The Mangyan Mission


Since I first saw the film in high school, “The Mission” has been my all-time favorite film. The faith of the Jesuits, humility and kindness of the Guarini tribe and the bravery in the face of death captivated my romantic heart. But I won’t spoil it for you! Watch it for yourself!

The Mission

I mentioned “The Mission” because last October, I had an opportunity to imitate these inspirational missionaries. But it was not as a missionary. In fact, they (Mangyan – Indigenous People) were the missionaries to me! The Mangyans! And it was so very humbling.

I spent almost a week with the Mangyans in Mindoro, Visayas, (the middle island group of the Philippines). My partner, Marie and I lived with them in the mountains. The generous family of Kuya Aimang warmly opened their home to us. We lived in an old farmhouse. (For those who may not be familiar, most Filipino farmhouses are built on stilts above the ground. The post on each corner of the house raises it above the ground providing a space between the ground and the actual dwelling. This space is where chickens, ducks, goats, dogs and all sorts of farm animals live.) They generously shared what little they had and we were never hungry in the course of our stay. But I am getting ahead of myself.

On the Way

The first day of our immersion we took a long winding tricycle ride from the main highway and up mountainous dirt roads. We arrived early in the afternoon. Arrangements had been made by the Holy Spirit Sisters and they were expecting us. They had prepared a Mangyan hut for us to live in, but when they found out that we were both girls, Kuya Aimang generously offered the old farmhouse where they stayed as caretakers for Konsehal (Councilor).

Rural Mindoro

We had to trek across a river up a muddy mountain path to get to their house. There were steep climbs and small gorges we had to leap across to reach the house. Not an easy feat for city slickers whose ideas of commuting home consisted of metro rail transits, taxis, buses, jeepneys, tricycles and paved sidewalks. And every few yards we had to play hop-scotch with poisonous fire-ants! Heavy backpack in tow, I struggled up the trail. Yet we could see Junior, their 4-year old son, dash up the slopes ahead of us.

Acclimbatizing to Mangyan Life

Although it was merely a 4-room house, they gave us the bedroom of their eldest daughter, Divina. They also lent us a blanket and mat to sleep on. Upon arrival, they gave an afternoon snack of saba bananas. This was just the start of their gracious hospitality. That night, we had dinner of vegetables in clear soup and rice. It was warm and homey, eating dinner by glow of small kerosene lamps. The kerosene lamps were improvised out of old glass jars and some cloth. It was a lovely sight to see Junior nestled asleep in his father’s arms. It reminded me of how God cradles us in His tender embrace.

It was a cold night, and we soon learned to wear jackets under our blankets. But sockless, our feet turned into toe-cicles.

We woke up to the rooster crowing below the wooden slats beneath our mats as the sun’s first rays penetrated the horizon. Each morning, they gave hot mugs of coffee–much appreciated after a shivering night! Our daily breakfast was simple–tuyo (small dried fish) and rice. But their rice was probably the most fragrant I have ever tasted!

The Mangyans grow their own rice and vegetables higher up the mountains. They harvest palay (rice grains). And then they mill them into bigas (raw rice) with a huge mortar and pestle. They remove the rice husks by tossing them in a bilao (a very shallow wide woven basket).


Milling Rice

While eating breakfast, Marie and I saw schoolchildren walking down the mountain. There was a public school a kilometer or so from their home. We also saw carabaos (water buffalos) carrying carts of bananas down the slopes for sale in the public market.

After our first breakfast, Kuya Aimang, Divina and Junior guided us up to the heart of the Mangyan village.  Fortunately, it had not rained recently and so the normally mucky road was fairly dry and passable. But we still needed their help because of muddy patches that could suck your feet into the sludge. They were so very patient with us. They surely could have gone up to the village four times less the time it took us! Yet, holding out their hands they showed us the safest paths to take. Walking in someone’s footsteps is a common expression. But it was only as we sallied forth that I truly understood what this meant. We did not know the route to the village. Neither could we recognize a sludgy patch from a drier one. It was only by obeying their directions or walking in their footsteps, stepping almost exactly where they stepped that we could safely make the ascent.

