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Mission Trip To Spratlys

The addition of Mon Aquino to the Military Ministry Team paved the way for this mission trip to Spratly (Kalayaan). Mon is a retired captain of the Philippine Navy, and he was once the Detachment Commander of our soldiers stationed at Pag-asa Island, the biggest in the Spratly group of islands. Mon recalled that during his time, life there was so boring. Thus, for consolation, Manila headquarters used to send them entertainers (singers and dancers) as visitors especially before Christmas. Now that Mon is in CFC, it became his dream to bring CFC to the Spratly. God granted him his heart's desire.

Mon first attempted to realize his dream before Christmas, but it did not materialize. He had then served as Chapter Head in Balut, Tondo, Manila before I asked him to serve as Coordinator in the Special Ministries. When told about Mon's plan, Bishop Ramon Arguelles, Military Ordinariate of the Philippines, was very eager, and so also was Frank Padilla. Both of them wanted to be part of the mission team.

The second attempt was during the Lenten Season when we finally got the approval from the new Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces. The team was formed. Bishop Arguelles' party included a deacon, a caretaker ofthe Pilgrim Image of Fatima which he will bring, and a military coordinator in the person of Lt. Col. Balintag who is also a CFC member. Our party included Frank, Jess Lumbang, Oca Oblefias, Moo Aquino and myself. The trip was scheduled on February 18-23.

We took off from Villamor Airbase, Pasay City aboard a C130 plane of the Air force. The flight was interesting. There were more than a hundred passengers (a mixture of military and civilians, male and female), but there were no passenger seats. Amidst the pile of cargoes we were all standing in our own place. There was no way for us to move around, no way to go to the comfort room (I wonder if there was any?) for the duration of the flight which took 2 1/2 hours. The cabin, though air conditioned, was unique because of the fog-like smoke that the air vent was emitting before take-off and before landing. The flight was smooth and we arrived safely at the airbase of WESCOM in Puerto Princesa, Palawan. We were welcomed by the military officers and by our CFC leaders there. During that short stop-over, we had the chance to visit the Vietnamese Refugees Resettlement Areas and we were served with their style of beef stew and French bread sandwich. They even sent 100 more sandwiches for the soldiers in Spratly.

Back to the airbase, the oppression began. Only seven of us could be accommodated by the nomad plane. Two of us, the deacon and Lt. Balintag, and some of our cargoes were left behind. They could not afford us a second trip. So we boarded and prepared to take off. It took some time before we finally took off and while still on the ground, the cabin temperature was so warm. We were all soaking wet with perspiration. When we finally took off, we were uncomfortably seated due to the small space. There was no legroom and the seat could not be reclined. Looking out, we saw nothing but water. Finally, the pilot motioned to the island. We were grateful that we landed safely. At last, after more than two hours on the plane, we can stretch, and the sight of the soldiers welcoming us took away all our tiredness. From the airstrip, we processioned the image of Our Lady of Fatima to the makeshift chapel. It was so small that it could only fit eight to 10 persons. The rest of the soldiers stayed outside the chapel during masses.

We saw mixed emotions in the eyes of the soldiers. They were happy that we visited them, but they were also apprehensive because they had very little food provisions left. They received the written communication about our arrival just the day before and obviously, they were not prepared to host us. Nevertheless, Oca told them that he brought some canned goods. In reality though, he only had three cans of corned beef. I brought some bread, cheese and wine for the Lord's Day Celebration and candies to be distributed during the CLP sessions, plus four gallons of water. All these concerns were answered by the Lord. Our team found out that the drinking water there which comes from a deep well tastes so good, that they used the drinking water we brought only for brushing. On the second day of our stay, the soldiers apprehended a fishing vessel which was roaming around the island, to check on their credentials and whether they were doing some illegal fishing. They captured two men and brought them to the island for questioning. However, the two men who seemed to be Chinese do not speak nor understand English. They kept on saying a word which Lt. Base, the Detachment Commander, interpreted as “we are not enemies, we are friends.” After which, Lt. Base talked to them in sign language which they understood. The soldiers were courteous to them. They even gave the men something to eat. In return, the fishermen gave us a good share of their catch which were later distributed to the three branches of service staying there: the navy, the marines and the air force. The fish served as our viand for the duration of our stay. God really provides for His children!

