In a recent visit to a sanctuary of the Indigenous Peoples (IPs) in the city, who have been driven out of their ancestral lands in Talaingod, we, the Missionaries of the Assumption were again confronted with their appalling situation. We have been aware and are trying to do our best to respond to their difficulties and needs, especially the women and children who continue to suffer the grim conditions they are forced to live with at the evacuation centre. However, we are also fully conscious that they needed more than food and clothing in their sanctuary.
More than anything else, the IPs or Lumads have aspired to go back to their homes for several years now, and be left alone peacefully in their lands and abode as these are essential to their very survival. At present the school that they have put up so that their children will be educated, are being destroyed, and their teachers coerced and intimidated so that they will abandon their obligation to teach the Lumad children.
Moreover, many among the organized Lumad communities who are fighting against the encroachment of big mining and logging firms are made to “surrender”, even if they do not belong to rebel groups, while military forces invade their communities, schools and even the privacy of their homes. Many of these communities are now living in fear of reprisals from the military authorities.
Time and again, the Lumads are pushed back by corporate greed, using State Forces to displace, coerce and even kill them in the guise of the State’s “peace and development” efforts.
We cannot simply close our eyes and ears to their cries any longer. We have to do something not only to give them shelter but more importantly to work for justice for them, if not all other efforts we may extend for them would just be useless.
As part of the Foundational Assumptions of the Society of Apostolic Life which we, the Missionaries of the Assumption have embraced, we believe that “action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel.”
We are called to respond to the situations of misery and injustice, wherever we work and whatever our specific tasks may be. The poor are always at the centre of our concerns. We believe that the poor, especially among the indigenous peoples, are not only those who do not have the means to satisfy their material needs, but also those who, on the level of human dignity, are excluded from full social and political participation and unable to exercise their right to self-determination, to decide for themselves.
Hence, to be in solidarity with the poor, we need to understand the mechanisms and unjust structures that continue to demean and oppress them in our midst, and learn how we, as Missionaries, can help them overcome their situations by peaceful means.
Our commitment to Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation compels us to continue working towards a non-violent path to achieve our people’s aspirations. We believe it is essential to the living out of the gospel and the Church’s mission of liberating the human race from every oppressive situation.
We are convinced that for a Christian to remain silent and unmoved in the face of injustices, violence, and destruction is a denial of the Gospel. Our role as followers of Jesus is to bring the good news to the poor and work for justice so that all may have life in abundance.
It is with a deep sense of anguish that we continue to pray for God to light our way and give us the courage to promote the protection of our environment and the Indigenous communities who are being deprived of their fundamental rights to their ancestral lands.
We are also calling on the Christian world to heed the call for help from our Indigenous Peoples, they who are the real stewards of our endangered environment. Because when all the trees are felled and our forests desecrated by the whims and greed of those in power, and when the Indigenous Peoples are all driven away from the last frontiers of our environment, we can expect for the worst to come.
We have seen catastrophic events caused by the degradation of our environment in many parts of our land. We should not wait until another disaster washes away whatever is left of our lands.
We must ACT now and stop these pillage that we and all of God’s creation are suffering from.
We must ACT now in behalf of justice for our Indigenous sisters and brothers, who are deprived of their freedom.