebody placed  large s-shaped nails at the back of the human barricade.  After that there was no more attempt to drive through the barricade again. We also quietly warned the people not to place those dangerous nails on the road.

During the whole campaign, different committees functioned: negotiating panel, logistics and food committee, security, mass media and communications, and the liturgy committee. The liturgies celebrated in the barricade kept up the morale of the people and helped them view their struggle from a faith-perspective. There was great support from the people of Malaybalay. Many students from the local college came and joined us. The sisters of the nearby convent came and even slept in the barricade. Bishop Rosales continued to support us and reminded us to remain peaceful. We did not have any problem with food because the local people gave us sacks of rice and canned goods. There were radio and newspaper reporters and journalists who covered the event . One of them was Carol Arguillas – a friend of  Karl Gaspar – who was sent by the Manila Chronicle. She was with us for a week. 

  It was obvious that taking over the DENR checkpoint and setting up the barricade had created an impact. At first we received word that the government wanted to us send four representative to Manila for a dialogue with the DENR officials. When we asked the people about this, their response was: let the government negotiators come to the barricade. Secretary Fulgencion Factoran of the DENR finally sent a message that he was going to Bukidnon to hold a dialogue with the people.  The dialogue was set for December 28.  We all jumped for joy. So after 10 days of mass action,  we turned over the checkpoint to the DENR  and   lifted  the barricade. We went back to San Fernando, bringing seven sacks of rice and so many canned goods that were not consumed.  

On December 28, over a thousand people from San Fernando  met the Secretary of DENR, Fulgencio Factoran, who came by helicopter. We had prepared the negotiating panel before hand by doing some role play where I acted as Factoran. When the time came for the dialogue, it went very smoothly.  Secretary Factoran granted these demands: total log ban in the province of Bukidnon, cancellation of the timber licensing agreement of the logging companies operating in the province, deputization of all priests and some lay leaders by the DENR to stop any illegal logging activity, and the participation of the people in the reforestation program. There were tears in the eyes of the people as they listened to Factoran. They were overwhelmed with joy. After two years of struggle to defend the forest and the environment, they tasted victory.  When they went home to San Fernando, they thanked God by celebrating the Eucharist and partaking of a festive meal afterwards.

I was not able to go back to San Fernando anymore after the New Year. My sabbatical had started and I was preparing to leave for Berkeley. After the Christmas break, the members of the Redemptorist mission team went back to San Fernando. They spent the remaining three months of the mission  in consolidating the structures in the BECs, the zones and parish levels. This was also the time for the communal celebration of the sacrament of marriage for couples in the BECs that had been living together without the benefit of the sacrament.  Other sacraments like baptism and confirmation were  also prepared and celebrated at the BEC level. The celebration of the sacrament of confirmation at the BEC  level gave the bishop the opportunity to visit the BECs.


The liturgies during Lent and Holy Week  were prepared by the people themselves with minimum supervision from the mission team.  The team wanted to find out how well the people and their leaders could stand on their own.  The Holy Week activities started at the BEC level and progressed towards the zone level and finally, at the parish level.  The Holy Thursday liturgy was celebrated in each BEC.  On Good Friday, the members of the BECs began their procession from their respective barrios carrying their crosses, banners, images and statues of their patron saints.  This event was called the Pagpanaw, Pagtukaw Paingon sa Pagkabanhaw (The journey and vigil towards the Resurrection). The processions started from the different parts of the parish. Some walked as far as 30 kilometers, coming down from the mountains and crossing rivers.  BECs merged with other BECs in their zones.  The zones merged with other zones.  Everyone was moving toward the parish center.  By Saturday afternoon, all the BECs had converged in the town of San Fernando.  It was the biggest gathering in the history of the town and the parish.  Tents were set up in the town plaza for each BEC and zone.  The people stayed up the whole night, praying, singing and sharing their reflections.  At midnight, the liturgy for the vigil of the resurrection was celebrated with the Bishop Rosales as the main celebrant.  The liturgy also served as the culminating activity of the mission conducted by the  Mission Team.  On Easter Sunday, the mission of the RMT officially ended.  The team said goodbye to the people. It was time to move on to other parishes.  The BECs, the lay leaders and the parish priest and his staff went on.  The lay  missionaries of the PLMP (Philippine Lay Missionary Program) stayed on for a couple of years to do some follow up work.

