The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) has provided almost P195,000 to local government units (LGUs) affected by landslide in Occidental Mindoro last August 4.
DSWD Secretary Corazon Soliman said the agency released P194,817 relief assistance to the affected municipalities of Calintaan, Looc, Magsaysay, Mamburao, Sablayan and San Jose in Occidental Mindoro.
As of August 7, the number of affected families was 5,262 or 26,310 individuals from 40 barangays in these six towns.
In Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro, the DSWD provided some 633 food packs worth P165,735, while in Mamburao, some 10 boxes of sardines and 15 boxes of corned beef worth P29,081 were provided.
Soliman said three evacuation centers were opened providing temporary shelter to some 675 families with 3,375 persons from the municipalities of Sablayan and Looc.
“The DSWD is also continuously providing relief aid to some 2,386 family-victims with 11,930 persons outside the evacuation centers,” she added.
Meanwhile, seven houses in Looc, Occidental Mindoro were partially damaged.
In the Philippines, when the rest of the population goes to sleep, a reclusive community of indigenous people prepares for another restless night of fear and uncertainty.
Far away in the dense, dark forests of Occidental Mindoro, where Mangyan people are scattered in small remote settlements, tribal leaders now routinely contemplate their future in feverish debates that usually last until daybreak.
"We are petrified that big mining companies will take over our ancestral land. If the government gives them license to operate, our land and heritage will be lost forever," says Juanito Lumawig. The 62-year-old supreme leader of all seven tribes of Mangyan is a worried man. For him, it is a battle for survival for his people, who for centuries have inhabited the rough and hard-to-reach highlands of this Philippine island.
Over 40,000 hectares of land, including vast swathes of forest is claimed by Mangyan as their ancestral domain. The land is believed to be rich in gold, natural gas and minerals worth many millions of dollars. The stakes are high and Mangyan are against all odds. In numbers, they are an ethnic and linguistic minority group of fewer than 25,000. Not only are the Mangyan physically and socially isolated from the rest of the Filipino population, they are also among the poorest and most marginalised.
A Mangyan family earns on average just $0.34 a day. Nine out of ten Mangyan have poor access to safe drinking water and the majority are illiterate. Historically nomadic and forest gatherers, the tribes often struggle to feed themselves, particularly during the rainy season which lasts four months. It is such a routine part of their life that they refer to it as "hungry period" like any other season of the year. The consequences are obvious as 60 per cent of Mangyan children are malnourished and infant mortality rates are so high that a child is considered fortunate to reach the age of ten.
Nowhere to go
Generations of isolation, discrimination and historical encroachment of their land by others have left Mangyan untrusting and fearful of the outside world. "First the lowlanders invaded our land and forced us to move to highlands and now we might be driven out again. Only this time we have nowhere to go," says Yagay Sebastian, leader of Buhid - one of the seven Mangyan tribes.
According to the government regulations, all indigenous peoples like Mangyan tribes must prove their ownership of the land they claim as rightfully theirs through title deeds and legally valid documentation. Given that majority of Mangyan are illiterate with limited contact with the outside world, their ability to support their claim is fraught with great challenges rendering them even more vulnerable.
"The threat of commercial exploitation of Mangyan's ancestral domain is real. Mining activities can pose threat to local environment and this may also result in displacement of the indigenous people," says Reynante Luna, Provincial Officer of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples.
The Commission, set up by the national government, is mandated to promote and protect the best interests of the indigenous people. It was created after the Philippines government passed the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act to recognise indigenous peoples' communal and individual rights to their ancestral land along with their rights to self-governance, empowerment, social justice and human rights. However, nearly 15 years after enacting the law, very little has changed for Mangyans. "They remain among the poorest of the poor, still at the fringes of national priorities," says Diana San Jose, an anthropologist who is supporting Mangyan tribes as they compile evidence for their legal claim.
In the absence of a legal title, it will be a greater struggle for Mangyan tribes to challenge commercial use of their land. Luna confirms there are three pending applications related to commercial mining in the Provincial Office record alone. However, he assures that these applications will undergo field based investigation to determine if they overlap with any ancestral domain. "It will also be referred to the concerned local government for any existing moratorium on mining," he says.
