22nd April is a very special day, particularly this year. 2020 marks 50 years since the first Earth Day: “the world’s largest environmental movement aiming to drive transformative change for people and planet”.
To commemorate this year’s celebration, we chatted to Christians across the Philippines who are passionate in caring for God’s creation. With different sets of expertise and interests, each one engages in their unique way as they range from pastors to professors, divers to teachers.
1. Dr. Carmela P. Española
Biology Professor, University of the Philippines, Quezon City
Dr. Española has been teaching at the University of the Philippines (UP Diliman) since 2006. When she is not in the classroom, she is busy doing research which often takes her trekking up mountains or through forests. Birds are her specialization.
Mini-interview with Dr. Española:
Q: How does your perspective on creation care influence how you teach your students?
A: The knowledge that the earth is the Lord’s drives me to do all I can to care for it as God’s steward. Part of this stewardship is teaching others in and outside my classroom the wonder and care of creation. It is in this experience of wonder that people learn to care and conserve nature and encounter God’s glory.
Q: In your research, you’ve come up close and personal with many varieties of flora and fauna. What is one example that surprised you?
A: In 2004, I volunteered as a biologist in an expedition to the Babuyan Islands in the Northern Philippines. It was while doing a bird survey in the island of Calayan that I encountered a near-flightless bird that was new to science. The team named it Calayan Rail (Gallirallus calaanensis) to draw attention to the conservation need of small islands like Calayan.
2. Reefs for Life
Reefs for Life is an NGO dedicated to coral reef restoration and bringing hope to coastal communities that depend on the reefs.
Mini-interview with Bryan:
Q: How has working alongside the coastal communities in Caramoan affected their relationship with one another & their fishing livelihood?
A: In every coastal town that we help establish a Marine Protected Area (MPA), we also set up a Peoples’ Organization (PO). The municipal law which establishes the MPA gives autonomy to the local people to decide what is allowed and what is not allowed in their MPA. This means that local communities are able to make fisheries management decisions that help their livelihoods.
Many fishermen in the PO testify to improvement in the livelihoods of their entire communities. In a recent survey, 89% of fishermen reported that there are more fish now than before the sanctuary was established. 66% of families say they experienced a reduction in poverty.
Q: Given the scale of the challenges in marine conservation, what sustains & motivates you to persevere?
A: I see 2 main ways to approach the scale of the issues resulting from the lack of care & management of natural resources. One is at the macro-level, working with UN level strategies and influencing global policies. The second is at the local level – transforming one community at a time. The latter doesn’t get enough credit for their positive impact in addressing these environmental challenges.
In Caramoan, Reefs for Life has helped establish 7 MPAs covering more than 4 sq km of coral reef habitat. Although we’ve encountered many hurdles along the way, we learn from each one we work through. Our primary motivation comes from God, who created all things, granted us the ability to use the natural resources & also tasked us with the responsibility to care for them. Our second motivation is people. Environmental degradation is at the root of many other global social issues of today. We persevere because we love God and all his creation.
3. Pastor Lito Villoria
Pastor, GCF South Metro Church, Las Piñas City, Philippines
Pastor Lito is the senior pastor at GCF South Metro in Manila. He began composting raw and uncooked fruits and vegetables on his balcony a few months ago as his personal response to God’s call to care for creation.
Mini-interview with Pastor Lito:
Q: What made you decide to start composting at home?
A: The Lausanne Global Workplace Forum held in June 2019 made me aware of God’s mandate to do what I can, with what I have, where I am to care for his creation.
I had a chance to speak with one of our church elders who has already been composting in his backyard. I thought that it would be difficult since we live in a condominium in the city, but he gave some tips on how to start composting using some garden soil and pots.
For now, we are composting, raw, uncooked fruits and vegetables.
Q: What have you learned about God and His creation through your experience in composting?
A: In the last 7 months since I started composting, I am continuously reminded of God’s marvellous work in creation and it serve as a regular reminder to keep taking care of God’s creation by doing what I can, with what I have and where I am.
