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Visiting Schools in North Luzon

A Letter from Cathy Chang and Juan Lopez, serving in the Philippines

March 2019

Write to Cathy Chang
Write to Juan Lopez Carrasco 

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In mid-February, Mienda Uriarte, the Asia Pacific area coordinator for Presbyterian World Mission, and Richard Williams, the Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) coordinator, visited the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) national office, as well as Dumaguete and Iligan City. Cathy and I participated in UCCP-PC(USA) partnership conversations, and later I joined the visit to Dansalan College in Iligan City.

Last May during the UCCP General Assembly, I made my first visit to Dansalan College, so it made sense to continue the relationship. This school was established by Congregationalist missionaries. Most recently, the school served as an outpost for the rebels during the Siege of Marawi between the Philippine armed forces and Islamist rebels.

On both visits to Dansalan, Mrs. Edna Orteza, the executive secretary for institutional ministry, was our guide. She oversees CREATE-UCCP, which stands for Church Related Educational Action Towards Empowerment. This program is the link between the main institutions of the UCCP and their schools.

Also present at the February visit to Dansalan College were PC(USA) mission co-workers Cobbie and Dessa Palm; Pastor Rannieh Mercado, the UCCP executive secretary for administration; and Bishop Ligaya San Francisco of the Northwest Mindanao Jurisdictional Area. All of us met with the president of the school, Dr. Fedelina Tawagon. From the laughter and affection sprinkled into the seriousness of our meeting, I could tell Mrs. Orteza has a long-standing and loving relationship with this school and the president.

During that same meeting, we watched a student-made video that showed the future campus at Iligan City. The first part of the video was about the destruction that occurred in Marawi and the campus. The students used drones to film what was left of the previous buildings. Everything has been burned down, with the few walls standing covered with bullet holes. Few contractors are allowed by the government to work in the city. According to the army, the city needs to be demolished to ensure there are no remaining mines and bombs. Everything must be removed in order to rebuild, which will take many years. The priority is to finish the Iligan campus for teachers and students to work in a safe place.

This visit to Dansalan College with Mrs. Orteza allowed us to get to know each other. Soon after our time at Dansalan College, she invited me to join her for a visit to the Cordilleras. This was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up, so before I knew it … Our first stop was in the region of Kalinga, which meant crossing the pass of Santa Fe through the Cordillera mountains through Nueva Vizcaya. Beautiful mountains enveloped us on both sides of the road, one of which is called Sierra Madre. Rice and corn fields also surrounded us.

The beauty of these mountain areas beckoned us with hospitality. We arrived in Tabuk City at the Tabuk Institute to drop off books and supplies. Principal Mae Quilawat Pomay-O greeted us warmly by preparing a welcome meal of mulberries, Kalinga coffee, camote (sweet potatoes) and black rice. After the meal, we toured the school, where we learned about one night in October 2018 when the library caught fire. Now they must rebuild the library as fast as possible to meet the accreditation requirements that the school needs to receive government subsidies.

After that first visit at Tabuk Institute, we drove through the heart of the town to St. Tonis College, where they were preparing for the three-day celebration of their 45th founding anniversary. Satisfied by our second lunch and fortified for our conversations, we joined the principals of the UCCP schools of the Kalinga region. Together we discussed the different needs of the schools and surrounding communities, and how to create a school system of all the Cordillera-area schools.

The Kalinga Academy in Lubuagan, founded in 1927 by the Evangelical United Brethren, is the first school that we discussed. Principal Cesar Manalwap talked about losing the school’s accreditation due to the state of the building. Next, Bishop Elorde Sambat discussed projects at St. Tonis like extending the campus and improving their nursing program. Then Pastor Ruben Puguon, principal of the Ifugao Academy of Kiangan, introduced us to the Centennial Plan aimed at 2026. Finally, Principal Mae from the Tabuk Institute talked more about the library fire of October 2018.

During our meeting, I was impressed with the leadership of Dr. Ruth De Lara. As a UCCP member with educational and curriculum-writing experience in values formation, she shared her expertise with this group. Her direct words and straightforward manner seemed to cut through the heaviness of our sharing. The principals were not trained as administrators and learn on the go — they need formation to help them with leadership and management. Many of the teachers are young and have been asking for more leadership. They lack experience and formation in dealing with social issues that face their students and families: poverty, tribe conflicts, bullying, teenage pregnancy, social media harassment, etc. Trainings are expensive and require them to travel to far away centers. Schools here need the money that might be spent on training for their building maintenance, books and science equipment for classrooms to meet STEM (Science, Technology, Education and Math) requirements.

With the oversight of CREATE, our plan is to meet again in May and June to talk about the different options and actions that will help the Cordillera-area schools. I am grateful that Mrs. Orteza values how my experience in working with schools and administrators, parents and families might benefit these schools and their respective communities. Please email me if you are interested in learning more about these schools and how to support them.

In the meantime, Cathy continues to develop these and other relationships, especially during recent visits to Hong Kong and North Luzon. Partners from these two areas will host a PC(USA) Peacemaking Travel Study Seminar about forced migration and labor trafficking that will happen in May 2020. You may learn more or apply through visiting the study seminar webpage. In mid-May, Cathy is also expecting 16 Indonesian visitors, several of whom participated in the Presbyterian Women Global Exchange to Indonesia. Women’s empowerment is the focus of their visit.

Now that the cooler weather in the Philippines has passed, the heat of summer is here. Drought-like conditions from El Nino have exacerbated water shortages around the region. Please pray with us for those affected by these shortages.

Our family is in the midst of celebrating blessings. Our daughter, Aurelie, has nearly finished first grade, and our family recently celebrated our third anniversary of moving to the Philippines. We are now making plans to renew our call to mission service by extending for another four-year term. We are truly thankful to you and to God that you’ve supported us as a family in mission service. Please continue your financial support, your prayers, and your encouragement.

Juan and Cathy


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