We had the CLP Orientation Session in the evening of the day we arrived. Frank gave the talk and Mon Aquino gave the sharing about the transformation that happened to him since he joined CFC. There were 32 participants. One was already a CFC member from Puerto Princesa who has stopped attending activities since he joined the active service in the marines, while another was a SFC member from Lipa City when he was not yet in the air force. It was him whom we tapped to head the music ministry there.

On our second day, we finished Talk 1 to Talk 5. There were 27 participants who continued with the program. One of them was a female COMELEC employee who was there to register the soldiers. We were able to form five discussion groups: three for singles and two for the married ones. We tried to make a composite of navy, marines and air force in each group. This did them good, because we later learned that these three local branches of service were not comfortable with one another. Each one believed that they were better than the other. They were competing. The CLP allowed them to interact, sing and pray together, and to share and discuss issues that were relevant to their lives as soldiers separated from their families. The beginning of their unification started with their common effort to apprehend the Chinese fishing vessel. They used the navy speed boat, one unit supplied the premium gas used, and each unit was represented in the apprehending team formed. Thus, they shared in the offering given by the fishermen.

The third day was for Talks 6 to 8, and for the Baptism Session in the late afternoon until early evening. All 27 participants were baptized in the Spirit.

The fourth day was for Talks 10 to 12. They all committed themselves to join the CFC Servants of the Lord. The sole lady participant also committed to join SFC in Puerto Princesa for her spiritual nourishment. That same day, we conducted their first prayer meeting where we heard their sharings. They thanked the Lord for what He has done to them, how the Lord saved them and helped them in their difficulty. They said the CLP unified them. The competitive spirit was no longer there. They also realized that they should always pray and maintain a close relationship with our Lord. They found new hope in their life. They felt that the Lord loves them and that they have to take care of themselves. They also committed to stop gambling, drinking and viewing pornographic films and reading pornographic magazines. They depicted these realizations in their group presentations during the fellowship program.

Bishop Arguelles gave them a replica of the Pilgrim Image of the Our Lady of Fatima, together with rosaries and prayer leaflets. We gave them Bibles and copies of our Ugnayan. We also left them with the audio tape of the whole CLP. Five household groups were formed: two for the air force, two for the marines and one for the navy. We picked and fast-tracked five of the participants to be their household heads.

Before we left, we encountered our last oppression. We already boarded the nomad plane which would take us back when the pilot noticed the continuous dripping of aviation fuel on the right wing. The gas over-spilled and had to be dried up before we could go. So, we waited for another hour. From Pag-asa Island, Bishop Arguelles invited us to join him in bringing the Fatima to El Nido town. There, we were again saved from two possible accidents. One was when our plane almost overshot the runway in El Nido. We touched down already at the middle of the short airstrip, and the reverse of the plane malfunctioned. Thank God the pilot decided to use the brakes and we were saved from falling into the creek. Mama Mary, who was with us in the plane, interceded for us. The second would-be accident was when Mon fell from the boat. Had it been the pilot or me who fell, something could have happened. It was good that Mon was the one who fell because he knew what to do. He was a diver.

After staying overnight in the Our Lady of Matinloc Shrine, we proceeded back to Puerto Princesa and waited for our return flight back to Manila. It was no longer a military plane but a commercial one. Even if we were unable to buy anything from Puerto Princesa, we were grateful that we reached Manila safely. This may be our first mission trip to Spratly, but definitely it won't be the last. We thank and praise God for this encouraging experience at the Spratly. By Rene Perez

Religion | Christianity | Society | Regional | Asia


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