HOMILY: 25 years of Tribal Filipino Program: a cause worth defending and promoting

These were twenty five years of struggling so that the values of God – human dignity, truth, justice, and peace – would be blessings for the most neglected, most exploited, and most marginalized sector of our society – the lumad. 

If therefore we are celebrating twenty five years of the TF Program today, we are really celebrating the love of God who made all this possible.

We look back twenty-five years ago to that historic day of February, 1984 in the parish of New Cebu. On that day a number of Lumad leaders gathered with leaders of the Diocese of Kidapawan. There they committed themselves to work together for the sake of the Lumad. It was a small group, a small beginning. But their commitment was more than what each one could do. They committed themselves to defend the ancestral domain of the Lumad, to defend their right to self-development, to defend and promote their cultures, to defend themselves from being exploited.

This is a cause worth defending and promoting. For the Diocese of Kidapawan, it was a duty, a basic part of the mission of the Church to participate in action for justice, in the task of social transformation, particularly for the sake of the poor and neglected.

At that time work with Lumads was an individual effort – Fr. Weixelman, O.M.I., Tico, Magpet; Fr. Peter Geremia, PIME, in Tulunan and Colombio; Fr. Fausto and Bruno in the Arakan Valley; They were aided by lay and religious collaborators. I had visited all the places of the Lumad that were served by the priests – the Arakan Valley, Tico in Magpet, Lam-alis in Colombio, and Bakung in Tulunan. I was convinced that to serve the Lumad and be partners with them is a call of the Gospel of the Lord.

With the setting up of the TF Program in February, 1984, the work became more systematic, the approach became a partnership between the Diocese and the Lumad. Fr. Peter Geremia and Nonoy Reovoca-Obal led the TF Program from the very beginning.

The long, deadly drought, El Niño, in 1981-82 would cause great suffering to the Lumad and some of them died because of lack of food or because they ate some poisonous root crops because they had nothing else to eat. The TF Program tried its best to provide some food. 

The expansion and consolidation of the TF Program took place when Bishop de Dios Pueblos and Bishop Romulo Valles were the leaders of the Diocese. And now Bishop Romulo de la Cruz continues the work. But we always had the dedicated service of Fr. Peter Geremia and Nonoy Reovoca – Obal. To them and to their lay and religious collaborators in various parishes and missions, we owe deep gratitude.

Today that small group of lumad leaders in New Cebu 25 years ago has grown through networking – partnership with TFP — Lumad traditional belief, Methodists, Alliance, Baptists, Evangelical churches, Iglesia ni Kristo, balik Islam and of course Catholics. More than 9,000 members in a large and significant group – ASLPC.

TFP and ASLPC now look at the challenges of the
present and the future. Some remain the same and others have to be emphasized as the thrust of the future. Among these concerns and challenges are: 

  • continuing community organizing – Gagmayng Lumadnong Katilingban – GLK’s
  • continuing struggle against development aggression – mines, logging, pressure of population from the lowlands and claiming more upland;
  • the need for identifying and defending Ancestral Domain;
  • the imperative of education and the preservation and fostering of cultural values;
  • lumad cultural and economic development;
  • the need of livelihood / income generating projects;
  • imperatives of health;
  • the training of more leaders;
  • the challenge of ensuring Lumad concerns in the Peace Process;
  • closer and more effective solidarity among IP communities and organizations;
  • common planning for the future.

God has made the past twenty five years of struggling with the Lumad possible. He is the Giver of all blessings. He is our common Creator, the creator of the Universe and everything that is in it. From him every man and woman, no matter what religion, culture, race, or tribe has equal dignity. All creation is meant for everyone, without exception. No one should be exploited, no one should be discriminated, no one should be marginalized. Everyone must have equal access to the goods that the Creator has given. 

On the basis of this fundamental principle, we look forward to the next twenty five years and together, lumad and non-lumad, march forward and work with God’s blessings towards justice, peace, truth, LOVE and LIFE.

My brothers and sisters, congratulations to all of you! Mabuhay ang mga Lumad! (Archbishop Orlando B. Quevedo of the Archdiocese of Cotabato, belongs to the Oblates of Mary Immaculate).