 

There are many lessons that can be learned from our experience in San Fernando. But I would like to focus on the role of liturgy in the formation of BECs and in their struggle to transform their situation. The role of the liturgy can be viewed in terms of its relationship with koinonia, kerygma, and diakonia.

One of the specific objectives of the mission was to foster a sense of fellowship and solidarity within the BECs and among the BECs in the parish of San Fernando.  The active participation of the people in the preparation, celebration and evaluation of their liturgies helped  foster a bond of unity and solidarity.  This bonding process operated in different levels: the subgroupings in each BEC, the BECs, the zones and the parish level.  The dynamics of liturgy  preparation and celebration provided the opportunity for people to meet regularly, to interact with each other and to get to know each other more deeply.  The liturgies were celebrated by people who knew one another, shared the same plight, hopes and struggles.   Thus, the liturgy is a locus of encounter and communion with God and with each other.  This is especially true when the liturgy is participative and inclusive.  Thus, liturgy intimately linked with koinonia and builds up koinonia – the sense of unity and belongingness in the community.  It is the liturgy that calls the community to assemble together and celebrate as a fellowship of believers and disciples of Christ.

The liturgy is also the locus for conscientization and evangelization -- of kerygma.  It is  within the liturgy that the liberating Word is proclaimed.  Catechesis also takes place when the  liturgy helps deepen the community's understanding of its faith.  It is within the liturgy that the community does theology as it tries to correlate the Word and their life-situation.  Thus, the BEC is fully an evangelized and evangelizing community in the liturgy.  The liturgy becomes prophetic when it not only announces the Good News but also denounces what is contrary to God's will and the values of the Gospel.  The liturgy can unmask the idols of society.  Thus, the liturgy can have a subversive and conscienticizing character when it awakens the people to the reality of sin and oppression and the need for liberating praxis.   Symbolically speaking, the liturgy can help the deaf hear, the blind see, and the dumb speak.  It can break the culture of silence and apathy as people become more participative and recognize it as truly their celebration.


Liturgy can lead to praxis, flow from praxis and takes place within a liberating praxis -- diakonia.  This becomes true when the concerns and issues that affect the BECs are brought into the liturgy.  Liturgy becomes rooted in the experience, situation and struggle of the people.  Liturgy becomes the reminder and celebration of God's liberating presence in the history and struggle of the BECs.  In the context of their struggle, the liturgy can be the source of empowerment, courage and hope.  Thus, the liturgical approach to building BECs can have a liberating consequence. 

I wrote a poem that sums up our experience in San Fernando:

 

The Epic of San Fernando

 

We are poor peasants,

living in small Christian communities

in a remote valley of San Fernando, Bukidnon.

We have lived amidst violence -- the violence of poverty,

of a guerrilla war, of the destruction of our environment,

and the violence of the military.

But we have walked the way of peace -- the way of the cross,

and have experienced its liberating power.

This is our story.

 

There was a time

when the mountains were green

and the river was blue.

The heavy rains did not flood our farms.

Nor did the long hot summer parch the land.

 

That was before the logging companies came.

They were owned by the politicians and protected by soldiers.

We watched helplessly as the trucks passed by

carrying away the logs to be shipped to foreign lands.

 

We signed petitions asking the government

to stop the loggers from turning our land into a desert

and our river into a highway.


But we never got any response.

 

Then the Redemptorist Mission Team came.

Priests, brothers,  and lay missionaries.

They lived among us and worked with us

to build Christian communities.

In our nipa huts late at night,

and in our bamboo chapels on Sundays

we came together to listen to the Word

and to listen to each other's words.

We realized that to be true Christians

it was not enough to worship and to read the Bible.

We have to care for others and care for the earth.

We have to defend the forest -- which is our home,

the home of our neighbors -- the native Dumagats and Subanon,

the home of the birds, the animals and the wild plants.

