Strong relationships lead to hope

By the Rev. Matt Lang, election observer in the Philippines, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

On Saturday morning we had a press conference with several members of the media. Each participant was asked to give a brief statement about why they were in the Philippines as an election observer and what they expected.

I first came to the Philippines 10 years ago as a Mission Volunteer sent by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to work with our partners in the United Church of Christ in the Philippines. I lived in Davao and General Santos and traveled often to remote areas. I heard many stories of corruption and saw the poverty that is the result of so many years of failed economic and political policies. I also made many friends and as I traveled across Mindanao and I shared their stories when I returned to the US.

It was six years before I returned to the Philippines. I came with a friend and our wives and we were hoping and expecting to have a relaxing vacation, enjoy some time on the beach, and maybe sing some karaoke. However, we found that from 2000 to 2006 the situation in the Philippines had become worse, particularly in regards to political killings and disappearances. Friends I had made in 2000 were missing or dead in 2006. Our partners in the UCCP were scared and overwhelmed. They needed help.

In 2008, I returned to lead a delegation that met with victims and family members of victims of extra-judicial killings and kidnappings. The stories that we heard were heartbreaking, and it was easy to feel helpless. However, we were told again and again that our presence made a difference; that being there to bear witness mattered. We returned to the United States and again shared stories.

When I was given the opportunity to come this time as an election observer I was honored and happy to come back to this county that I love and reconnect with friends, but I was also sad, because the situation has not improved. Violence, poverty and corruption are still pervasive. I expect that this experience will make me a sadder person. But I think I will also be more hopeful, because strong relationships will be made stronger. I believe that the presence of the international observers will create space for real democracy to have a chance to grow, and hopefully—sooner rather than later—that democracy can lead to the real change for which people here have worked so hard and risked so much, and which they deserve.