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The Redemptorist Itinerant Mission Team (RIMT) began their mission in Kulaman, Sultan Kudarat in April 2002. The Sto. Nino Parish in Kulaman is located up in the Cotabato Cordillera, roughly 3,500 feet above sea level. It takes about four hours to reach Kulaman from both the cities of General Santos and Cotabato. It is 75 kilometers from Isulan, the capital town of Sultan Kudarat. From Isulan, it is a two-hour skylab ride on very rough roads. There are jeeps going up but with a lot of stops, the trip takes about four hours.

The landscape of Kulaman is very different from the rest of the Cotabato and Lanao provinces where one is always reminded of MIndanao's conflict situation; one does not encounter tanks, army trucks, and checkpoints along the road.

There are close to 40,000 people in Kulaman. Three-fourths are Christian settlers, with the Ilongos making up roughly 90 percent. The majority among the Christian settlers are Catholics; the rest belong to other denominations. One-fourth (roughly 10,000) are Manobo. It is difficult to know exactly what percentage among them have been baptized Christians (most are Protestants) and those who continue to hold on to their indigenous faith tradition.

The big majority of the people in Kulaman are truly the most abandoned. Except for a few families who have secured vast tracts of fertile land, accumulated business establishments, and got themselves elected as top government officials, the rest -- both Bisaya and Manobo -- are poor and powerless. The sad reality of a number of the land disputes is that it is the poor fighting the poor, namely, the landless Bisaya who dreamt of owning a piece of land to till and the disenfranchised Manobo who had been pressured to give up their ancestral land.

It is this backdrop that provides the setting of the Kulaman mission. After the entry Mass, officiated by Archbishop Orlando Quevedo OMI, archbishop of Cotabato, the RIMT members had conversation with him. This session was also attended by Fr. Tom Tancinco CSsR (representing the OPC), Fr. Peding Labaglay OMI (the OMI provincial), the OMIs assigned in Kulaman (Fr. Dodoy Daquipil and Fr. Ecloi Andamon), and Fr. Tekoy Florida (the pastoral formation director of St. Mary's theologate, whose six seminarians are doing BEC practicum for six months in Kulaman.

When asked what was his expectation of the mission, Archbishop Quevedo said that he wanted us to provide solid formation among the BECs so that the BEC members would become actively involved in peacemaking, conflict resolution, and interfaith dialogue. These, he indicated, were some of the priority pastoral programs of the archdiocesan plan. He also wanted us to be involved in the parish lumad program assisting the Manobos in their quest to have ownership and control over their remaining ancestral domain. He also pointed out the need to bring the Catholics into a greater consciousness regarding their responsibilities to the Manobo. His other expectations included the following: that we help evolve BEC structures appropriate to the situation of the archdiocese and to make ourselves available for training of lay BEC facilitators in the nearby parishes.

In an earlier general assembly with close to 200 BEC leaders of the parish, they had similar expectations as those articulated by Archbishop Quevedo. They wanted us to help them establish family groupings under the chapel GKK, thereby strengthening the BEC structure of 34 village chapels and seven zones in the poblacion; provide formation to the BEC members and leadership training; help them set up ecological, justice and peace, and income-generating programs; encourage more men and young people to be active in the BECs; and to promote dialogue with the Manobo.

From April to June 2002, the mission team went through the integration and immersion phase. By June we hope to begin setting up the family groupings after the BEC orientations in the chapel and zones. A sub-team is helping out with teh lumad program.

At present, the RIMT is composed of three Redemptorists (Bro. Karl Gaspar, Fr. Bebot Gaspe, and Fr. Jimmy Narisma), 9 lay missioners (Joy Santos, Inday Reconalla, Ebie Malon, Marites Calago, Grace Candillada, Malou Caminade, Roy Benitez, Renren Duran and Atong Caturza). There are also six seminarians of the St. Mary's Theologate who are working with the team for 5 months.

