Participants in a pre-assembly event of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Commission on World Mission on Evangelism spent half a day with a community living at a garbage dumpsite on the outskirts of Manila in the Philippines.
The participants visited the dumpsite in Smokey Mountain, home to around 30,000 people surviving through scavenging. The community now fears demolition orders from the Philippines government who want to initiate a housing project in the area.
The slum dwellers are opposing this project and protesting against forced displacement, demanding their rights to the land. Recently there had been clashes between the community and the National Housing Authority.
The visit was organised by the National Council of Churches in the Philippines for the participants of the CWME event to witness the mission of the churches in areas like Smokey Mountains, where its inhabitants are striving for their basic human rights.
Together with civil society organisations, Filipino churches are questioning the current administration's model of development, which they say benefits only the few.
“In this kind of situation you see people living in slums striving for dignity. How do you see the gospel working here?” Fr Tito Loyola of Aspiring Citizens for Community Empowerment and Solidarity Inc. asked the participants in a meeting with the slum dwellers. Loyola explained everyday life in Smokey Mountain and the involvement of the churches supporting the struggles of the community.
The participants observed that children were among the most vulnerable inhabitants of the dumpsite. “These are not the conditions any child in the world should have to live in,” said the Rev. Dr Charles Buck from the United Church of Christ in the United States. “The situation shows a systematic injustice. Yet, the dignity of the people in the community and their resilience inspires a great hope,” he added.
The same day, 25 March 2012, following Sunday mass at the Cathedral Parish of St Andrews in Paranaque City, the CWME participants were also introduced to the issue of reclamation faced by the inhabitants of Freedom Island near Manila.
Fr Rolando Agustin, rector and parish priest of St Andrews, told the participants that the current government aims to impose a so called Manila-Cavite Coastal Reclamation and Rehabilitation Project in Freedom Island. The project will affect the lives of 10,000 fishermen and will result in the demolition of countless homes in the Floating Village.
The Freedom Island project consists of an entertainment centre, ports, business parks, roads and real estate properties, benefiting only a privileged class.
The Cathedral Parish is part of a network called Alliance for Stewardship and Authentic Progress, comprising of several Filipino churches, anti-reclamation groups and civil society organisations who are advocating against this project.
The participants visited Freedom Island and met with community workers who said that the fishermen and other affected communities have little or no say in the matter. They expressed concern over the possible destruction of livelihoods and grave environmental implications of the project.
The participants expressed solidarity with the struggles of the people of Freedom Island. They felt that churches in the Philippines are translating mission into concrete social action and realizing the concept of “authentic mission and evangelism”.
The CWME pre-assembly event is currently taking place from 22 to 27 March in Manila. It will develop a draft statement on mission and evangelism to be presented at the WCC upcoming 10th Assembly in Busan, Korea in 2013.