This is no reprieve for Mangyan people. Even with all caveats, overlapping jurisdictions of local municipalities and national government have created gaping legal loopholes that make the situation worse for Mangyan. Ask Ed Gadiano, mayor of Sablayan - the largest municipality by area in the whole of Philippines. "Four years ago, Sablayan declared a moratorium on large scale mining for 25 years. Despite this, the national government granted exploration permit to a mining company on 9700 hectares of land," he says. With Gadiano's administration refusing to accept the occupation fee, the mining company has deposited 2 million pesos in a local court.
Already battling with severe poverty and exclusion, excessively private Mangyans are finding themselves in a morass of overwhelming bureaucracy. Most cannot comprehend that the land they have tilled and worshipped for centuries now requires a proof of ownership. They are relying on support from local and international community development organisations like Plan International to save the environment that they have strong spiritual and cultural connections with. "Some Mangyan tribes have already been awarded title of their ancestral land. We are assisting those who are still in the process," says Naty Silorio, a senior Plan official overseeing development projects with the Mangyan in the region.
Since 2005, Plan has been actively engaged in child-centred community development for Mangyan. "We are working with the local government in enabling the community to secure their rights and preserve their culture," says Silorio. For title claim, the organisation with support from the European Union is assisting Mangyan to survey their land, create 3D maps of their domain and document their oral history which is replete with references to geographical landmarks.
Securing the title is just the beginning for Mangyan as they head for even more testing times ahead. Leader Lumawig laments: "Our people have been offered bribes and some have ended up signing consent forms seeking commercial use of our land. We feel helpless and totally powerless."
Frustration is growing among Mangyan, but, just like the forests they inhabit, their dissent is remarkably peaceful. Shaken, they are resting their hopes on their ancestors to guide them through. "Non-violence is part of our beliefs. Our ancestors told us that God created the forests for Mangyan. I am sure they will protect us," hopes Lumawig. He believes he stands a chance with his prayers.
The National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) is planning to connect the island of Mindoro to the main Luzon grid.
NGCP is the private operator of the country’s power transmission network.
In a petition before the Energy Regulatory Commission, NGCP said it plans to undertake the project, which will cost about P11 billion, to help improve power supply in the island.
“With the improvement of adequate and reliable power supply in the island as a result of the interconnection project, Mindoro will become more conducive for expanding businesses,” it said.
Under NGCP’s interconnection proposal, the island of Mindoro will be interconnected to the Luzon grid via submarine cables that will run through the 230-kilovolt (kV) substation in Batangas.
Two electricity distribution utilities—Oriental Mindoro Electric Cooperative and Occidental Mindoro Electric Cooperative — have long clamored for the project to help secure their power supply.
At present, only land-locked areas in Luzon and in Mindanao are connected to the grid while submarine cables link the islands of Cebu, Negros and Panay in the Visayas.
Mindoro gets its power supply from the National Power Corp.’s off-grid unit, the Small Power Utilities Group (SPUG), which operates a 24-megawatt (MW) and 10-MW diesel plant; a 7.5-MW bunker fuel generating unit; and a 1.6-MW mini-hydropower facility in the island.
NGCP said as soon as regulators approve the interconnection project, “Mindoro will have access to cheap power from generators in Luzon.”
Diesel plants, which provide bulk of the island’s power supply, are relatively more expensive than conventional generating facilities like those running on coal and natural gas.
The private grid operator said that proposed coal and hydro plants with a projected capacity of 203 MW in Mindoro up to 2016 would be able to export excess supply to Luzon as well as encourage new power projects.
“The interconnection project will also help encourage the development of possible coal-fired power plants within Mindoro which could utilize the existing rich coal resources in the island,” it added.
Phenomenal healing priest Fernando Suarez was amazed. It usually took six years for a new congregation to be set up, but in his case the vital elements of the process took only six days.
“I am in awe!” exclaimed Father Suarez, 44, his voice bringing out his childlike qualities—and his being Filipino.
Suarez has formed a new community named the Missionaries of Mary Mother of the Poor (MMP) under the Diocese of Occidental Mindoro after resigning from the Ottawa-based Companions of the Cross, which ordained him in 2002.