Kulaman's terrain is constituted by mountainous areas and undulating hills. There is very limited flat land. Most of the villages are quite far from one another and a number cannot be reached by the skylab; the members of the team do a lot of hiking. It is a tough place for conducting a mission but it has its rewards. The landscapes are fantastic (there are waterfalls, caves, and a replica of the chocolate hills of Bohol, morning fog covering mountain tops), the weather is like that of Baguio-Tagaytay and the people are warm and hospitable. But most of all, it is a place where one is confronted with the spirit of St. Alphonsus calling us to be faithful to the call to serve the most abandoned.

Karl Gaspar, CSsR
June 2002


The Kulaman Mission  Wraps up the First Phase

The Redemptorist Itinerant Mission Team (RIMT) is wrapping up the Phase I of the Kulaman mission.

This phase involved the setting up and strengthening of close to 70 BECs of two out of four districts in the whole of Sto. Niño Parish of Kulaman, Sultan Kudarat, namely District 1 and District 4 (that includes the poblacion). The BECs of Kulaman are called the Kristohanong Kawan or KRISKA, which are family groupings of 8 to 15 families.

Other activities during the phase I included the organizing of the KRISKA's bible sharing groups, the strengthening of the Sunday Bible service of the different chapels called the Gagmayng Kristohaong Katilingban (GKK), the organizing of the youth groups including their regular prayer groups, the training of the KRISKA leaders, setting up of an appropriate tithing program, the campaign for the marriage enrichment sessions, ecological campaigns (e.g. planting of trees along the river bank in Midtungok), and setting up service committees that could later deal with health, sustainable agriculture and justice issues.

Phase I also included  support work for the Parish Lumad Program, specifically the massive campaign to understand the implications of the Indigenous People's Rights Act and strengthening the grassroots organization of the Manobo, namely the Kulaman Manobo Dulangan Organization (KDMO). A total of 25 lumad communities were reached during the last three months. Their application for the certificate of ancestral domain title which was submitted to the National Council for the Indigenous Peoples was the output of the education and organizing work.

The RIMT assisted the parish in the conduct of  LIMOD DULANGAN MANOBO, the Manobo Week event that began with the celebration of the Indigenous People's Sunday. The one-week activities included the rituals of the Manobo traditional Beliyans (shamans), interfaith dialogue between the BECs and the Lumad communities (both adults and youth), cultural regeneration activities (writing workshops for young Manobos, Manobo arts festivals including the showcasing of Manobo music, chants, songs, dances, food preparation, sports and art improvisations) and dialogue with government agencies on the issue of land.

Thanksgiving Masses of the 18 chapels and 7 zones in the poblacion will take place from October 20-27.

The six seminarians from St. Mary's Theologate (SMT) in Ozamis City will end their six-month exposure at the end of October before they return to SMT for the second semester. The RIMT were quite pleased with their partnership.

A number of the seminarians are musicians. This made possible the composing and recording of songs in Cebuano, Ilonggo and Pilipino. A total of thirteen songs were recorded and the album -- with the title PAGPAKIG-UBAN -- is now available for sale. The songs deal wtih various themes: strengthening the BECs, exhorting the leaders to be faithful to their responsibility as BEC leaders, thanking God for the blessing of the mission, option to serve the poor, and the like. 

The RIMT members will have their retreats during the last week of October and first days of November. Most of them will be in Iligan for these retreats. The lay members will then get ready for the RELCA assembly.

We intend to return to Kulaman during the second week of November. Entry masses for Phase II (the chapels of District 2 and 3) will begin the third week-end of November. This phase will finish by April 2002 and will involve more than 30 chapels in the more mountainous areas of Kulaman.

Owing to the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural realities of Kulaman, the members of the team have also become more inculturated in the area as we have learned how to speak Ilokano, Ilongo and Manobo; the chanting, stories and dances of the Manobo, and to appreciate the various cultural expressions of the people we server in Kulaman.

All of us in RIMC are looking forward to the October 13-18 General Assembly to be once more, in the company of our brothers.

Karl Gaspar, CSsR
September 2002