In the Philippines the gospel is changing the lives of huge numbers of people who in turn are changing the course of their country’s history.
This April I had an opportunity to visit the Philippines. Officially, I was there on business to report on the condition of the armed civilian self-defense organizations that have sprung up throughout the islands in the last year or two.
Unofficially, I was there to make contact with Christian leaders and observe the impact of believers in that war-torn country. What I saw gives glory to God.
A new president in February, 1986, replaced the corruption-ridden dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos as the result of concentrated days of national prayer. A revitalized military is headed by outspoken Christians who are making their mark in that institution. Pastors who had been uninvolved outside of their pulpits are now in the forefront of exposing the deceptions of communism from the light of Scripture.
With all of its poverty, factional political disputes, and problems left over from the Marcos period, the Philippines is a land of hope and opportunity.
I was given a briefing by Brigadier General Honesto Isleta dealing with the armed civilian self-defense organizations. General Isleta is the officer in charge of the counter-insurgency campaign against the communists in the Philippines.
I noticed things in Isleta’s office I had not expected to see. On the wall behind his chair is a picture of his classmate, General Fidel Ramos, the current Minister of Defense. Above Ramos’ picture is a photograph of President Corazon Aquino. Above both pictures is a sign the General had made up reading: “Jesus is Lord.”
In reply to a comment about the sign, Isleta referred to Romans 13 in explaining that sov- ereignty comes from God, and that the Defense Minister was under the President whose authority in turn was derived from God to Whom they are all accountable.
Near the door into General Isleta’s office was a six-foot long table completely covered with Christian tracts and pamphlets explaining, among other things, how to be born again.
Rev. Jun Vencer, President of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC), told me that church growth has been strong since 1898 when the Spanish gave up control of the Philippines. This has occurred in the face of persecution, which in recent years has primarily come from guerrilla attacks on churches and pastors, carried out by the communist New People’s Army (NPA).
Vencer reports that in 1987, of the 44 member groups in his organization, 164 churches were reported to have been closed and an equal number to have been “taxed” by the NPA. The communist guerrillas have ordered 81 pastors to stop preaching and have told 106 churches to stop holding home Bible studies.
Through March of this year, 34 pastors had been killed and 25 had been kidnapped. The rural areas are the toughest because the presence of the government is the weakest there.ures.
A New Era with Aquino
Many people give nearly identical accounts of the 1986 revolution that deposed Marcos and led to the Aquino presidency. Politics increasingly centered on palace intrigues under the tumultuous days of the waning Marcos dictatorship. These entanglements had spread to the military and had made it increasingly ineffective in the face of a mounting challenge from the NPA.
When the EDSA Revolution (named after the connecting boulevard between the presidential palace and the military headquarters) broke out in February, 1986, the EDSA filled up with as many as two million people. The military was uncertain about what to do.
The people were fraternizing with the soldiers, particularly where the confrontation could be the most direct: all along EDSA. Troops loyal to Marcos were largely thwarted by the spontaneous popular outpouring. For four days this standoff continued during which time people all along EDSA and throughout the country were praying. Not one crime was reported in Manila during those four days.
The tension peaked during a flight of attack helicopters headed toward rebel positions commanded by officers such as Generals Isleta and Ramos. Isleta told me that he had been praying Psalm 91 during this time which promises God’s protection, such as: “You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, nor of the arrow that flies by day” (Psalm 91:5).
Five minutes later, the helicopters put down without attacking, effectively ending the last possibility of civil war. Isleta told me that he later learned that Ramos had been praying the same Psalm at the very same time.
There seems to be little challenge to the legitimacy of the Aquino presidency. Corazon Aquino seems to be enormously popular throughout the population. One of the things that has most discredited the NPA with its constant barrage of terrorism has been Aquino’s popularity. The NPA had justified its call to arms and its extortion and murder of non-combatants by pointing to the Marcos dictatorship. The NPA, however, has not let up one bit since the installation of the popularly elected Aquino government.
The Gospel Offensive
Davao, on the southern island of Mindanao, is the Philippines’ second largest city. Even though the threat of Muslim terrorists has largely subsided, the NPA counted Davao as its most successful urban laboratory until 1987. The NPA’s high-water mark of control nationally, to one degree or another, was 69 of the 73 provinces of the Philippines. Davao illustrates why the NPA is in retreat throughout the country.
A spiritual dimension unites the three main elements of successful counter insurgency in Davao (and in all the the Philippines). The military commander of the region is Col. Franco Calida. Calida claims to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, a testimony affirmed by Christians living in Davao. Calida is also credited with having provided the military leadership in blunting the NPA assault against Davao.
The Alsa Masa (rising of the people) is the foremost armed civilian self-defense organization. It was organized by the people to provide protection from NPA extortion and attack that the government could not provide, even under the improved conditions of the post-Marcos era. The Philippines has 7,200 islands with 42,000 vil-lages, making 100 percent protection an impossibility.
Christians in Davao reported that formation of the Alsa Masa was preceded by much prayer and fasting. In fact, Christians were active in setting up the Alsa Masa and other similar groups. (Some self-defense groups were not blessed with Christian influence, and as a result, there have been isolated episodes of vigilante activity.)
When the NPA assassinated Pastor Ben Maglinte’s second associate pastor, he concluded that he might be next. Maglinte went to the other Bible-believing pastors in the Davao area and told them that he was probably the next one on the NPA hit list, but that they were likely to be targeted soon after because they were also preaching the gospel, not liberation theology.
