Notes on Gina and Digong at ADDU

Yesterday I left the Philippines with Datu Mussolini Lidasan and Vinci Bueza for Indonesia. In our Jesuit University of Sanata Dharma in Jogjakarta we shall attend both the “Sustainability of Life Conference” organized by the Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific, and the Annual Meeting of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities in Asia Pacific. After that, we will follow up our partnership with the University of Bandung.

It is because of these meetings that I shall not be able to attend this year the activities of our annual fiesta in honor of Our Lady of the Assumption. I truly regret this. But I wish all in our ADDU community from the Grade School through to the Graduate and Law Schools our Lord’s blessings through our Lady during this happy fiesta! May all be gifted with profound joy! There is much for which we have to be grateful.

Especially for the recent visits of DENR Sec. Gina Lopez and no less than the President of the Philippines, our very own, Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte.

For the success of this historic event, I cannot thank all in our community enough: the academic units, the administrators, the faculty, the iComms, the Samahan, the physical plant, the administrative associates, the agency workers, the caterers, the volunteers. So many came together and worked together to make it the success that it was. Very specially, I thank Atty. Romeo “Meong” Cabarde, chair of our UCEAC, especially for his challenging coordination with Sec. Gina, the DENR national and local officials, and with the many CSOs and representatives of Lumad communities, farmers and fisherfolk that made this day as rich as it was.

I am sure all have their own reflections on this event. Allow me simply to share mine.

My friendship with Gina Lopez began when I was still President of Ateneo de Naga. With environmentalist, Dr. Emelina “Lina” Regis, we fought for the closure of the Rapu-Rapu mines which had caused a major fish kill around the island. It was through Lina that I learned of the absolute incompatibility of large-scale mines with the Philippines’ island ecosystem. Our ally at that time was Gina Lopez. Already battling mining in Palawan, she was easy to win for the fight against Rapu-Rapu. Eventually, ADNU awarded Gina an honorary doctorate for her crusade for the environment.

When President Duterte appointed her Secretary of the DENR, I mixed my congratulations with an invitation to visit the ADDU. She readily agreed. That took place on August 4.

Much happened. I wish merely to focus on what made me especially happy. Suddenly it was not the people coming to the DENR with adversarial complaints about violations of mining companies; it was the DENR Secretary angry at what the mining companies had been doing to the people. It was the DENR Secretary “speaking her heart”: “I will always respect the law. But in my heart I know that mining does not belong in this island ecosystem. Look at the destruction the mining companies have caused!” “It is scandalous that the Mindanaoans are not enjoying the wealth of Mindanao!” “It is unacceptable that the wealthy from Manila and other countries are enriching themselves on the resources of Mindanao when there is so much poverty in Mindanao!” “I stand for social justice, and social justice means that Mindanaoans enjoy their own heritage in natural resources.” It was this energy coming from her heart that was making history that day. Mixing passion with anger, the DENR Secretary was making her DENR officials swear allegiance to the people, not to the mining companies; she was constraining them to swear never to take a bribe from the mining firms – not five million pesos, not ten, not fifty million pesos! – in order to remain free to serve the people, especially the poor. She called on the CSOs and representatives of the people to form a new arm of the DENR to create a partnership between the DENR and the people it is to serve. The follow day, at the more technical planning session at Garden Oasis in Obrero, the pact between the people and the government was further enfleshed, now, however, not only with the DENR Secretary, but with Agriculture Secretary Piñol and Health Secretary Ubial. The case was being made for the necessity of the DENR, the DA and the DOH to work together for the welfare of the people.

In all this, Sec. Gina kept shouting out three crucial questions: Do you love your God? Do your love your country? Do you love the people? When the answers from the crowd to all three questions were, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”, her challenge was: “Prove it.”

I remember when Ateneo de Naga University conferred on her an honorary doctorate for her work for the environment some ten years ago. Her graduation address was unforgettable. First, she challenged all to remember a secret. She whispered, “There is a God!” Second, she said that whether one was a Catholic, a Muslim, a Hindu, or an atheist, one must get in contact with that God. Third, she said each must find silence in one’s life; without silence the forces of the world tear one apart, till one no longer knows who he or she is. Finally, she said: “If one knows there is a God, is in touch with him and has found silence in life, how can one not appreciate the gift God has given us all in the environment?” Those statements were resonating in the questions that she was now challenging the assembly with. If you love God, country and people, how can you now not act to prove it?

Prove it. But it must come from your heart.


Our second guest in the afternoon of August 4 was President Digong. His visit was a surprise for the participants of “Oya Mindanao.” So when he entered, Martin Hall was thundering “Duterte! Duterte!” with excitement and delight. He spoke about many things: his owing his election only to the people, how conflicts would be resolved in favor of the people. He spoke of how mines must follow the highest standards in the world, but also of how the island ecosystem of the Philippines could not sustain many mines, even if they were operating at the highest standards. He spoke of his being a socialist, and of his dislike of people who amass huge fortunes without sharing the toil and hardship of the people. He spoke of the war on illegal drugs, and why he is angry about drugs. Time and again he had seen individuals destroyed and whole families destroyed with them. The 3 million affected by drugs impact negatively on their families and friends, bringing their curse onto the lives of parents, brothers and sisters. He said it would not stop his war on drugs until the entire apparatus of the drug trade is destroyed.

Beneath the crowds cheering, “Duterte!” was a man of silence aware of the gravity of the course of action he had entered into. “I hate to kill,” he has stated. “There is no country that can be built on killing its citizens.” But he has also said, “If I do not succeed in this war on drugs, neither will the next administration. The menace will only grow stronger till it can no longer be controlled, but will control us. Then we will have a country ruled by narcopolitics.”

Meanwhile, a huge tarp raised onto the cathedral in Bacolod has proclaimed: “Thou shalt not kill: Drugs kill. Poverty kills. Salvaging kills…”

That afternoon, despite the objections of the PSG, Gina Lopez convinced the President to visit ADDU’s Chapel of Our Lady of the Assumption. He did, working his way gamely through the throng of hyperactive students each torn between wanting to be disciplined and polite and somehow grabbing a selfie with the President. But eventually we got to the silence of the chapel. He looked appreciatively at the murals from the life of Christ rendered in Tausug, then at the portrait of Sitti Maryam. “Truly something new,” he said smiling. He approached the sanctuary and looked at the Salubong: the procession of Mindanao’s IPs bathed in Resurrection light overcoming the darkness of the procession of Our Sorrowing Mother with its images of people caught in violence, drugs, corruption and the tragedy of Mamasapano. He looked at the statue of Our Lady in Maranao garb and at the great image of the Crucified Lord. For me, the high point of the day was when Digong, Gina, Romulo Valles and I, bowed before the altar, the tabernacle and the Crucifix in prayer.

He is a stickler, he said, for the separation of Church and state. But before his God as before his people, he bows in silence.

About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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