Mangyan House

When we arrived at the top, we saw two rows of Mangyan nipa huts. Bigas (harvested  raw rice) was spread over sheets and old sacks to dry in heat of the sun. We entered a hut where a mother was nursing her baby in a makeshift hammock. It was a one-room hut with a thick straw roof, wooden planked floor and rattan woven walls.  The room was a few square meters in length. It was little bigger than my bedroom. Yet a hut like that housed an average family of seven or more. The hut we entered was the home of Divina’s cousin. She had just given birth and was a mother to three other children.

Mangyan Home

My time with the Mangyans was truly blessed. There were so many more wonderful things that happened there. But I will leave the rest of that for next time.  🙂


Our Suffering Society

I’ve been interested in social action and human rights work since my college days, as a member of Gawad Kalinga and now as an intern for Ateneo Human Rights Center and Saligan. Having been a member of three non-government organizations (NGOs) has given me a glimpse into the oppression, injustice and sheer poverty enslaving our people. I’d like to think my time there has contributed to improving their lives. But I know that it has not even been a drop in the sea of social, economic and political issues which contribute to their struggles and difficulties.

I’ve also struggled finding my place in all this. What can I do to help? How can I serve? How can I make even just one life better? It seems so overwhelming. Maybe the problem lies not in my desire to serve but in my desire to solve every single problem, creating the perfect world once and for all! But that is not how things work, is it? For as long as we live on this earth and in this world we will always suffer and there will always be suffering people we strive to console.  Countless attempts at utopian societies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries have proven this. There is no “perfect”’ world in this lifetime.

This is my first argument. Completely eradicating suffering simply isn’t possible. Yet, so many laws and systems in our country and the world seek to this. Yes, we must strive to do our best to decrease the suffering of our brothers and sisters as much as possible. That is what the spiritual and corporal works of mercy are for. But we must always do so with the mindset that suffering has its place. It can be the disease, but it can also be the sign of new growth.  We must not delude ourselves into thinking it is inherently evil. To do so would deprive us the salvation or even joy that suffering can lead to.

I know this sounds crazy. I hate suffering as much as anyone but not all suffering is bad. Sometimes they are just growing pains and we have to be brave enough to see that. Brave enough to face that. And brave enough to do what is necessary. What do I mean by this?

I read an explanation once, that God permitting suffering can be likened to a Father whose daughter is gravely ill and needs an operation. The terrified little girl begs her father not to push through with the procedure. The Father does not want his daughter to suffer either. But he knows that her health will only deteriorate without it. And so, consoling her and assuring her of his love, he allows the doctors to operate on her. After the operation, she may still spend a few weeks recuperating. But it is all worth it because in the end, her life is saved.

And this is how suffering can be salvific. Sometimes we need to suffer in order to prevent a greater evil and bring about a greater good. We shouldn’t be afraid of suffering.

Why do I say this? Because seeing the oppression and destitution in our country, having heard about and listened to victims of unjust labor practices, violence against women and children, hacienderos driving farmers out of their land…I wonder how much of this suffering is the sickness and how much is the operation? Most of it is the sickness, undoubtedly! But hopefully some of them are just growing pains.

This brings me to my second point. My question now is, are we operating on our patients or simply giving them analgesics?

One thing I admire about the workers in Gawad Kalinga and the alternative lawyers of NGOs under Alternative Law Groups (ALGs) is that they strive to operate on the disease. They work on the ground, having barangay-level interaction with the stakeholders. Gawad Kalinga does not only build houses but focuses on holistic community development. They set up daycare centers; provide livelihood programs and faith-centered formation through the Couples for Christ. Likewise, alternative lawyers have paralegal training programs teaching the farmers about Comprehensive Agrarian Reform (CARPER), indigenous people about Indigenous Peoples rights Act (IPRA), women and children about Violence Against Women and Children (VAWC). They also strive to change the laws which can be the very source of oppression; by lobbying in Congress and filing position papers. By no means are these a quick fix! They can take decades! But they are solid foundations for a more just society.

I’m grateful for the time I’ve had with them. They’ve taught me the value of patient perseverance in fighting for what is right. I certainly have a lot to learn! However, there are a few issues where I believe we are giving people pain-killers more than effective medicine. We need to address the disease, not merely the symptoms if we are going to solve anything.