Liberation theology has permeated much of the Catholic church as well as some protestant denominations and has been a particular problem in the Philippines. In a nut shell it has used Biblical sounding words to give the hatred fostered by Marxism the appearance of Christian love. The result has been to produce a self-righteousness among its adherents that allows them to justify theft and murder in the name of Christ.
Maglinte succeeded in organizing the pastors into a non-doctrinal group for the purpose of preaching the gospel and exposing the lies of communism from the light of Scripture. Sometimes the day-long seminars that these pastors hold can be reached only with a security force provided by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to protect them from attack.
The result of Maglinte’s work has been awesome. An entire region of Mindanao around the city of Davao has been converted from an area under communist control to one in which life has largely returned to normal.
The pastors continue to preach and teach in an ever-expanding zone throughout the island. In addition to church groups and the general public, the pastors have organized seminars specifically for teachers so they will be equipped to teach the school children the same information.
On the island of Cebu, I met with Jun Alcover. Alcover is an ex-communist who has heard personally the head of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), Josè Sison, give fund-raising speeches in Australia before Catholic church groups. The money so collected is directed to the Philippines through groups that are supposedly dealing with poverty of victims of military abuse, but in fact, the funds end up in the hands of the CPP.
The French magazine, LeFigaro, ran a story on March 12, l988, on two French researchers who found that the French Catholic Committee against Hunger and for Development has donated funds to organizations in the Philippines which were controlled or strongly influenced by the National Democratic Front (a communist front group), the CPP, or others. The authors were sued by the Catholic Committee for libel, but the suit was defeated in court.
Pastor Maglinte told me of the desperate need he and his fellow pastors have for funds to buy paper, mimeograph machines, and literature for their work. Their organization is called CALCOM (Christian Action to Love Communists but hate communism). Contributions can be sent by checks made out to CALCOM c/o Pastor Ben Maglinte; Bible Baptist Church; Plan. Rd. Dabio Toril; Davao, Mindanao; Republic of the Philippines.
The situation was much the same elsewhere in the Philippines. In Cebu, in addition to the pastors who are faithfully preaching the gospel, the Colonel in charge of the island for Gen. Isleta, Apolinario Castaño, speaks openly of the need for the peace of Jesus Christ. Castaño, a joyful man whose speech is effortlessly sprinkled with Scripture, is often heard on radio in Cebu exposing the fallacies of liberation theology and of Marxism.
Castaño’s adjutant’s office is headed by an officer who routinely applies Matthew 18 to conflict resolution among the military as well as among the people of the region. If the adversaries are not Christian, then it is explained to them that Matthew 18 will not be helpful to them unless they know Jesus Christ, and they are shown how they can know Him.
In the island of Negros Occidental where the war still rages in open battle, Pastor Salustiano Cabahug speaks of the church triumphant in history. He is entitled to the view, having been the leader of an embattled church for many years in the city of Bacolod. Cabahug pastors the Community Evangelical Church, formerly associated with the American Baptist Convention.
Cabahug’s l700 member church has sponsored the establishment of 10 daughter churches around the perimeter of Bacolod with another 1000 members. In addition, Cabahug’s Bible College has trained the 27 pastors that the Community Church has sponsored up in the mountains. They used to have 28, but one was killed by the NPA. At the annual conferences Cabahug gets to hear the inspiring accounts of the bravery of these mountain pastors whose sole concern has been to preach the gospel with the confidence of Romans 8:37: “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”
There is a great deal of interest in Christianity on the campus and among young professionals in the Philippines. For example, movie theaters in Makati, the modern business district of Manila, have been taken over as worship centers.
One of the groups in the forefront of this spiritual offensive is Maranatha Christian Fellowship. In a few short years they have built large congregations in the university belt of Manila and in Makati. They are now spreading their work to university centers in other cities of the Philippines.
Maranatha is training the future leaders of the Philippines to have a faithful Christian walk in whatever profession God has called them. And they are not just taking the sheep from other flocks to build up their own. One of Maranatha’s active lay evangelists, a student leader in Dagupan, had been a leader in a communist student group before becoming a Christian. He has turned away from his proclamation of bloody revolution to proclaiming the praises of God.
The spiritual awakening occurring in the Philippines is incomprehensible to the communists who assume the spiritual dimension of man to be irrelevant. They may never know why their apparatus, so painstakingly built up over many years, faces what could be a steady, and even rapid, collapse. The next two years are not likely to be good ones for being a communist in the Philippines, but there is no doubt that they will be a great time for the Christians.
MANILA, Philippines (EP) – The Philippine armed forces have received the first of 300,000 New Testaments to be supplied by the International Bible Society. The Scriptures are being sent in response to a request from General Fidel Ramos, Philippine Secretary for National Defense. Concerned with insurgency and poor morale in the armed forces, the government began a Values Formation Program to help soldiers build stronger moral values, develop spiritually, and regain the respect of the public.
Leaders of the program emphasize God’s Word as the way to make military men’s and women’s hearts right. Army General Honesto Isleta told Christian leaders in the Philippines that “there are too many factions within the military. But before we can reconcile with each other, we must be reconciled within ourself. Only God can change us.”
General Ramos asked the International Bible Society to fund the New Testaments since Bibles in the Philippines generally cost more than a soldier’s daily wage. Each Bible, translated in either English or one of five leading Philippine dialects, will contain a special page explaining the gospel and how to receive Christ.