It began in 1986.
A group of priests and mostly nuns by the name of NAMFREL Marines trooped to critical parts of Metro Manila and became part of what transpired as the bloodless EDSA revolution. The 600-strong religious – more than 700 in another account – literally guarded ballot boxes during the snap elections February of that year, an event that soon led to the ousting of a dictatorship.
It was faith that left the NAMFREL Marines unharmed in that fateful 25th day of February in 1986. It was also faith that propelled them to sow seeds of social justice that for almost three decades now have not waned.
The end of years of totalitarianism also marked the birth of Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan (SLB), who in turn has been leading the fight for genuine democracy in recent history. Born from the NAMFREL Marines, SLB has remained committed to its roots’ adherence to a faith that indeed does justice.
As the socio-political apostolate of the Society of Jesus in the Philippines, SLB has been in the forefront of promoting social justice anchored in faith to God through its electoral and political education programs. For 29 years, SLB has evolved and continued to develop its programs in response to the pertinent needs of the society. That is why SLB has also engaged in Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM) activities and projects that witnessed its start in 1990 when SLB participated in a relief operation following the eruption of Mount Pinatubo.
For an entire week starting from the 21st of February until the 1st of March, SLB commemorated its 29 years of service to the Church and the Filipino nation. With the theme “Renewing a Faith that does Justice”, SLB showcased its existing programs and introduced the new ones as well.
SLB’s 29th Anniversary Week commenced when SLB Junior Political Officer Enrico Antonio La Viña talked about the struggle of the people of Casiguran against the controversial Aurora Ecozone (otherwise known as APECO) in TEDxADMU held in the 21st of February in Henry Lee Irwin Theater in Ateneo de Manila University. For years now, SLB has been the primary convener of the Task Force Anti-APECO (TFAA) that has sought to ultimately repeal the Angara-led APECO Law for its numerous human rights, and financial and legal violations. The organization has also been long involved in lobbying for land use and agrarian reforms, especially during the march of the Sumilao farmers in 2007 who gained their success in acquiring their lands thereafter.
The Kasiguruhan sa Casiguran, an initiative for the development of local communities in Casiguran, was reintroduced the next day until the next through the promotion of its flagship subprogram for 2015, the “This ISDA Year”. “This ISDA Year” is a donation drive aiming to provide for the needs of fisher folks of the municipality. People were also invited to be part of organized visits to Casiguran to interact with the community, especially the fisher folks.
The all-new Kuwentuhang Bayan (KB), SLB’s flagship project on good governance, was also introduced via social media. The renewed program, now with a mix of electoral and political education frameworks, seeks to educate the most vulnerable sectors on their right to suffrage, to empower citizen in engaging democratic institutions such as elections, and to provide avenues for discourse and action plans. Individuals and organizations who are interested to be facilitators of KB are invited to a March 21 Facilitators’ Training in Cardinal Sin Center in Loyola House of Studies, Ateneo de Manila University.
The program, which will run until next year, is seen as the forefront of SLB’s initiatives in conscientization of voters and citizens in the context of the coming 2016 general elections.
As a way of promoting its DRRM initiatives, SLB held its first training course for Ugnayan ng Mamamayan para sa Kaunlaran ng Payatas (UMAKAP), the first-ever disaster management-related people’s organization in Barangay Payatas, Quezon City. Dubbed as “Stewardship of Creation”, the workshop paved the way for UMAKAP leaders to understand deeper their situation in Payatas and form action plans to address pressing environmental issues in their area. Sr. Marvelous “Marvie” Misolas of the Maryknoll Sisters of Saint Dominic, known advocate of Climate Change Adaptation (CCA), graced the event as facilitator. UMAKAP then organized a clean-up drive the next day as a gesture of its commitment as stewards of their community.
Capping off the week-long commemoration was the CGE Radio program last 1st of March dedicated to SLB’s anniversary and the subject of service. Ms. Marjorie Tejada, SLB’s Administrative Secretary who had been in service for 15 years, was invited a guest as she shared her own stories of faith that does justice as the longest-serving member of the organization.
For almost a decade now, CGE Radio has been giving voice to thousands of subscribers through its interactive format and engaging topic on socio-political affairs.
“Manalangin, Manindigan, Makialam”
Prayers, and the opportunity to be beacons of hope, looked to be extremely important in these trying times of the nation. Thus, the “SLB Anniversary Mass, Recollection on the Mamasapano tragedy, and Prayer Rally for Peace” held in the Oratory of St. Ignatius of Loyola in the Loyola House of Studies, Ateneo de Manila University on the 25th of February became the highlight of SLB’s week-long commemoration. Staying true to its motto of “Manalangin. Manindigan. Makialam.”, SLB brought together more than a hundred religious, volunteers and partners, and members of the Payatas community to pray and commit to act for national peace.
Fr. Albert “Paring Bert” E. Alejo, Mindanao-based anthropologist and philosopher, celebrated the mass and paced the recollection on the topic of peace in Mindanao in the context of the recent Mamasapano tragedy. Atty. Benedicto “Benny” R. Bacani, Executive Director of the Institute of Autonomy and Governance (IAG) who served as legal adviser to the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, provided the legal background of the peace process in relation to the incident in Maguindanao. After a series of questions, Paring Bert guided the participants to a synthesis and a reexamination of their own positions on the Mindanao problem as the quest for peace remained. SLB Executive Director Fr. Xavier “Javy” C. Alpasa then led the delegation to a prayer rally from the Loyola School of Theology to Ateneo Gate 2.5. Participants lit hundreds of candles along Katipunan as testaments of their prayers.
Such encouraging show of support is seen by SLB as faith renewed in the face of a challenging year. SLB is more than hopeful that everyone who walks with it, in person or in spirit, is one with its vision of a nation forged in love, peace, and justice.
A Challenging Year Ahead
The next year is perceived to be as challenging as this year, particularly in the context of the coming general elections. With the changing political landscape and national issues at hand, the civil society is ever so challenged to come together and understand its position in the thick of the voices. SLB has been conscious of its efforts in continuing its programs, bringing new initiatives, and convening the civil society in response to new developments in the Philippine socio-political arena.
As the 30th anniversary of the EDSA Revolution and likewise of SLB become near, SLB hopes that together with the religious and the civil society it is able to discern well on how the fire of faith will remain burning in their hearts. A renewal of this core value, of a faith that genuinely does justice, central to its 29th year commemoration, is indeed a major step in realizing what SLB is born for.
That hope began in 1986. And that faith that begot SLB keeps its quest for social justice moving, from the ballot to Mamasapano, from a storied past to the future of the Filipino nation.
 Katsiaficas, George N. “Asia’s Unknown Uprisings: People power in the Philippines, Burma, Tibet, China, Taiwan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Thailand and Indonesia, 1947-2009.” PM Press, 2012.
 Hedman, Eva-Lotta E. “In the Name of Civil Society: From Free Election Movements to People Power in the Philippines.” University of Hawaii Press, 2006.
-Xavier Roel Alvaran