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The Implications of the Synod of the Amazon to the Philippines

by Anonymous last modified Jul 15, 2019 02:49 AM

The Synod of the Amazon is important to us in the Philippines because it reminds us that our local realities are the loci where our collaborative efforts to care for our common home need to be forged, nurtured and sustained. Thus, the Synod of the Amazon is not only for Latin America, it is also for us in this side of world, and for the circle of life. It is indeed a Synod for life. One of the slogans for the Synod of the Amazon is “Save the Amazon, She will save Us!”, not far from the cry to defend the Sierra Madre Mountain ranges, “Buháy na Sierra Madre, Buhay nating lahat” (Sierra Madre Alive or Full of life, Our life.)

Philippines: Sustainability in the Sierra Madre Mountains

The Implications of the Synod of the Amazon to the Philippines

by John Din

johndin

John is a Columban lay missionary from the Philippines.  He has been a lay missionary for 27 years and was assigned to Brazil and Peru, currently the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) Coordinator of the Columban Missionaries, Philippine Region.

 

The Synod of the Amazon has a particular interest to me not only because I worked for almost twenty years in two of the nine countries connected by the Amazon Rainforest, Brasil and Peru, but because of its importance to the current challenge of climate emergency. I am back in the Philippines for eight years now and I continue facing and responding to a complex cry of the poor victims of the government’s war on drugs and the cry of the earth being plundered by a system heading towards suicide.  Both are products of a world view that is estranged from the natural world.

 

What does a Synod of the Amazon, from the other side of the planet, got to do with the Philippines, if any?

 

In 2017, Pope Francis announced the Synod of the Amazon. It is a synod that focuses on the Amazon, a particular biological community, yet it is not only about the Amazon, as the preparatory document says:

We begin with a specific geographical area in order to build a bridge to the other important biomes of our world: the Congo basin, the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, the tropical forests of the Asia Pacific region, and the Guarani Aquifer, among others.”


The Amazon Synod is the portal with which the church in South America enters into the bigger reality of the common home. Thus, the Synod has many things to say to the different biological communities around the world, including the Philippines. It invites the people in this country to reflect on what our distinct habitat and the community of life under crises have to say about new paths for the church and for integral ecology. In particular, it asks the Filipino people what the current destruction of the Philippine forest and its biodiversity have to say to us about patronage politics, about our economic system’s obsession for growth, most importantly about who we are. Finally, as Christians, in our tasks as disciples and missionaries.

 

The Philippines is one of the world’s 17 mega biodiversity countries that together contain two-thirds of the earth’s biodiversity and around 70 to 80 percent of the world’s plant and animal species. Scientists have noted that there is a higher concentration of species per unit area in the Philippines than anywhere in Indonesia and Wallacea, and that the Philippines is the center of marine shore fish diversity in the world.

 

The Sierra Madre Mountain Ranges are known as the backbone of Luzon, the longest mountain range in the Philippines that stretches from the provinces of Aurora to Cagayan in the island of Luzon. It serves as the natural shield against typhoons coming from the Pacific Ocean. Its continuous forest landscape represents about 40% of the country’s forest cover.[3] It supplies water to agricultural lands and the city of Manila which now has almost 13 million population.

 

In a span of one hundred years, rainforest cover of the Philippines was reduced from 21 million hectares to 5 million hectares.This plunder was not just about the forest but includes all forms of life that thrive in its complex ecosystem, including the indigenous people.

 

Sierra Madre Mountain is home to the indigenous Agtas of Dumagats. They survive through gathering of forest products and hunting of wildlife. I had the privilege, together with a group, to spend the holy week in 2017 visiting different indigenous communities in Sierra Madre.  We visited the area where the government is planning to build a dam on the pretext to ensure water supply of Manila. On one particular occasion, we visited an indigenous community to document their spirituality by meeting with them and asking them about how they relate with the sacred. The insight about how deep their relatedness with the natural world was not revealed through words but through how they live and enjoy the heavy pouring rain that almost left us sleepless the night before in their small hut exposed to wind and rain. What we saw was a sense of at “homeness” with the natural world. There is an innate familiarity with the natural world that no word can adequately describe. That familiarity points to the current scientific understanding of the origin of everything: that we come from the same source. Laudato Si’ puts it beautifully as our goal in spirituality and education: 

“We lack an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging and of a future shared with everyone.” 


