By Sophie Passelecq

April 3, 2017

With PSET we accompanied the group of FABC (Federation of Asian Bishop Conference) that were in Manila for a conference on climate change. PSET organized an exposure for them in Lobo, Batangas in the southern Tagalog region.

6am departure for Manila, we travel to the municipality of Lobo, in the province of Batangas. In 2005 Lobo was declared a fish sanctuary, more specifically the Verde Island passage is said to be the center of global shore fish biodiversity. You can imagine white sand beaches, clear blue water, beautiful corals and colorful fish.

We arrived at the Saint Michael, the Archangel Parish, where we attended mass and were warmly welcomed by Father Joseph Mendoza, better known as Father Jojo and his church committee.

After mass a delicious meal followed. With full bellies we settle down to listen to the touching and inspirational stories of the local leaders and organizations. They testified about their struggles and fight against local authorities, big foreign mining corporations threatening to take away their lands, livelihood and homes. It is inspirational to listen how, in their struggle against what seems to be the impossible fight, they manage to unify the communities and create awareness of the danger of open-pit mining for the environment. Through real perseverance, faith and courage they managed a victory against MRL- Egerton Gold, a Canadian mining company. The mining company needs 2 governmental permits to be allowed to starts its operations but the company was able to only get one permit from the Barangay local government. Thanks to the campaigning of local organization BUKAL (Bukluran para sa inang kalikasan or Unity for mother nature) both the municipal and provincial government refused to agree with the mining permit. The strong leaders stand behind their communities and fight for their cause.

After lunch we went to the Lagadlarin Mangrove forest to contribute our little part in the preservation of nature. Each of us planted a small mangrove tree. To me it symbolized hope and growth but also the fragility of the environment and its inhabitants.

In the evening we were dispersed into the different communities for our immersion with our host families. True to Filipino culture we were warmly welcomed into their homes. They shared experiences and stories about their struggle against land grabbing. We were moved by their stories, the unjust fight the fishermen and peasants have to fight just to have a certain form of security, to bring food to the table, education to their children, a roof above their heads. At night we came together for a prayer and an assessment of the day, sharing our emotions we felt and realizations we had throughout the day. It surprised me how easily a home can be taken away from a family; it made me feel sad and helpless. But the community is not sad and helpless, they are brave and they fight, they do no give up. Strong leaders organize the communities and we should not look at them as helpless or weak, we should be inspired by their hope and courage. A wise reflection someone shared.

The following morning we woke up early again to admire the sunset on the beach, where the boat waited for us to take us to the VIP, Verde Island Passage. We were blessed to relax on the white sand beaches or dive into the clear blue sea to admire the corals and beautiful fish. At night we all came together for the solidarity night. Cultural exchanges and solidarity messages were shared. We thanked our hosts for the beautiful experience they gave us, for the stories they shared and their hospitality.

On our final day we set of in our jeepney adventure up the mountain towards the Jaybanga Rice Terraces. We admired the beautiful nature and coconut trees along the way. After taking in and photo memorizing the beautiful sights of the rice terraces, the local peasants shared their stories about their struggle fighting for their rights to till the lands. Even for a minimum income they will fight to keep their lands and beautiful nature, because it is the source of their income, the reason for their life and they are prepared to face death threats in their fight for the future of their children. Once again we witness the brave, never giving up, revolutionary Filipino culture, in their endless fight for a better and just Philippines.

As we head back to Manila, I reflect on everything I have seen, heard, felt and shared. Grateful for this, once again, rich experience.

Read more of Sophie’s stories as PSET’s volunteer at http://sophielippines.blogspot.com/