Farewell, Pastor

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Friday, May 16, 2014


THE Pastor is Delbert Arthur Rice who recently passed away in the Ikalahan ancestral domain in Nueva Vizcaya. For us in my community forestry loop, we simply call him Pastor.

Since the year 2000, we get to see each other for the Non-Timber Forest Product-Task Force (now the NTFP-Phl) meetings held all over the country.

We were together in Negros Occidental at the Mt. Kanlaon Natural Park the first week of September 2001 to discuss how to move forward sustainable non-timber based livelihoods and forest conservation among largely mountain communities.

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We were quite relieved to head back to the Bacolod office of the Broad Initiatives for Negros Development (BIND).

But “relieved” was probably an incorrect word as “shocked.” And no one was shocked more than Pastor as CNN and the BBC ran over and again the al Qaeda terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers in New York. His country—mainland USA and the world’s financial center—was under attack.

Trust Pastor to find some good words to say about the dastardly attack against civilians. “No doubt, the terrorist attacks were evil,” he said, “but also were creatively planned and executed.”

Because perhaps of his advanced age, NTFP partners would often see him with his eyes closed, seemingly dozing. But not really. However, if he hears something that deserves comments, he would as suddenly wake up and say his two-cents which are often related to the topic being discussed.
During solidarity nights of carousing in front of videokes, he would shy away to his room, working on his laptop, writing proposals or books, or answering crossword puzzles or Sudokus.

The last book he was working was the Indigenous Justice Systems in the Philippines where he theorized that in many ways superior to the national justice system. I still have a soft copy of his earlier draft.

We often found ourselves comparing and contrasting notes on conflict resolution. Pastor shared his experiences with how the Ikalahan elders resolved conflicts within the tribe. On the other hand, I would share my experiences as a court-annexed mediator.

An environmentalist, electrical engineer and anthropologist, he was of course also a man of God of the United Church of Christ of the Philippines. Unlike some pastors who would rather be caught dead than go inside a Catholic Church, he avoided theological debates with Catholics and interacted with other faith communities among Christian and non-Christian development circles.

Our common ground was after all the conservation of mountain forests through the judicious use of NTFPs. But it was wonderful to see when Pastor led us to truly inspirational prayers before meetings start.

Pastor served as a missionary to the Ikalahan tribe of the Caraballo Mountains of Nueva Vizcaya. Through his immersion for years, Pastor gained their respect enough to welcome him as an honorary elder.

Not surprisingly, he used his engineering skills to build a light factory in the mountain barangay of 1Imugan. I was there in 2000. He impressed me with his engineering skills to industrialize a mountain community in processing the brand Mountain Fresh jams and jellies that are sold in several malls of Metro Manila.

Back then he installed hazard analysis and critical control points (HCCP) in the plant. The Ikalahans were among if not first to practice HCCP in the systematic preventive approach to food safety and biological, chemical, and physical hazards in production processes that can cause end-products to be unsafe, and designs measurements to reduce these risks to a safe level.

Godspeed and enjoy your eternal reward in the bosom of the Father in His heavenly kingdom. I could say more about how you influenced my life and countless others, and your ideas on community forestry will be us to be handed and improved by the next generation.

*****

(bqsanc@yahoo.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on May 16, 2014.

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