 

We heard that the guerrillas --

who called themselves the people's army

wanted to help us  with their guns.

But we preferred to struggle in our own way --

the way of the cross.

We were prepared to give up our life

but we would never take the life of another.

 

The day came when we gathered

on the road where the logging trucks pass.

There were several hundred of us --

men, women, children and old people.

We barricaded the road with our bodies

and the logging trucks could no longer pass.

It was like a fiesta. We sang and danced,

we shared our food with one another

and with the loggers who were stranded.


It was a real communion.

The priests, the brothers, sisters

and lay missionaries were with us.

Even the Bishop came one night to pray with us.

They listened to us when we shared with them our stories

and our reflections on the Word of God

and on the unfolding event.

It was our turn to proclaim and give witness to the Gospel.

 

Those who did not join us taunted us.

They said that we will never succeed.

We were poor, powerless and few

and we were up against rich businessmen

and powerful politicians

who were protected by the military

and who could bribe the corrupt judges.

 

On the thirteenth day in the barricade

while celebrating the Eucharist with our parish priest

a truckload of soldiers came with truncheons and shields.

They were ordered by a  judge to disperse us.

They beat us without mercy. 

They did not spare the old people and the pregnant women.

They even beat the statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

We did not resist them. We turned the other cheek.

While they kept on beating us, we sang the "Our Father"

with tears in our eyes.

When they brought our parish priest to the camp

we also went with him.

We told the soldiers that if they will imprison him

they will also have to imprison all of us.

They finally told all of us to go home with our priest.

We went back to the side of the road that we used to barricade

and watched helplessly as the logging trucks passed by.


We prayed and cried. We were defeated.

It was our Good Friday. The sky darkened

and the heavens wept with us unceasingly.

 

It rained day and night for a couple of weeks.

And the river rose and the overflowing waters dashed against

the bridge where all the logging trucks pass.

And the bridge collapsed.

And the road leading up to the logging camp was blocked by a landslide.

The logging operations were stopped.

Nature continued the barricade for us.

When we gathered the following night to pray

on the side of the road where the logging trucks used to pass

we all praised and thanked God who never abandoned us.

 

A few weeks later we were ordered to appear in court

before the corrupt judge.

We filled the courtroom -- men, women, children, old people.

We were not afraid even if we were poor and powerless

because we believed that God's Spirit was with us.

We were charged with violating the law

and causing the logging companies huge loss of profits.

They wanted several million pesos for damages.

The  judge scolded us as if we were naughty children

and set the date for our trial.

We knew that the judge was on the side of the loggers.

Our main worry was where to get that huge amount of money

to pay the loggers if we lose the case.

 

Meanwhile, the newspapers, the TV and radio

began to report our story.

Suddenly the conscience of many all over the country was awakened.

They realized that our problem was also their problem.

Many began to show their support.


And there were even others in different parts of the country 

who followed our example.

Our voice was beginning to be heard

and finally, the President of the Philippines

ordered a stop to the logging operations in San Fernando.

 

When we heard the good news

our tears of sorrow became tears of joy.

Our suffering had not been in vain.

We thanked God by celebrating the Eucharist

and by having an instant fiesta.

It was our Easter Sunday.

 

When we went back to the courtroom

The judge reluctantly dropped all charges against us.

 

A few months later, a pastoral letter of the Bishops' Conference

was read in all the Catholic churches

and  chapels all over the archipelago.

It spoke about the ecological crisis in our country.

And it mentioned the struggle of the people of San Fernando

as a sign of hope and as an example for all.

We could not believe that we in our insignificance

and powerlessness can make a difference.

 

Our story and our struggle should have ended then.

But it did not.

One year later we discovered

that while the logging had stopped in San Fernando

it continued in the neighboring mountains.

We realized that even if it happened in other places

we would be affected because we were all connected.

 

And so we found ourselves once again in the barricade


far away from home -- in the provincial capital.

This time we were more numerous

because the people from the neighboring areas joined us.

We wanted the logging to be stopped

in the entire province of Bukidnon.

At first we pitched our tents outside the office

of the Department of Natural Resources.

They just ignored us.

