September 18, 2018, Kalookan, Philippines – Almost two years after President Rodrigo Duterte was installed as President of the Philippines and declared his intention to initiate a war on drugs, Adrian Dominican Sister May Cano, OP, came to the Diocese of Kalookan to minister to families suffering because of this war.
Since President Duterte’s war on drugs began in July 2016, thousands of suspected drug dealers and users have been imprisoned, and approximately 20,000 have been killed. Most of the victims came from poor urban families and many were the bread-winners for their families.
Bishop Pablo David, of the Diocese of Kalookan, denounced the evil that is happening in his diocese and reached out to his people by organizing programs for the victims of extrajudicial killings and their families. The Our Lady of Remedies Mission Chapter responded to Bishop David’s call for Sisters to serve in these programs and sent Sister May Cano, OP, to the diocese in June 2018.
Sister May spent her first week listening to the sufferings of drug users and of the families of victims of extrajudicial killings. “Our diocese responds to different needs of the families of the victims of extrajudicial killings, like widows and orphans,” she said.
Among the people she encountered was Reymart, 19, whose mother was a domestic helper in Dubai. Reymart was falsely listed by a para-military police officer as a drug user and was shot to death while trying to escape the local paramilitary police.
Jennifer, whose husband was a victim of the extrajudicial killings, helped to organize the families of other victims. In July, men came to her house and killed her, leaving behind her two grade-school children. The children were adopted by the parish, which now provides for their needs. They were given scholarships through the help of the Archdiocese of Manila.
The diocese offers a scholarship program, burial assistance, small-scale livelihood assistance, and shelter assistance. The diocese also ministers to drug users, collaborating with lawyers to offer plea-bargaining for those who are undergoing community-assisted rehabilitation to save the addicts’ lives and help them start anew.
Sister May is in charge of the scholarship program, distributes basic material aid to various mission stations, and conducts a nutrition seminar for mothers and those who are served by the feeding program.
In early September, Sister May was sent with other missionaries to a mission station in an area that had recently suffered from a fire. “Since their houses are shanties and built close together, the fire spread quickly,” she explained. “The fire trucks could not come in because the roads were very narrow.”
Those who lost their homes were given shelter assistance to help them rebuild. Deacons and priests organized the people into basic ecclesial communities and celebrated the sacraments with them. “Since these people don’t go to church, now the pastors are going to their midst,” Sister May said. “We are going to the un-churched on the peripheries. The people are happy and excited to be part of the Church.”
Sister May said she thanks God for the strength to serve in this ministry. “May our Lord continue bless me with more strength and the enthusiasm and zeal to remain full of joy in serving God and our poor brothers and sisters. … To be part of their struggles, dreams and aspirations and to live with dignity is the greatest fulfillment here on earth.”
Feature photo at top: Sister May Cano, OP, is ministering in the Diocese of Kalookan, the Philippines, in a variety of ways, including at the Shelter Assistance Project for people whose homes were damaged in a recent fire.
August 23, 2018, Adrian, Michigan – Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates in the United States are known for their work for justice. Adrian Dominican Sisters in the Philippines in the Philippines also have been fighting for years against issues of injustice in their own nation.
During a recent visit to the Adrian Motherhouse, three Sisters from the Philippines – Sisters Antonette Lumbang, OP, Bibiana (Bless) Colastio, OP, and Marissa Figueroa, OP – gave an update on their own work for justice.
Sister Antonette, Justice Promoter for the Remedies Chapter, began her presentation with a video that demonstrated the horrors of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs.” This war results in the extra-judicial killing of drug dealers and users – many times by contract killers who take orders from the police. More than 4,000 people were killed in three months through this policy of extra-judicial killing.
“It’s still the same, two years and two months after [President] Duterte was elected,” Sister Antonette said. “Human rights continue to deteriorate … Gross violations of civil and political rights are happening alongside worsening deprivations of economic, social, and cultural rights.”
Human rights advocates also face the threat of violence. Sister Bless noted that three priests who advocated for human rights were gunned down in recent months. Sister Patricia Fox, NDS, a Sister of Our Lady of Sion from Australia, and a human rights activist stationed in the Philippines, was deported as an “undesirable alien” on September 4 when her missionary visa expired – after 30 years of serving the people in the Philippines, Sister Antonette said.
Sister Antonette also spoke of the exploitation of the ancestral land of the indigenous Aeta people by private investors and quarry companies.
“Before the Aeta are forced to leave their ancestral land for lack of water or livelihood, they are seeking compensation and help in regulating the quarrying and stopping the conversion that shrunk their territories,” Sister Antonette said. On January 30 this year, she said, the Aeta people put up barricades on their land to keep out the trucks that were coming in to work in the quarries; they have remained on their barricaded land ever since.
Sister Antonette said the Sisters from the Remedies Chapter have been involved in such strategies as prayer and fasting, rallies and mass demonstrations, lobbying at Congress, and education campaigns. In addition, Sisters Bless and Marissa are among Sisters and seminarians who are preparing to be involved in human rights monitoring.
The Sisters from the Remedies Chapter are also working, through their formal ministries, to advocate for justice and to improve the situation for people who are suffering because of injustice.
Sister Marissa, Director of the Community Extension Office of the University of the Assumption in San Fernando, said her office provides “holistic treatment and rehabilitation” for drug users. “We are strongly convinced and strongly believe that drug addiction destroys the person’s life and future,” she said. “Full recovery is a challenge, but it is possible.”
Sister Marissa’s office is also involved in community-based prevention. “Last year we conducted a drug-awareness forum, in partnership with the Archdiocese of San Fernando, attended by almost 700 parish leaders,” she said. “The key to prevention [of drug addiction] is to build a harmonious, supportive family environment and promote responsive drug rehabilitation in the community and the school system.”
Sister Bless, head of the Commission for Family Life of the Diocese of San Jose Nueva Ecjia, said the Commission trains and facilitates the ongoing formation program of para-counselors, people in parishes who are not professionals but who have the temperament to offer counseling to parents and children.
Once a month, Sister Bless is also involved in group counseling at the House of Prayer and Evangelization (HOPE). HOPE offers programs such as Bible sharing, skills training, and gardening to drug addicts. She also conducts a symposium on drug addiction and other social issues at the diocesan, vicariate, and parish levels.
“We believe drug addiction is one of the reasons for extra-judicial killings,” she said. By working to prevent or heal drug addictions, she and other counselors and involved citizens can stop the violence of President Duterte’s war on drugs through extrajudicial killing.
“What we do as a Mission Chapter is a drop in the bucket, with all the justice issues and with the president still enjoying popularity with the majority of people,” Sister Antonette said. “Justice moves slowly.”
But Sister Kathleen Nolan, OP, Director of the Congregation’s Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, praised the three Sisters and all members of the Remedies Mission Chapter for their commitment and their work for justice. “Thank you for updating us and for the work you do,” she said. “That’s very heartening, because I’m sure you’re saving lives. We are so proud of you and will continue to pray for you.”
Feature photo: Sister Antonette Lumbang, OP, Justice Promoter for Our Lady of Remedies Mission Chapter in the Philippines, shares a light moment with her U.S. Sisters before giving an update of justice issues in her country.