It was springtime like now. It’s been a year already.
I left Manila on Election Day, 13 May 2019, and arrived Hamburg a year ago today. Like the day I first step on this foreign land, I have mixed feelings of happiness, sadness, excitement, and longings for the people so dear to me but I left behind, the people I served and their situations who shaped and molded me as a person, a minister, a Filipino and as a servant.
It was the Zentrum für Mission und Ökumene (ZMÖ) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Northern Germany who officially invited me here in cooperation with the Old Catholic Church of Germany with the rest of the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht. The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) also helped me to access the program if the European Union. I am very grateful to them.
It was supposed to be a short and temporary exile, as I still feel it to be until now. Circumstances and worsening situations for human rights defenders in the Philippines, however, made it to extend my tourist status until I got a residency visa for a period of another one year until I realized that I am already here for a year today. Happy or sad? Not exactly. The feeling is ambiguous but surely thankful.
I have none but many houses with families and friends who are very hospitable to strangers like me. I would love to mention them here but I chose not for good reasons. I am very grateful to them and they are the people in Hamburg, in Kelkheim, Hessen, in Egmond ann Zee, and Utrecht in the Netherlands, in Geneva, Switzerland, in Koblenz along the Rhine River, in Luxemburg, in Dusseldorf and Stuttgart, in Berlin, in Bad Oeynhausen. Several others provided me with hotel rooms in Andernach, in Bonn, in Salzburg, and Vienna, Austria, in Rome, Italy, and Reykjavik, Iceland.
Yes, I came here as a tourist but aside from a stroll in Heidelberg and along the River Rhine, a walk along the bed of the river Elbe, a side trip in the Vatican and a jog in the beach of Egmond ann Zee everything is done as a continuation of my work as a bishop and a human rights defender. As my friend Chito puts it when he suggested that I should go out from my beloved Pilipinas, it is much like a Europe Lecture-Tour. It is reaching out to the world to tell the stories of mine in the struggle of the lumads, the marginalized, the victims of human rights violations, and the oppressed people in my country.
I had several preaching engagements and delivery of messages in the church services and activities in my brand of sharing the Theology of Struggle of the Filipino people – the Evangelical Lutheran churches in Germany, Switzerland, and in Iceland. In the Old Catholic Churches in Germany, in The Netherlands and Austria. In the Anglican-Episcopal Churches. Lectures and fora of pious and OFW organizations in the Roman Catholic Churches in Rome and Germany. As presenter and facilitator in the activities of the Non-Governmental Organizations and Development Organizations in Germany including International Non-Governmental Organizations in Geneva, Switzerland including the global church organizations like the World Council of Churches and the Lutheran World Federation. I also witnessed two historical events in the Old Catholic Church of the Union of Utrecht – the Retirement Ceremony of the out-going archbishop of Utrecht, Archbishop Joris Vercamenn and the election of his successor, Archbishop-Elect Bernd Wallet.
I have also engaged with a lot of civil, political, environmental, and Human Rights organizations. Most significant is with the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva through the Ecumenical Voice in the Philippines together with National Union of People’s Lawyers and KARAPATAN, during their 41st, 42nd and 43rd and being part of the lobbying efforts which resulted to the approval of the Iceland-led resolution regarding the Human Rights of the Philippines on the following:
- Urges the Government of the Philippines to take all necessary measures to prevent extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, and to carry out impartial investigations to hold perpetrators accountable in accordance with due process and the rule of law;
- Calls upon the Government of the Philippines to cooperate with the Office of the High Commissioner and the mandates of the Human Rights Council, including by facilitating visits and preventing and refraining from all acts of intimidation or retaliation;
- Requests the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a comprehensive written report on the human rights situation in the Philippines and to present it to the Human Rights Council at its forty-fourth session, to be followed by an enhanced interactive dialogue.
