Back in February, Rev. Mienda Uriarte and Rev. Richard Williams of PC(USA) came to visit our partners in in the Philippines. I was able to join during their visit to Dansalan College.
Ms. Edna Orteza, Program Coordinator of Institutional Ministries, was our guide. She has a long-lasting loving relationship with the school. Also present were mission co-workers Cobbie and Dessa Palm, Pastor Rannieh Mercado (Executive Secretary of Administration) and for a short time Bishop Ligaya Francisco of that same jurisdictional area. We met with the president of the school, Dr. Fedelinda Tawagon.
The students prepared a video to show the future campus of the Iligan campus. Dansalan College has two campuses, one in Illigan city, the other in Marawi. The first part of the video is about the destruction that occurred in Marawi and the campus there. They used drones to film what was left of the previous buildings. Everything has been burned down, the few walls standing are covered with bullet holes. The Marawi siege happened two years ago and there is still so much to do .
Few contractors are allowed by the government to work in the city. According to the army the city needs to be destroyed to be sure that there is no mines and bombs remaining. Everything is going to be removed to be able to rebuild. It will take years.
Right now, the emergency is to finish the Iligan campus so the teachers and students can keep on working in a safe place.
After a full morning of meetings, we flew back to Manila in the afternoon. I had a great time learning to know more about Mrs. Edna work. She is in charge of the CREATE-UCCP (Church Related Educational Action Towards Empowerment – United Church of Christ in the Philippines). The program is the link between the main institutions of the UCCP and their schools.
Thanks to our recent visit to Dansalan College, she invited me to join her for a visit in the Cordillera, the central north region of the island of Luzon. Her cousin Dr. Ruth and Jason Caperas, one of the UCCP drivers joined us for this long road trip.
On Sunday February 24, we left for Nueva Ecija and spent the night at Ms. Orteza’s place where we met her husband who served at the Church of the Holy Redeemer before retiring in the early 2000’s (UCCP Church of the Holy Redeemer is in our neighborhood).
From Nueva Ecija we traveled to the region of Kalinga, 10 hours north. After crossing the pass of Santa Fe, we followed the cordillera range through Nueva Viscaya. We enjoyed beautiful mountains on both side of the road. One of the mountain range is called the Sierra Madre. We were surrounded mainly by rice and corn fields.
We arrived in Tabuk City and visited the Tabuk Institute to drop off books and supplies. Principal Mae Quilawat Pomay-O greeted us with mulberries, Kalinga coffee, camote (sweet potatoes) and black rice.
We visited the school and learned more…. One night in October 2018, the library caught on fire. Most of the books were destroyed. They were able to save some computers and Bibles but every else including the building burned down. This was a tragic loss for the school, not only for the students and the books but also for their certification. Without a library they might lose the subsidies from the government which will be dramatic for the school. They need those subsidies to allow students to study for free. A lot of the students come from poor families who cannot afford school fees. It is an important part of the community where several Kalinga tribes study together. They have to rebuild the library as fast as possible to be able to fulfill the academy requirements.
After that first visit, we drove to the heart of the town to St Tonis College, Inc. We met Bishop Elorde Sambat who serves as president of the school. They were getting for the 42nd founding anniversary celebration that will happen over 3 days. The school was built 42 years ago has an extension of the Tabuk Institute and now serves 1168 students. We went to a local restaurant for dinner and meet with one of the owners which happens to be a regular of the NCUC local church where our family worships every Sunday. We also met Dr. Ruth’s brother, Jesse Garcia who happens to be the National President of United Church Men. He was the guest speaker for the Tuesday morning worship service.
Tuesday is the big celebration kick off, with all students and staff attending the morning worship service. There are several prestigious guests including the city mayor, Ferdinand Tubban, who is also a UCCP member. The students showcased several talents in music, dancing and singing. The former and first principal of the school, Dr. Presentacion Bartolo, sang most the school hymns, which she also wrote. The invocation was led by Rev. Roceni Bakian, the same PC(USA) International Peacemaker in 2018.
After lunch, we met with the principals of the UCCP schools of the Kalinga region. Due to distance and national holidays (Monday was the celebration of the 1986 People Power Revolution), two couldn’t join us: Ms. Merlina Ayam from Apayao Community Learning Canter in Kabugao, Apayao and Ms. Joy Andaya from Abra Mountain Development Education Center in Lamao, Bucloc, Abra.
The purpose of our meeting was to assess the different needs of the schools and to start creating a school system including all the schools in the Cordillera. Dr. Ruth De Lara offered to train the teachers and staff. She is a curriculum writer. With the national Department of Education she helped develop learning competencies for Math and Science for K-12, wrote textbooks, and trained teachers and practitioners. She is a member of the UCCP Formal Education Board. She coordinated the production and publication of the Values Education materials.
We talked first about the Kalinga Academy in Lubuagan, founded in 1927 by the Evangelical United Brethren. The principal Cesar Manalwap talked about losing the school accreditation due to the state of the building. The school is 92 years old and there have been few upgrades through the years. The building is not safe and needs to be replaced but there are no funds. Starting this year, the government will stop providing help and if nothing is done, the school will close in 3 years. They serve a lot of farmers and children from different tribes. The community doesn’t have much money. The region suffers from the tribal wars. Some kids do not go to school during the conflicts due to security or because they take part in it.
By the way, the principal is a trained nurse. He took the direction of the school because he was the only one willing to step up.
Next Bishop Sambat talked about St. Tonis College’s projects: extending the campus and improving their nursing program. They have some support but the task is great. The students are also suffering from the tribal wars and Bishop Sambat wishes to create a peacemaking group to mediate with the different groups. He is asking for materials or programs that can help him in that task.
Pastor Ruben Puguon, principal of the Ifugao Academy of Kiangan, introduced us to the Centennial Plan that they are following. The school will celebrate 100 years in 2026. He wishes to build a College, as well as a hotel and canteen to create some income. There are 310 students. The building is very old and needs to be renovated.
Principal Mae from the Tabuk Institute talked more about the library fire. They are still looking for an architect to design the new building. They need to finish the gymnasium and build a canopy on the playground. It gets so hot during most of the year, that it is impossible to use that field for any event or activity. They have 3 stores that generates income from selling black rice.
The group also expressed their training needs for their teachers, parents and students. They need support in dealing with bullying, sexual misconduct, social media behaviors, teenage pregnancy and tribal feuds. They are too isolated to send the teachers to conferences, so they hope some UCCP volunteers can come to help with those issues. A lot of the teachers are young and ask for more leadership. The principals also were not trained and learn on the go, and they wished to have better tools to do their work. They are dedicated but lack resources. One of the objectives of CREATE is to provide that support.
Early on Wednesday morning, we left for another 5 hours road trip to Kiangan in the center of Ifugao. We visited the Ifugao Academy. We ate breakfast in their brand-new canteen. The school is very old and seems about to fall apart. The campus is right across the main public high School. The student comes from all around the region. They stay during the week because they live too far to commute every day. Each grade and section has to participate once a month to the Sunday worship service in a local church.
There is also a World War II museum that commemorate the end of the war and memorializes all the fallen Filipinos. It is close to the top of the main mountain, so you can see the valley from it. There’s an empty lot right at the entrance of the museum, where the school wants to build the College building for the Ifugao Academy. They hope to have a hotel there too, since there are no accommodations for visitors in town.
Before leaving, we did some shopping and enjoyed the crafts from local weavers and wood carvers.
We drove back to Nueva Ecija for the night and came back to Quezon city on Thursday morning.
The Patricio Manns song is still in my head.
We met again in May during the CREATE general assembly. Looking forward to see how the partnership can go on.