Pope Francis’ call to care for our common home would come more natural to the Dumagats than to most of us who reduce our home to a walled space and reduced our concept of family to bloodlines. Thus, it is imperative to expand our insight of home and family, and let the Laudato Si’ framework of interconnectedness breathe fresh air to what we are used to. It is imperative to recover that interconnectedness lived long ago by the indigenous people around the world, now affirmed by the current scientific understanding of the origin of everything.

 

The United Nations defines sustainability as the ability for the current generation to meet their needs without compromising the next generation. This definition comes from a critique of the current development trend that lead to suicide. So, how do we reverse the trend? Drawing from the experience of the Dumagat people, there is a need to have a new kind of relationship with the natural world. It is essential to have an understanding of the actual dynamics of the emergence of life in the whole universe; an understanding of who we are in relation to all forms of life. We are a privileged generation to have this insight available to us. This insight of interconnectedness strongly affirmed in Laudato Si’ needs to be the organizing principle in all spheres of life - social, politics, economics and spiritual. Yet, this insight is struggling to get to our policies let alone in our own small world. Our refusal to embrace who we are, the conditions of our emergence has led to the assault of the natural world. Currently, Sierra Madre is threatened with the construction of dams meant to ensure water supply in Manila. Columbans have supported the initiative made by different Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and Faith Based Organizations (FBOs) to gather support and oppose the construction of the dams.

 

The Columban Missionaries in the Philippines is celebrating 90 years of mission in Luzon, Negros and Mindanao. The theme, “Celebrating Our Commitment to the Poor and the Exploited Earth”, captures the way how Columbans have lived mission in the Philippines. Their work with the poor has brought them to the much bigger reality of the climate emergency which poverty and oppression point to. It is that the mindset that creates and oppresses the poor is the same mindset that plunders the natural world. This insight has inspired the Columbans in the Philippines to tread the road less travelled, that is, working with the indigenous people in protecting the forest from logging and mining. In 1988, the Columban Missionaries, particularly Fr. Sean McDonagh, were instrumental in the formulation of the Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) entitled, “What is Happening to Our Beautiful Land?”. Just few days ago, Fr. John Leydon, with the support from Non-Governmental Organizations and Faith-based organizations, addressed the plenary of the CBCP pleading for a sequel to the 1988 pastoral letter to address the climate emergency. Because of our commitment to the poor and the exploited earth, the Philippine church is looking at us for leadership.

 

Together with Global Catholic Climate Movement (GCCM)-Pilipinas, Columbans are involved in ecological education through their works with the indigenous people in Mindanao, interfaith dialogue, sustainable agriculture, rainforestation program and creation of seed banks. With the support of the Columban Missionaries and other groups, GCCM-Pilipinas is organizing training workshops on “Deep Journey into Laudato Si’” to dioceses where Columbans have worked before. For the past three years, GCCM-Pilipinas has been organizing activities during the Season of Creation, as part of the effort to promote the ecological dimension in our liturgical celebrations.

 

In solidarity with other organizations, Columban Missionaries has been appealing to religious congregrations, dioceses and the CBCP to respond to the call to divest from fossil fuels and invest in renewable energy. The Columbans’ decision in 2017 to divest from fossil fuels for the next five years is a prophetic witness in the face of climate emergency. This inspires us to encourage others to do the same. This prophetic act is an indictment to the current financial system which entices religious institutions and dioceses to invest their money in fossil fuels and extractive industries.

 

The Synod of the Amazon is important to us in the Philippines because it reminds us that our local realities are the loci where our collaborative efforts to care for our common home need to be forged, nurtured and sustained. Thus, the Synod of the Amazon is not only for Latin America, it is also for us in this side of world, and for the circle of life. It is indeed a Synod for life.  One of the slogans for the Synod of the Amazon is “Save the Amazon, She will save Us!”, not far from the cry to defend the Sierra Madre Mountain ranges, “Buháy na Sierra Madre, Buhay nating lahat” (Sierra Madre Alive or Full of life, Our life.)

 

2

The photo was taken during the visit of Ms. Christiana Figueres (with blue scarf), former executive secretary of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change, to the Philippines in February 2019 for a meeting with Civil Society Organizations and Faith-based groups in Manila organized by GCCM-Pilipinas

 

 

 
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