A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: The 2020-2021 Indigenous People’s Agenda

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 21 July) — If the members of the Episcopal Commission on Indigenous Peoples (ECIP)  will have their way, the next two years will highlight the current situation of our IP sisters and brothers throughout the country towards challenging all Filipinos to seek ways to reverse their tragic and sad narrative.  The ECIP members and staff are currently holding consultations, meetings and conferences towards pushing the IP peoples’ agenda to center stage of the Philippine’s public sphere.

Why 2020?  As 2019 is the Year of the Youth, declared by the Catholic Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) to draw the faithful’s attention to the plight of the Filipino youth, 2020 will be the Year of Inter-religious Dialogue (IRD) and Ecumenism. The bishops hope that through this theme, Base Ecclesial communities, parishes and dioceses will enhance further what they have initiated in setting up dialogue with those of other religions and our Protestant brethren.

When IRD surfaces especially in Mindanao, there is the tendency to equate this with being in dialogue with our Muslim sisters and brothers.  But there are other faith traditions among Filipinos and Mindanawons including Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism and others.  Usually, we do not consider the indigenous belief system (IBS) of the Lumads as a faith tradition in itself, given the mistaken notion that when we speak about the Lumads’ traditional faith practices, we tend to pejoratively think of them as “superstitious, as arising out of a pagan perspective.”

A shift in a better anthropological grounding of our theologies as manifested in the field of missiology has debunked this mistaken notion. As a matter of fact, the IPs’ IBS is the mother of all religions that exist on this planet. Long before the organized religions – e.g. Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism etc. – arose in humanity’s history, our great ancestors living across the planet shared a belief in an Almighty Creator of the whole universe. Complex rituals developed through which especially authorized elders – the shamans, locally known as beliyan or baylan or balyan – mediated between their communities with the Spirit World. This belief system made it possible for them to survive the harsh realities of their habitat through tens of thousands of years which indicate that this faith tradition had great meaning for our ancestors

Thus when the IRD comes to town in 2020, the ECIP would like the faithful to engage in inter-faith dialogue with both Muslims and Lumads here in Mindanao.  An event being organized for Easter Week of 2020 is the coming together of Bishops and the Lumads’ baylans. Patterned after the long-standing Bishops-Ulama dialogue forum, this encounter of bishops and baylans will take place in Butuan City, the earliest part of Mindanao reached by European missionaries in the 1500s.  We have to remember that the first converts to Christianity were our Lumad ancestors and the beginnings took place in the Caraga Region.

The ECIP hopes that in the run to the Easter Week of 2020 event in Butuan City, there will be initiatives at the local Diocese during the IP Sunday in October 2019 to bring the bishops, priests and religious with their local baylans to begin this process of IRD with them. Modules are also being prepared so that the BECs and parishes will have study guides to assist the BECs, parish groups and students in our Catholic schools so they can pursue this IRD theme next year.

A series of consultations took place in various parts of the country facilitated by the ECIP staff to help the diocesan coordinators and their Lumad partners prepare for the 2020 events. This took place in Baguio for North and Central Mindanao groups last June 17-19, in Iloilo for the Visayas on June 24-26, then in Malaybalay for North-west Mindanao on July 15-17, and Davao for South-east Mindanao on July 18-19. These consultations were conducted in view of having adequate preparations not only for 2020 but also for 2021.

Why 2021? The Filipino people – specifically those belonging to the Christian churches – will be celebrating a Great Jubilee Year as we will be celebrating the 500th anniversary of the arrival of the first missionaries, along with Ferdinand Magellan and his companions, to our islands. This historic event led to Spain’s entry into the islands towards claiming las Islas Filipinas as being a colony under the King of Spain. This Empire agenda to colonize the islands also brought the Spanish friars whose goal was to baptize those they encountered. They did not succeed with our ancestors who already embraced Islam, so they concentrated their proselytizing efforts with the indigenous peoples.

In 2021, there is need to reflect on the meaning of this encounter and to take stock of the legacy of Christianity among our people. While there is reason to celebrate with joy and gratitude for this historic turn of events, we cannot deny that the process of colonization-evangelization also eroded our ancestors’ lifeways, cultural traditions and indigenous beliefs and practices. Today we know very well the impact of what took place under the colonizal gaze. The ECIP hopes that when 2021 will come to pass, we can all discern the historical meanings of the long years of colonization and the conversion of most Filipinos to Catholicism.

In a future column, I will add more to how best we can celebrate 2021 in a manner that we can find healing and reconciliation with the descendants of our ancestors who were under the yoke of the colonial Empire, namely the Lumads of today. And following the spirit of the Old Testament notion of a Jubilee celebration, that we can seek forgiveness of all the trespasses committed and make amends especially on behalf of the Lumads of today who are faced with such heavy burdens!

[Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar is a professor at St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI) in Davao City and a professor of Anthropology at the Ateneo de Davao University. Gaspar is author of several books, including “Desperately Seeking God’s Saving Action: Yolanda Survivors’ Hope Beyond Heartbreaking Lamentations,” two books on Davao history, and “Ordinary Lives, Lived Extraordinarily – Mindanawon Profiles” launched in February 2019. He writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English (A Sojourner’s Views) and the other in Binisaya (Panaw-Lantaw).]