STATEMENT OF SR. STELLA MATUTINA, OSB & PANALIPDAN-DAVAO ORIENTAL VICE CHAIRPERSON ON THE MILITARY'S SYSTEMATIC PERSECUTION OF ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENDERS.
Good morning, friends in the media, and my fellow religious and church workers. Today, I speak to all of you my thoughts on the unfortunate incident, as a servant of God has to go through. At the same time, to pose a challenge to everyone to overcome evil and continue to heed God’s calling.
I am Sr. Stella Matutina, a member of Order of St. Benedictine (OSB) assigned in Dawan Parish, Mati, Davao Oriental.
This year will be my second year of staying here in the Philippines. Previously, I was assigned abroad, in Europe , particularly, for 18 years, doing religious formation for foreign missions.
Reaching out to communities especially to poor ones is part of our congregation’s mission; we believe it is a way of exemplifying the real meaning of being a Christian, of being a follower of Christ.
My stint in Davao Oriental showed me the beauty and the abundance of the province with natural resources and mineral- rich lands. These resources are best to be utilized and benefited by the people themselves, for the development of their communities.
In my current assignment, I am mainly a trainor on sustainable agriculture. We want to promote sustainable agriculture as an alternative to mining. Large-scale mining as practiced by big mining corporations in the name of profit and greed is detrimental to our environment and people.
I am assigned in a socio-pastoral community in Mati where community-building activities are being conducted to help the people with their livelihood and welfare. We respond to different parish areas who invite us to provide educational trainings about sustainable agriculture.
The creation of Panalipdan, in April last year, was very timely with the intrusion of different mining companies in Davao Oriental. Panalipdan, of which I am an officer, is a multi-sectoral alliance for environmental awareness and protection and at the same time for the defense of our lands from the exploitation of big capitalists.
Since Panalipdan’s formation, we documented different mining operations and activities in Davao Oriental. We were able to conduct forums and film showings, and even attended barangay consultations regarding the entry of mining companies.
Our advocacy on anti- mining became well-known in Davao Oriental. In fact, one of our success stories is in Barangay Isidro, Lupon where equipment for mining operations of one company were prevented entry because of the people’s resistance.
A week before our forum in Taytayan, we went to Brgy. Surop, Governor Generoso to document and interview one person, whose brother, a miner of Sinophil Mining Corporation in Governor Generoso, died during a mining-related activity.
The forum in Barangay Taytayan, Cateel last February 15 is only one of our usual information- drive campaigns about environmental awareness and protection. As their invitation letter indicated, Barangay Taytayan experienced waist-high floods in the month of January which alarmed the residents and posed real danger on their lives.
We arrived in Cateel around 4:30 a.m. Then, at 5 o’clock I went to mass and after the mass, I informed Fr. Nestor Morata, the parish priest there, that I was there because I was invited to give a film showing in Taytayan and I even told him that I wanted to see Aliwagwag falls. He even invited me for coffee which I gently refused because my companions were waiting for me.
After the forum last February 15, my colleagues and I decided to pass the night in the Barangay Hall. At around 3:30 am, while sleeping at the second floor, we heard a noise from the first floor, as if somebody wanted to barge into the door.
Before we could manage to rise from our makeshift beds, we could see through the glass door silhouettes of several armed men hurriedly climbing the stairs and running toward us. They held us at gunpoint. I was still lying down when I raised my two hands and asked them what the matter was.
They asked for our names and at the same time reported it over their handheld radio device. They demanded to see the documents and materials we used during the training. We insisted that they give their names but our effort was futile. We peeped through the window and saw several soldiers outside and realized we were surrounded.
Truth to tell, I am furious with the incident. If the military can do such harassment to a nun like me, how much more to ordinary people who cannot defend their rights? I am more angered with what Lt. Soriao told me: that nuns like me should stay in the convent praying, and should not be in Barangay Taytayan, that nuns are just feigning to be religious but later on, they will organize the people to make them turn against the government.
Is this how peacebuilders like us should be treated and be accused?
When I raised my two hands, I remember I made the same gesture when I accepted my vow as a nun. As a nun, a church worker, a peacebuilder, as an environmental advocate, my life and those who are into the same profession and advocacy are constantly in danger as we thwart the evils of exploitation, greed, and corruption against our fellowmen.
My passion to serve my fellow human beings brought me to my journey in Cateel. If it is because of my passion to follow Christ that I will die, then let it be.
I may liken my plight to that of a tiny ant facing a big elephant. Actually, this is a story shared to me by a Sister in Africa . An ant may be tiny, and an elephant enormous and its trunk is a mighty weapon. But an ant knows where to hit the weak spot of an elephant. And when many ants bite an elephant, this huge beast will fall from the pain, and die. I may be a tiny ant in this journey, but together with other ants, we can face whatever adversary and overcome them.
But I am not afraid, and I pose this as a challenge: that we should not all be afraid. In the Bible, 1 Peter 5:8, the word of God says, “Stay sober and alert. Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him be solid in your faith.”