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On Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines

Federico Labaglay ,OMI
General Councilor for Asia-Oceania

“Endangered species” can be a tragic yet perhaps an apt description of so many “Indigenous Peoples” in the world today. Being endangered and struggling for survival mark their predicament. Such is the case, for example, of the many cultural communities in the Philippines, particularly in Mindanao (where many of the Oblates who belong to the Philippine province are currently working). Ironically, these indigenous peoples are defenseless and are gravely facing extinction in their very own home environment. Among the many critical issues that they currently face are the following: being dispossessed of their ancestral domain thus being also consigned to abject poverty, being victimized and dehumanized by dominant groups (being plagued by new forms of colonization or neocolonialism), being estranged from the wellspring of their own culture (cultural disintegration) due to progress and development which do not only wreak havoc to their environment but do not also respect their indigenous way of life, and so forth.

Indeed, the Indigenous Peoples or IPs can be considered as among the poorest of the poor. This is one of the reasons why the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, inspired and impelled by the charism of St. Eugene de Mazenod, have deliberately chosen to journey and do ministry with them. Ministry to the Indigenous People or Lumad (this is the generic name given to all the IPs in Mindanao) is now one of the key apostolic involvements of the OMIs in the Philippines. In varying times and circumstances, Oblates in the Philippines have journeyed with the different indigenous tribes in Mindanao-with the Dulangan Manobos in Sultan Kudarat, the Tedurays of Maguindanao, the Arumanen Manobos of Cotabato province, the Badjaos and Mapuns of Sulu and Tawi-tawi, just to cite a few examples. In reaching out, many Oblates have experienced the pains of these dispossessed ones. In an effort to accompany them in their journey, many Oblates have experienced putting their lives and limbs on the line. And in the struggle to be solidarity with these poorest of the poor, many Oblates have also vicariously tasted the deadly pangs of marginalization.

Current mission studies have coined certain terminologies in order for missionaries to effectively minister to these peoples. Words like liminality, convivence (missionary presence as being with or living with the poor rather than doing for them), mission-in-reverse (learning from the poor rather than teaching or doing something for them), among others are now becoming a part of the missionary parlance. There are other hosts of mission concepts which are worth exploring about. This is not to make the missionary over and above others in a ministerial milieu. This is meant rather to make the minister discover a more sound praxis in ministry with the disenfranchised peoples so that one’s missionary presence and journey with them would indeed be liberative and life-giving rather than domineering and death-dealing (it can be recalled, for example, that there were instances in the past in which missionaries had but become unwitting instruments of colonial designs and domination).

There is a call and challenge then nowadays for a boundary-breaking ministry to the IPs at the margins (for indeed many IPs are now precariously situated at the margins). Paradoxically, in spite of their poverty, there are so many valuable gifts that the IPs can offer-especially to those who would dare to reach out to them. As Francis ZABALA wrote in his doctoral dissertation:

It could even happen that, if heeded well, it is the most marginalized themselves who would liberate the world from its dominating tendencies. But what is most important perhaps is that it is God who is taking the initiative in calling the missionary to come to the margins. Thus, an encounter with the most marginalized may well facilitate also an encounter with God. And the journey with the most abandoned in their struggle to move away from the precipice could well be a journey also with God. For God is with the people. God walks and journeys with the people in the margins. The missionary then is called to journey to the margins to join God and the people as they struggle to journey away from falling into the void.

Thanks to Oblate Communications, the official website of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate for sharing this story.

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