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Dear Columban Friend,
In 1983, three priests and six lay workers on Negros Island, the Philippines, falsely were charged with multiple murders. Over the next fourteen months of trial and imprisonment they become known worldwide as the Negros Nine. One of the Negros Nine, Columban Fr. Brian Gore, continues to live and work in the Philippines. Fr. Brian returned to Negros Island in 2007.
The exonerated Negros Nine became a voice for the poor, as encouraged by Pope John Paul II in 1981 when he said “the church should not hesitate to be the voice of those who have no voice.” The Negros Nine Human Development Foundation, Inc., was set up in 2000 to continue the work of total human development started in the dark years of the Marcos dictatorship and in the memory of all those who suffered and died in the course of justice. The vision of the foundation is to promote the non-violent transformation of society through total and integral human development. One of their goals is to promote sustainable agriculture through organic farming.
Fr. Brian and I were talking recently, and he shared the following with me:
Those of us involved with the rural communities today wish to ensure that the sacrifice of those who were martyred for their commitment to live their faith, proclaiming justice and protesting injustice, will neither be forgotten nor be in vain.
Currently we are putting our energy into the development of sustainable agricultural methods, a more efficient approach to marketing, and the promotion of a producer/consumer cooperative. Most of our energy is going into creating, with the communities, a viable way of remaining on the land.
The cooperative is an essential part of our work with the farmers. No matter how efficient farming methods may be, without some control of the marketing of their produce, the small subsistence farmers cannot progress economically. Also, we hope that through the cooperative the various experimental agricultural projects of the “Negros Nine Demo Farm” will be replicated in the farms of its members.
There are now 53 communities in the parish, seven of which surround our experimental farm and reforestation project. With financial support from Columban benefactors we bought land to start an experimental farm and are well on the way to showing results that should help local farmers improve their farming methods. On one section we are maintaining the indigenous trees, shrubs, vines and grasses. On other sections we have planted new trees, as much of the forest had been destroyed by logging and slash and burn farming.
Our patch of forest protects the water catchment and the spring that allows us to irrigate our farm and provides water for our nursery, the vermi-culture project, the fish pond, the vegetable garden, various animals and domestic purposes. We are experimenting with contour farming to control the erosion of the soil and rejuvenate the soil’s fertility by crop rotation and various forms of composting. Pray that we can keep these people on their land. The alternative for them would be to move even further down the spiral of abject poverty.
Any donation, large or small, will benefit the subsistence farmers on Negros Island. Jesus’ words, “For I was hungry and you fed me,” resonate with me when I think about these farmers. The farmers on Negros Island aren’t looking for a handout; they are looking for a hand up. With your assistance, they will become not only self-sufficient but also able to share the surplus of their efforts, feeding others and offering a hand up to others living in poverty.
Gratefully yours in Christ,
The Columban Fathers