The Abundant Life Programme Webinar with the IFI

First published on: 30th April 2021

The Abundant Life Programme Webinar with the IFI

 

USPG hosted a webinar on 29th April about the Iglesia Filipina Independiente’s (IFI) Abundant Life Programme, a mission initiative focused on the issues indigenous people face in the Philippines.

 

 

A representative of the Save Our Schools network, said, “There are approximately 17 million indigenous people in the Philippines, of which the Lumad comprise nine million. The Lumad community live primarily in the Mindanao region of the Philippines. In 2015, President Rodrigo Duterte threatened Lumad schools, accusing teachers of spreading subversion and teaching communism. One example of the violence against Lumad schools is the destruction of the Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation Academy by a paramilitary group of 50 armed men. Of 215 Lumad schools, 178 have so far been destroyed or closed. This has left 5,579 students without education. Lumad teachers have also been labelled as terrorists by government officials. Even after Lumad students were evacuated to universities in Cebu City and Manila, they faced repression. 20 school students and seven teachers at an evacuation school based in the University of San Carlos, Cebu City, were arrested by the Philippines National Police (PNP)”.

The Rev’d Jennifer Corpuz, National Programme Officer of the IFI, said “The Abundant Life Programme (ALP) seeks to improve the capacity of church leaders to respond to issues indigenous people face, increase congregational engagement with indigenous groups and enhance the resilience of indigenous communities. The ALP held training sessions for clergy in which the struggle for indigenous rights was put into a biblical and theological context. 77 members of clergy attended these sessions, equipping themselves with the knowledge to lead their church responses to the persecution of indigenous people. 15 church leaders from West Mindanao attended training sessions on the legal rights of indigenous people, giving them greater knowledge of how to file incident reports and factsheets in case they are present when Lumad activists are arrested or attacked”.

Patrick Santos, Programme Officer for the Abundant Life Programme, said, “In November 2020, the National Youth Council of the IFI held a benefit concert to support Lumad evacuation schools, raising 30,000 pesos to be spent on medicine and food supplies. The IFI also ran a well-attended webinar for young people to learn about the persecution of indigenous people, and has created three transformational pastoral communities in the Mindanao region. These communities consist of bible study and social action groups that meet to further their own understanding of the struggle for indigenous rights. One of the groups is in the process of creating an indigenous people’s centre in their area”.

Patrick added, “Every third Friday of the month, the IFI uses Facebook to broadcast videos on a variety of issues facing indigenous people. For example, our most recent episode focused on the anti-terror law and its consequences for indigenous communities. The IFI also maintains The Indigenous People’s Online Desk – a Facebook page for updates on human rights violations against indigenous people and the celebration of indigenous holidays. We hope that these activities raise awareness of the issues facing the Lumad community and foster a generation of indigenous people’s rights advocates”.

Christie Mae Quimno, Programme Officer at the IFI, said that “The Abundant Life Programme has provided legal rights workshops, teaching 31 members of the Lumad community how to file incident reports. This training allowed Lumads to provide accurate information to advocacy groups when two members of the Subanon community in Mindanao were arrested. We have also created an urban gardening initiative for students at one of the Lumad evacuation schools in Manila, focusing on the wellbeing of these students. The ALP has provided Covid-19 kits for evacuation schools in addition to the financial assistance the IFI gives to these schools. We have been able to provide 60 families with supplies of rice and broader food aid support for Lumad students who have had to evacuate their villages. Our churches also provide sanctuary for indigenous people who are under threat from paramilitary groups and organise transportation for court appointments, for those who have been accused of terrorist activity”. Christie Mae shared a video of reflections from clergy and youth members of the IFI. The Rt Rev’d Romeo Tagu, Bishop of the Diocese of Siargao and President of the Mindanao Bishops’ Conference, said “Giving food to the Lumad population is not enough, we must also amplify their voices. The Abundant Life Programme has deepened our understanding of the biblical call to help indigenous people, providing us with the resources to preach truly inclusive theology”. Maria Serdena, a youth leader in the IFI, said “The ALP has shown young people within the IFI what we need to do to achieve justice, peace and equality. The ALP has helped me to grow in faith, in service and in my understanding of others.”

The Rev’d Shailesh Dennis Lall, General Secretary of the Church of South India, asked the webinar panel, “In the face of organised opposition, how do you plan to seek justice?”. The representative from the Save our Schools Network replied, “We do not have a plan, we simply have to be courageous and hopeful. With the help of international organisations, we can raise awareness of and support for indigenous rights”. The Rt Rev’d Shourabh Pholia, Bishop of the Diocese of Barisal in the Church of Bangladesh, asked about interfaith dialogue in indigenous communities. Christie May Quimno responded “Christians, Muslims and indigenous people work together through organisations like Youth Dynamic For Peace. Even though we have different beliefs, when it comes to peace and justice, we are one”.

The webinar ended with a prayer from the Rt Rev’d Antonio Ablon, Bishop of the Diocese of Pagadian in the Iglesia Filipina Independiente.

Speakers included: The Rev’d Jennifer Corpuz, National Programme Officer of the IFI, Patrick Santos, Programme Officer of the Abundant Life Programme, Christie Mae Quimno, Programme Officer for the IFI, and a representative from the Save Our Schools Network.