And on the fifth day we transferred to the checkpoint

in the national highway where all the logging trucks

stop for inspection on their way to Cagayan.

We took over the place and set up a human barricade.

And all the logging trucks could no longer get through.

 

The soldiers came and they could not disperse us.

The truck drivers tried to drive through the barricade.

Some of us placed some spikes on the road

and when one truck tried to run us down

the tires were punctured and the truck with the logs

almost turned over.

We were filled with remorse realizing that

the driver could have been hurt or killed.

 

Once again the newspapers, radio and TV

reported our story.

Finally, the Secretary of the Department of Energy and Natural Resources

heeded our request for a dialogue.

He came all the way from the national capital

riding on a helicopter to meet with us.

After listening to us he granted most of our demands.

He told us the logging in the neighboring mountains and

towns would be stopped

He asked us to help in the greening of the brown mountains


And to help guard the forest.

We went home rejoicing and thanking God once again

for not abandoning us.

The Eucharist became a victory celebration.

 

Now the logging companies have disappeared from San Fernando

and from the neighboring mountains of Bukidnon.

The trees that we have planted are growing.

When our children grow up they will see green mountains

and they can swim and fish in the blue river without fear.

The heavy rains will not flood their farms

Nor  the long hot summers parch the land.

They will remember us for what we did for them.

And they will remember the wonderful things God has done for us.

 

When I left San Fernando, I became aware that I was also saying goodbye not only to the people but also the mission apostolate since I had been asked to do higher studies. I had been a missioner for over eight years. I have learned to love the mission and was hoping to continue in this work until I get old. But I had to respond to the need of my congregation. This poem sums up my life as a missioner.

 

A Sower's Farewell

 

The time has come to move on again.

I feel like a plant  that is being uprooted

instead of a sower who cannot stay for the harvest.

The parting would have been so much easier

if we did not come this close.

 

I was a stranger and you welcomed me

into your barrio and your hearts.

I did not have a home yet I was at home with all of you.

I became a member of every family,

I ate with you and  slept in your little huts.

I learned to call you by your names and heard your stories.

You brought me to your farms


and celebrated the ritual of sowing  and harvesting.

I went fishing with you

and talked about your hopes  while waiting for the fish.

We  went to the swamps

to catch frogs when there was not enough to eat.

You shared with me everything

including your hunger.

 

The word brought us together.

We listened to it, shared it, lived it and celebrated it,

in your nipa huts,  bamboo chapels, ricefields,

the picketlines and barricades.

The word became alive and was discovered as good news

to the poor and powerless like you,

bad news to the rich and powerful,

and to their uniformed goons.

It broke the culture of silence

and ended the paralysis.

You were able to see the evil around you

you were able to hear each other's cry,

you were able to speak out and proclaim,

you were able to move, to march, to struggle.

You did not need your coconut wine and sugarcane rum

to give you courage for you were filled  with the spirit.

 

The military hated us

and accused us of being godless communists.

They brutally dispersed the picket and the barricade.

yet it was they who became helpless

for they did not know how to fight

against a people who fought with their tears,

prayers, their songs, and their hunger.

We discovered God in our midst

whose will is life not death,


liberation not oppression, struggle not resignation.

Our lives and struggles became a sacrament

of liberation and salvation.

We discovered our common priesthood

when we drank from the same cup

when we shared the bread of life

and offered­ our bodies to be broken

for the sake of the kingdom.

Our fiestas have become celebration of the kingdom

we hope for and struggle for

when abundant food and drink will be shared by all

when only the blood of pigs and chickens will be shed

when only the  burst of fireworks will be heard

when we will sing joyfully our hymns of victory

and jump and dance in our own land.

Our processions have become our march for freedom

and reminder that we are pilgrims

on the way to the promised land.

 

Thank you.

I came to evangelize you

but all along it was you who evangelized me

by your life, your faith, your wisdom.

in your faces I see the face of Christ.

You have become a community

of friends and disciples of Jesus

whose liberating mission you continue.

 

Good bye.

I came as a stranger and you called me father.

I leave as a friend and brother.

When the time of harvest comes

remember me.