Few months before the super typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) struck Manicani Island in Eastern Samar, Venerando Badilla Sr., fondly called Mang Nando by the residents, was arrested along with six other for the murder of a mining engineer and contractor. He was seventy five.
Mang Nando was a fisherman, farmer, and an esteemed resident of Manicani. He used to lead a simple but happy life in the island but when mining was permitted in the early 2000s, he saw drastic changes on the island that is home to him and three thousand others. Arable lands were reduced and fishing became more difficult. He would see fewer and fewer cockatoos endemic to the island. And worst, he saw how his community became divided among those who favour mining because of the easy profit and those who object it. Among families, the division was also evident. But Mang Nando’s faith was his compass. He loves Manicani as God’s gift and inheritance. He knew it is his duty to stand up.
It appeared that Mang Nando was an easy target of suspicion because of his involvement in campaigning against the operation of a nickel ore mining corporation. For years, he has been active in organizing and educating people about the detrimental effects of the mining in their island community. “No amount of money will compare to Manicani’s natural beauty. Kay biyaya man sya. (It’s God’s gift to us.) Even if I die fighting for it, I will not stop.”.
Mang Nando was jailed along with six others but the people’s campaign against the mining operations did not stop. Their campaign actually found new voices and new allies. National organizations and church people stood alongside them. International and local media picked up their story and amplified their cause to a broader audience. Bishops appealed for their release. When the RGS started its development projects in Manicani on 2013 as response to the humanitarian needs of disaster-affected communities, it supported the people’s anti-mining campaigns as well.
Engaging in political actions is not new to the sisters and lay mission partners. In the congregation’s newly released position paper on integral ecology, it is stated that it is critical to “be politically active on issues such as trade, climate, practices of trans-national corporations, harm of military industry and armaments, national energy policies, and sustainable water usage, in order to eliminate the structural causes of the dysfunction.”
On February 19, 2018 after five years and six months on remand, Mang Nando’s group was released and all charges against them were dropped. Assisted by his daughter who is also active in the campaign and defied all bureaucratic odds just to get his father home, he returned to Manicani, 79 years old. His return that day was a fitting surprise he could give to his wife. It was their fifty eighth wedding anniversary.
Few days ago, we visited Mang Nando and listened to his stories. When asked about his plans to do now that he is back to the island, his reply reflected all the love that he has for the island and his family, “Of course! I will continue in whatever way I can. My grandchildren and their children deserve to inherit a beautiful place.”
Mang Nando’s prophetic witnessing affirms our mission of reconciliation in communities that are being undermined and the benefits of development are not shared equitably. His witnessing is an inspiration to many people of Manicani Island to love the environment by protecting and preserving its natural resources.