Visiting and engaging politicians and government offices is not my cup of tea in the Philippines but here in Germany, I visited several times in the Federal Office for Foreign Affairs and Members of the Parliaments including Political Parties asking them to look into the worsening situation of human rights in the Philippines. The Human Rights Committee of the German Bundestag (federal parliament) made it to schedule a meeting with me which resulted in some significant plan including the holding of a forum or conference on the human rights situation in the Philippines in July 2020. With the COVID-19 pandemic, this, however, is no longer feasible. In Iceland, I also visited and had a meeting with the Foreign Minister and several members of the parliament and discussed further the Philippine situation especially with the extra-judicial killings brought above by the war on drugs. Together with KARAPATAN-national and a mother of a victim we were given a chance to amplify our calls for justice for the victims.
Luckily, I also have attended training and theological studies. In Utrecht University I attended a Summer School on Old Catholic Theology in its Ecumenical Context. In Brussels, Belgium I also participated in training on human rights and on engaging the European Union and the United Nations on human rights protocols and programs thereby accessing the same to benefit our works and advocacies as human rights defenders.
I have been to more than a dozen media interviews which landed most in German newspapers and magazines, radio news, and in a blog site.
So, what have I got so far?
Together with Fr. June Mark, I have organized core groups for the Filipino Ecumenical Migrants Ministry here in Hamburg, Berlin, and in Amsterdam and Utrecht in The Netherlands, also Geneva, Bern, and Zurich in Switzerland and also in Vienna, Austria. We have had a schedule of activities but were not pursued because of the pandemic but we are still communicating through skype calls and using other apps the technology provides. Here in Hamburg, we have started the online worship and Bible sharing.
I also take on the responsibility of coordinating and organizing the Europe Network for Justice and Peace in the Philippines which was in the secretariat work of the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines – Europe who also helped me connect with the other Filipino Migrants organizations during my stay here. The first country leg assembly was supposed to be in Vienna, Austria on the 14th of March but was also canceled because of the pandemic. Right now, I am organizing it and do the coordinating work via a Facebook group and on skype.
Last 28 April, I facilitated the virtual launching of the April 28 Coalition for Migrants’ and Refugees’ Rights and Welfare. This was done after three days of reaching out with had 65 organizations joined, affirmed the unity statement, and at least 40 from them participated in the said virtual launching. As our first project, this coalition is campaigning now for the regularization and/or full citizenship rights for all migrants, immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and displaced peoples, including irregular or undocumented migrants. I am attaching herewith the unity statement and other documents.
Aside from my regular blogging, I am also engaged in a weekly tele-radio program of the Filipino migrants’ groups through Facebook Live every Sunday which I am also part of the initiators and also partly hosting the said program. My blogging is mainly about my theological reflections on Sundays and special occasions but also includes opinions on hot issues of the society especially in the Philippines, essays, events. Significantly where my poems are published. I have not been into writing poems until I started in autumn last year.
The above-mentioned are just part of the things that keep me busy thereby making myself and my stay here still productive for the Filipinos and other peoples as a minister of God. Though all of these works are but without any financial remuneration.
I am fortunate enough to be chosen and saved by the Hamburg Foundation for Politically Persecuted Persons who invited me to become one of their guests from November 2019 until October 2020 with a provision of monthly allowance and housing. They also provided me with many public speaking engagements including media exposures.
Early this year, the German Bundestag through the sponsorship of a member of the Parliament from the Christian Democratic Union granted me a program Parliamentarian Saving Parliamentarian which is designed to protect the life of a parliamentarian who is politically endangered. In short, I am under the protection of the German Bundestag.
Looking forward. Well, the Obispo Maximo has also appointed me as his ecumenical, pastoral and liaison officer in Germany and Europe and to serve also as supervising minister to exercise oversight on all IFI Ministers in the continent starting last 30 November 2019 on the feast day of St. Andrew and my influential Philippine Hero of the Revolution Andres Bonifacio. It is exciting because we already have established the Europe Chaplaincy of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente which will help enhance in doing all those that I have started working while staying here in a foreign land for the sake of my homeland and the rest of the peoples of the world especially the working class.