4. Maeng Lejarso
Marine biologist and dive master, Davao, Philippines
Maeng entered university with an interest in engineering but ended up pursuing a degree in marine biology. He fell in love with the field after his first year because he got the chance to study coral reefs on a few memorable field trips. While still finishing the program, he was also introduced to scuba diving. He ended up graduating with both a marine biology degree and a dive master certification. He currently runs a dive shop in Davao where he meets divers from around the world and where he dives regularly and enjoys the bounty of marine life below the surface. To date, he’s done an estimated 15,000 dives.
Mini-interview with Maeng
Q: Since you’ve started diving 22 years ago, how have you seen the marine landscape change around Davao over the years?
A: Yes, coral reef ecosystems have been affected in a big way. Increasing ocean temperatures is leading to coral bleaching – once corals are bleached they cannot recover. Illegal fishing and dynamite fishing have also affected coral reef health and fish populations. Even inexperienced divers can contribute to the destruction of coral when they dive around reefs. Throwing anchors off boats is another major contributor to coral reef destruction when corals are hit.
One thing we’ve proposed in the diving community to address the anchor issue is for funding to go into the building of mooring buoys attached by ropes, which would be how boats could secure themselves in the ocean in place of throwing down anchors. As divers, we also try to do our part. We host clean-up days once per year in areas where we normally dive. We cut old fishing lines. We pick up trash. And we try to educate other divers and fishermen about the importance of marine protection. When possible, we also try to partner with local government in Samal Island and Davao.
Q: You have a reputation as a good spotter. How do you notice such intricate details underwater?
A: Before I was even trained as a spotter, I already had a good eye for noticing tiny marine creatures. My skill caught the attention of a wealthy marine photographer who also happens to own a luxury beach resort. Through her invitation, I received more formal training to improve my spotting skills underwater. Combined with my marine biology background (ie. familiarity with appearance, diet, behaviour, habitat of marine creatures), I became more skilled at spotting smaller and more camouflaged creatures. The key to being a good spotter is to swim slowly and pay attention to details in the coral and landscape.
5. Mangyan Agricultural School
Since the school’s inception in 2005, Gemma de Guito has been teaching Mangyan indigenous youth skills in sustainable agriculture and important principles in stewardship. The students, who come from different tribes around Mindoro, spend at least 8 months at the school learning to care for fruit trees and cultivate their own vegetable plots using only organic fertilizers. After more than 25 years among the Mangyan, Gemma continues to passionately invest in the lives of Mangyan youth, instilling not only hands-on skills but also deeper lessons about life that equip them for more than just farming.
Mini-interview with Gemma
Q: What is something you’ve learned from the Mangyan when it comes to relating with the land?
A: Based on (my) experience acquired from staying with the Mangyan, it’s easy to adjust and appreciate their life situation, traditions and culture. Because although their lifestyles are simple, they live with great satisfaction.
Q: What have been your greatest rewards in all your years of teaching at the agricultural school?
A: The best achievement in my teaching has been, first, seeing them (the students) finish their studies and receive their certificates of completion. Second, my reward is also seeing these graduates then apply what they’ve learned back in their respective communities in a practical way along with spiritual and moral integrity.
You can read more from Gemma in our blog post ‘Teaching Young People to Care for Creation’.
Caring for creation on Earth Day and beyond
The creation care advocates highlighted in this post are only a small sampling of the many followers of Jesus who are already active in caring for God’s creation in the Philippines and beyond.
What is fascinating is that each responds first out of a relationship with their Creator – who loves them and will one day bring full restoration to his entire cosmos. Each one in turn participates in caring for creation as part of their faithful stewardship within their unique spheres of influence.
How might you participate in caring for God’s creation? Where are your spheres of influence on this earth?
Want to learn more about creation care?
Check out the OMF Creation Care accounts on Facebook and Instagram @omf.creationcare for more profiles like these, reflections on creation care and a flavour the wonderful diversity of plants and animals in East Asia
Visit the creation care section of our website to find out more about why we care for God’s world and how we integrate care for creation into all our work.