On Monday, May 9, the Philippine people voted for their president, vice president and senators. Within hours, it was announced that Rodrigo Duterte was the President-elect. More than three weeks later, the vice presidential race is still in question, due to some questions related to the technology behind automated voting. In the last few days, the new Vice President-elect has been proclaimed as Leni Robredo. Although the Presidential inauguration is at the end of June, there are lots of questions about what a Duterte administration will look like for the Philippines and the rest of the world.
In case you didn’t catch these news stories, the Philippines has claimed the spotlight for other reasons: Telenovela star Jaclyn Jose won the Best Actress award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Anthony Bourdain kicked off his seventh season of “Parts Unknown” in Manila. Davao-made chocolate claims international recognition from London chocolate tasting awards. Reading the local newspaper and watching news channels has helped us to stay informed and an ongoing part of our cultural orientation: refer to May 19 cover page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer above.
Settling into one month of Philippine life in March and April, then traveling in the United States in mid-April and May, and now returning home to the Philippines, Cathy straddled that cross-cultural divide. Meanwhile Juan and our daughter stayed in the Philippines to continue life in the Philippines, beginning with summer school studies in Filipino language, writing and reading and swim classes at her new school. With his street smarts, Juan learned more jeepney and train routes to get to different places, but also discovering the cosmopolitan culinary delights of Asia.
While we have tried to experience the fullness of life in terms of the Philippines, sometimes it’s easier to compare and contrast based on what was familiar from our life before in the U.S. Here are a few highlights from the past month:
Three months of campaigning for the Philippine presidential election, is one of the first facts that I learned about politics during the midnight ride from the airport, on the same night that our family moved to metro Manila in early March. During my church visits in Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Iowa, I was struck by how I was following the same steps as U.S. Presidential candidate hopefuls. One day I was also struck by a radio news story that compared then Philippine presidential candidate Duterte with U.S. Presidential candidate hopeful Trump—oddly it took a U.S. news radio story to bring those two people together. Later when sharing this fun fact about a Philippine presidential three-month long campaign with two different Iowa congregations, I was surprised by how many people erupted in applause. Although I wish that I had asked the meaning of this applause, I can assume a wishful thinking for a shorter, if not at least, different electoral process. If I were to talk more fully with other Philippines and round out this discussion, I wonder what they might think about the U.S. presidential campaign.
For three days I participated in the “United Metropolis Conference” annual session, which brought together clergy, church workers, students who are training for ministry, UCCP national staff, in the closest thing to what I have experienced as a Presbytery meeting. Most of the meeting was in English, but Tagalog spoken about 50% of the time. From local church to conference to jurisdiction to General Assembly, it is almost like Presbyterian polity. There are also “bishops” who function similar to the general and executive presbyters. How best to support financially each of these “levels,” especially for small local churches who can barely support themselves, to larger churches who can without any problem, is just as much as a question for U.S. Presbyterian local churches and Philippine UCCP local churches.
Out of those discussions about financial support, I met an outspoken local church leader later in the restroom. In turn, she invited me to her church for a 66th anniversary celebration which included a mini-production focused around the UCCP statement of faith and theme “Spirituality for a New Humanity” (my translation: theatrical and multi-media presentation).
Days later, our family sat in the front row of this local church to enjoy the presentation. In the spotlight now was this major (anything but mini) production which included a live choral ensemble, youth band, protest-type songs, children and youth dance and drama teams, church women drama team, and multimedia videos highlighting Typhoon Yolanda, Lumad killings (indigenous peoples), flooding after dams, and families living in poverty.
Although the entire presentation was in Tagalog, the expressive language of faith came through the drama, songs, music and movement. Here is what we experienced through this dramatic presentation, through an excerpt of the UCCP Statement of Faith from their Faith and Order committee revised in September 1992: “We believe in One God: Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, who provides order, purpose, meaning and fulfillment to all creation. That in Jesus Christ, who was born of Mary, God became human and is Sovereign Lord of life and history. That in the Holy Spirit God is present in the world, empowering and guiding believers to understand and live out their faith in Jesus Christ…. We believe that God is at work, to make each person a new being in Christ, and the whole world, God’s Kingdom – in which love, justice, peace and prevail. The Kingdom of God is present where faith in Jesus Christ is shared, where healing is given to the sick, where food is given to the hungry, where light is given to the blind, and where liberty is given to the captive and oppressed.”
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