A Columban priest who stole headlines in local and international media in the 1970s and 1980s for his staunch defense of the poor especially the sugar workers said that the social, economic and political conditions of Negros today remain substantially the same.
By KARL G. OMBION
Vol. VII, No. 50, January 27-February 2, 2008
BACOLOD City – A Columban priest who stole headlines in local and international media in the 1970s and 1980s for his staunch defense of the poor especially the sugar workers said that the social, economic and political conditions of Negros today remain substantially the same.
Fr. Brian Gore, an Australian missionary priest who lived and worked in Kabankalan and neighboring towns for more than a decade, said in a forum over the weekend in this city that except for some new infrastructures like the call centers, malls, and fast food chains, and new faces in local governments, the majority of Negrosanons who are sugar workers and farm workers still live in the same slave-like and miserable conditions as in the decades he was here.
“I had been here for few times since I left in the late 80s but I see the same power structure, skewed economic set up, and deplorable conditions afflicting our sugar workers, farmers, fishermen, urban poor,” Fr. Gore said in fluent Hiligaynon.
Some of the obvious manifestations of the same condition, Fr. Gore stressed, are that the majority are still dependent on the sugar industry; sugar workers are still not getting just wages and adequate social securities; people are still without dignity and their rights trampled upon; majority of farmers are still landless; and more fresh graduates and even older ones leave Negros to find jobs and economic satisfaction in other countries.
“That more people are looking for progress outside Negros and outside the country simply point that something fundamental is wrong in this country’s economic and political system,” Fr. Gore added.
Fr. Gore said that under this condition, the Church remains the only powerful institution that can do something to alleviate the conditions of the people, and work out social reforms.
Be the voice of the poor
Fr Gore, whose stay in Negros in the 1970s and 1980s had transformed him into a staunch advocate of the causes of the poor and in the process found himself in conflict with the landed and the rich, said that the Negros churches and clerics must remain consistent in being the voice of the poor and the oppressed.
Fr. Gore’s challenge was made after he noted that most churches, clerics and church organizations in Negros today are quite focused on the institutional or internal church concerns and seem to have backtracked from the social dimension of their work.
“Unlike in the 70s and 80s which I considered as the most productive years in the life of the Negros churches and clerics, today I don’t see a lot of them working and living among the poor especially sugar workers, farmers and fisherfolk; organizing basic Christian communities; education and other consciousness raising activities; grassroots Bible studies; facilitating conflict mediation and resolution on land disputes and other basic issues; and facilitating mobilizations for people’s problems and demands,” Fr. Gore said.
Fr. Gore said that he couldn’t fathom why the churches and clerics seem to have “stepped back or slept” when the conditions of Negros remain substantially the same as they were in the 1970s and 1980s.