October 31, 2016, Manila, the Philippines – “We are one with you in fighting for your ancestral land and your right to self-determination ... and we believe what is yours is yours and you deserve to live a normal and peaceful life. Courage! God is listening and watching up there...”
These words, posted on the Facebook page of Adrian Dominican Sister Jolyn “Jules” Dungo, OP, of the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Our Lady of Remedies Mission Chapter, capture some of the feelings of Sister Jules and other Sisters who have been accompanying some 3,000 indigenous peoples from the Philippines since October 13.
Four Adrian Dominican Sisters from the Philippines have been taking part in Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya. The event, from October 13-28, was a protest by the indigenous and minority peoples of the Philippines to draw attention to the exploitation of their lands and the marginalization they face as native and minority peoples. During this time, the protestors took up camp at the University of the Philippines in Manila while they participated in a number of planned activities.
Adrian Dominican Sisters standing in support of this national protest were Sister Jules; Sister Antonette Lumbang, OP; Sister Salvacion Valenzuela, OP; and Sister Meliza Arquillano, a novice. Members of the native Aeta people, whom Sister Jules ministers with, also participated in the event.
The Sisters handed out donations of food, clothing, and school supplies and listened to the stories of the indigenous and minority peoples about their experiences.
“With us in the conversations with other indigenous groups are some Aetas from [the region of] Pampanga, who are gaining a lot of inspiration in joining the Lakbayan 2016,” Sister Antonette wrote in an email. “They are inspired to continue with the struggle for their own future and those generations yet to come.”
As Lakbayan 2016 came to an end, Sister Zenaida Nacpil, OP, Chapter Prioress of Our Lady of Remedies Mission Chapter, reported on the opposition that many of the protestors faced.
“The marchers were subjected to different harassments,” she said. “Two leaders in their native places were killed, though not with the marchers. In one place, [the protestors] were dispersed by water hoses from fire trucks.” In another incident, she reported, a police officer drove back and forth among the protestors, almost hitting some of them, she said. “May our God of Peace end this violence against peaceful rallies of people most vulnerable to harassment and whose ancestral lands are plundered and destroyed.”
The indigenous and minority peoples make up about 15 to 20 percent of the population of the Philippines. They have struggled against the invading regimes of Spain and the United States – which still has a military presence in the Philippines – but still suffer from marginalization and oppression. Many hope that President Rodrigo Duterte, who has recently taken office, will fulfill his commitments to right the injustices that they have endured for years.
Lakbayan 2016 included a variety of special activities, including cultural celebrations and lobbying and dialogues at the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, the Department of Justice, the U.S. Embassy, mining companies, and the Philippine Stock Exchange.
Some of the events brought signs of hope. During an October 26 address to the Lakbayan 2016 participants, consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) said the organization backed the right of the indigenous peoples to self-determination in their negotiations with the national government.
The indigenous and minority peoples tried the U.S. in a tribal court, held at the Bonifacio Shrine in Manila. After hearing of incidents of genocidal attacks by U.S. forces, three professional judges found the U.S. government guilty of atrocities.
Lakbayan 2016 is one of many recent examples of indigenous peoples striving to reclaim their rights. Similar efforts have taken place during the School of the Americas (SOA) Watch’s Convergence at the Border and at Standing Rock, North Dakota, where members of the Sioux Tribe are attempting to block the construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline.
Feature photo: Members of Our Lady of Remedies Chapter posing with the indigenous peoples at Lakbayan 16 are, from left, Sisters Antonette Lumbang, OP, Jolyn Dungo, OP, Salvacion Valenzuela, OP, and novice Sister Meliza Arquillano.
May 9, 2016, San Fernando, Pampanga, the Philippines – Sister Lorraine Réaume, OP, Director of Formation for the Adrian Dominican Congregation, shared some key moments in late March and early April with Adrian Dominican Sisters in the Philippines, members of the Congregation’s Our Lady of Remedies Mission Chapter.
The Remedies Chapter recently celebrated the 50-year Jubilee of its founding. The Adrian Dominican Congregation helped with the formation of the Dominican Sisters of Our Lady of Remedies, and, in November 2011, the Remedies Congregation merged with the Adrian Dominican Congregation.
Sister Lorraine had the opportunity to accompany the Remedies Chapter during some key moments: a Holy Week retreat at the Provincial House in San Fernando; the Easter Triduum, a three-day Liturgy that spans the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the Good Friday service, and the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday. In addition, Sister Lorraine was present for the final profession of vows of Sisters Salvacion Valenzuela, OP, and Alma Zapanta, OP. She also had the opportunity to take part in another key moment in the Philippines: the closing of the school year and graduations.
“The highlight of the Philippines trip for me was getting to know our Sisters,” Sister Lorraine said, noting that they had all gathered together for the Holy Week retreat. “I was very struck by our Sisters’ commitment to the poor and their immersion with the poor, and their awareness and involvement in issues affecting the people.”
Sister Lorraine noted the poverty that she saw in the Philippines, and the way that people live in corrugated tin houses and in polluted areas. But, after praying to see the situation through Jesus’ eyes, she said, she also saw the hope, joy, and energy of the people. “In the midst of some real poverty and chaos, I noticed all the lovely human interactions. …I thought, ‘What a drive for life!” In spite of the hardship that they faced daily, she said, the people “worked so hard in such heat and difficult conditions to survive, and I was really quite impressed by their enterprising nature and their energy.”
In spite of their work with people in poverty – and their efforts to bring relief to those suffering from natural disasters, such as the recent typhoon that struck in 2014 – Sister Lorraine saw joy in the Remedies Sisters as well. “I was struck by how much they enjoy life,” she said. “They laugh easily and have fun easily – and there’s a real gift in that.”
The Remedies Sisters share that joy with the people around them. Sister Lorraine noted the large crowds of people from the greater community who came to celebrate the final profession of Sisters Salvacion and Alma. “It was a huge celebration, with many guests, many friends, seminarians, family – just lots of people there, joyously celebrating. It felt like a real community celebration in the broad sense of community.”
Some of the cultural experiences also impressed Sister Lorraine. For example, after the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the people maintain the tradition of visiting seven churches. Sister Lorraine was impressed by the number of people who participated in this custom – and by the traffic, which limited to five the number of churches they could visit in five hours. “At every church we went to, there were hundreds and hundreds of people. It was the strength of their faith – how much that devotion meant to the people.”
Sister Lorraine was also impressed by the family values that shone through the four graduation ceremonies she attended – each different. “The parents actually go on stage with the graduate,” she said, and each graduating class sings a particular song that captures their class spirit.
Finally, Sister Lorraine came away from the experience with a greater appreciation for the Asian culture of the Philippines. She had believed that the Filipinos had adopted some of the Hispanic heritage. While the Spanish conquerors gave them Spanish last names, she said, they never took on that culture. “They took on the Catholic faith, because that fit, but they never took on the culture,” she said, adding that the Filipino culture is truly Asian.