“I never thought that the process of my excardination and incardination would take place only within six days,” he said, noting the speed to be unprecedented. Excardination refers to a priest’s separation and release from a religious group, while incardination refers to his acceptance into another.
Big crowds, donations
Questions have been heard from various quarters on the status of the Batangas-born priest, who now attracts 100,000 to 150,000 people monthly to his healing Masses, apart from drawing substantial donations in cash and in kind from elite families, big corporations and sociocivic groups, not to mention big foreign donors for the projects of the Foundation of Mary Mother of the Poor.
Was he expelled by his Canada group? Had things gone into his head and he could no longer be controlled by his superiors? From Canada, he based himself in Batangas while his group was in Cavite, so why was there word that he would move to Mindoro?
Breaking his silence on these issues, Suarez said: “Overwhelmed by the grace of peace after a pilgrimage to the tomb of Mother Teresa in Calcutta last February, I resigned from the Companions of the Cross on March 25, 2011. Then, on March 31, 2011, I was accepted by the Apostolic Vicariate of San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, under Bishop Antonio Palang.”
On July 16, 2011, Palang decreed the establishment of the MMP as a “Public Association of Christ’s faithful.”
The decree stated: “Aimed at living the demands of evangelical counsels, healing, renewal and ministry to the poor with the intent of becoming a society of apostolic life, the MMP is hereby formally accepted for the service of our pastoral jurisprudence.”
The poor of Elin
To grow the mission, Suarez has been assigned to Elin (pronounced Eling) on the tip of Mindoro, an island three times the size of Boracay and which remains without roads and electricity.
“The place is so poor,” he said. “But that is an answered prayer as I have requested Bishop Palang to locate the mission with the poor.”
“Some have criticized me, saying that I do whatever I want, I go wherever I want to go all over the world. Perhaps if they come with me to Elin, they may say things differently,” the priest said.
“Things are happening fast. MMP now has 10 seminarians. Three will be ordained priests this August,” he added.
The MMP now has five core members, including three incoming priests and cofounder Father Jeff Shannon, also formerly of Companions. Bishop Palang was regarded as canonical founder, Suarez stressed.
Suarez remembered that on the day he was ordained, a priest came to him and foretold that he was going to receive such tremendous gifts from God that his group would not be able to contain him.
“In Canada, the Companions, to which I am so attached, tried their best to accommodate me and the demands on my healing ministry. But my calling has become so evident,” he recalled.
The young Fernando Suarez was a chemical engineering degree holder from Adamson University who worked for two years with the company CocoChem. He was engaged to be married at 25, but the engagement was called off the same day it was made when his girlfriend of 12 years said, “I think you are meant to be a priest.”
He entered the seminary run by the Society of the Divine Word (SVD).
Suarez recounted that in 1995 the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph appeared to him in a dream where he was told he would go to a “cold and windy place” and would tell the world of God’s love. Three days later, a man came to him and presented him documents for travel to Winnipeg, Canada.
“There really is no barrier to all that God has planned,” the priest said, making a reference to a key message he delivered in his sermon on Saturday, Feast of the Transfiguration.
Obviously in his element at the new site of the Oratory of Our Lady of Montemaria, an MMP Foundation project situated on a breezy hillside expanse in San Alfonso, Cavite, Suarez repeatedly exhorted those present to emerge from the Mass “fully in awe of the power of God.”
“Our Lord heals you all now. He wants you to be in awe, in great amazement of His powers, because He wants you to surrender to Him all your aches, pains and troubles,” he said, drumming up his message in between folksy anecdotes of his healing experiences.
The crowd broke into laughter when he narrated that just the other day, at the Philippine Army headquarters, “napatumba ko ang mga heneral! (I knocked the generals down).”
Prayed over and brought to a state known as being “slain by the Holy Spirit,” the military officers were literally reduced to fallen generals before the power of the Lord, he said.
Suarez’s healing Masses will continue to be held on weekends at Montemaria, with permission from Bishop Palang and Bishop Chito Tagle of Cavite.
The priest glowed with anticipation over the spiritual yield of his new community, one which he said would seek a “new springtime of the Church” through the renewal of priests.
Seeing the healing ministry as a unifier of the Church, Suarez said: “There is healing when there is unity. Hatred breaks. Healing is forgiving and forgiving unites. Unity is healing.”