KORONADAL, Philippines (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – For some years now, people in bright pink vests have become as familiar a sight in parts of Mindanao in the southern Philippines as gun-toting soldiers, a ray of hope for the indigenous peoples who have been forced off their lands by armed conflict.
The pink vests are a mark of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI), or the Philippine Independent Church, where members of the clergy and lay volunteers trained in conflict resolution help protect vulnerable communities.
The teams live in communities of Lumads – which refers to indigenous peoples in Mindanao – accompanying them on their daily tasks, and recording and reporting any rights abuses. “The struggle of the Lumad has truly become our struggle. Their aspirations are our aspiration,” said Father Christopher Ablon of the Lumad Accompaniment Program, which was launched in 2015 following a spike in violence against them.
“Sometimes all they need from the Church to feel safer is our mere presence. In accompaniment, our presence is felt by the community under threat, the perpetrators who threaten them and the government that is supposed to protect them,” he said.
In the Philippines, the only Christian-majority nation in Asia, members of the Church have long been involved in politics, and in the struggles of women, farmers and indigenous people.