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.
March 8, 2018, Quezon City, Cubao, the Philippines – Sister Antonette Lumbang, OP, was among a group of Adrian Dominican Sisters in the Our Lady of Remedies Mission Chapter to participate in the Second Annual Walk for Life February 24 to commemorate the peaceful people’s uprising.
The purpose of the walk was to “champion the value of life, which is threatened with prevailing issues in the country,” Sister Antonette explained. These issues include extrajudicial killings, part of the war on drugs launched by President Rodrigo Duterte shortly after his election in 2016. This campaign has resulted in an estimated 12,000 deaths of suspected drug dealers, drug users, and others, according to the 2018 World Report of Human Rights Watch. Other life issues include the proposed re-institution of the death penalty and the destruction of the environment, Sister Antonette said.
The Sisters left Pampanga, where many are stationed, at 2:45 a.m. on February 24 to participate in the 4:00 a.m. walk and a program of testimonies by several pro-life advocates from Catholic lay organizations. Sister Antonette was especially struck by the witness against the death penalty of a Filipina actress (Ms. Cherry Pie Picache) whose mother had been brutally murdered. The actress instead advocated for restorative justice and forgiveness. “Through prayer we can achieve this difficult Christian response,” Sister Antonette said. “The process demands radical love from us, love which we can give even to those who harmed or hurt us, following Jesus’ own radical love for us despite our sins.”
The event culminated in the celebration of the Eucharist with Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle as presider. During his homily, Cardinal Tagle warned the faithful to be vigilant, “not to be influenced by the prevailing culture of seeing everything, including human life, as a ‘commodity or thing’ which can be disposed of when no longer needed,” Sister Antonette said. “Cardinal Tagle’s call was for us to bring back the mentality of valuing every life as a gift from God, which therefore should be treasured.”
In the afternoon of the same day, Sisters participated in another Mass, community march and lighting of candles, organized by the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP) in the chapel of Stella Maris College in Quezon City. This entire event is a commemoration of the February 25,1986, EDSA Revolution and the role of the AMRSP in advocating for peace and justice since its founding in the 1970s during the martial law. “The AMRSP was not cowed during the Marcos dictatorship,” wrote Father Cielito R. Almazan, OFM, and Sister Regina Kuizon, RGS, co-chairpersons of AMRSP, in a letter to members. “It will not be cowed now. Despite the challenges we face in our country today, it will remain in the front lines in fighting injustice. … It will continue to lead and be in solidarity with the people, for the people.”
Feature photo: Participants in the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP) Mass get a better view on a large screen.