Filipino peacekeepers from Liberia bus out to island quarantine for Ebola

Peacekeepers from Liberia in bus AFP release

Filipino peacekeepers from Liiberia bus out to Caballo island for quarantine for Ebola / via AFP photo release by TSG Bruna PAF,PIO and SGT Bermas PAF, PIO

The 108 Filipino peacekeepers arrived in the Philippines Nov. 12 afternoon from Liberia, where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recorded the second highest number of cases of ebola virus infection.

They boarded buses and headed out to Caballo island off Cavite, south of Manila, for a 21-day quarantine before they may join their families, some of whom were at Villamor Air Base to wave to them.

The men and women peacekeepers dressed in battle fatigues emerged at the tarmac around 5:04 p.m. from a United Nations-chartered UTair Aviation from Monrovia, Liberia, with 24 policeman and a jail officer who served as UN staff in the country torn by decades of rebellion and civil war. 

They passed through a thermal scanner then gathered assembled in front of the grandstand for a brief welcome ceremony led by Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Delgado. Personnel from the AFP Peacekeeping Operations Center and Joint Task Group Liberia which will be overseeing the quarantine of the personnel joined the welcome ceremony.

The peacekeepers were deployed to Liberia last December for a six-month tour of duty that was extended by UN officials. 

Some of the families of the peacekeepers gathered at the Air Force Museum, about a kilometer away and watched a live video streaming of the arrival.




Update: video – Augustinian Recollects stay in Sierra Leone mission facing Ebola threat

Updated Aug. 21

View video of Interaksyon’s online interview here
Augustinian Recollects in mission in Sierra Leone - Photo courtesy of Recoletos Communications Inc.

Augustinian Recollects in mission with children in Sierra Leone – Photo courtesy of Recoletos Communications Inc.

 Augustinian Recollect missionaries are staying put in their Sierra Leone mission that is under the order’s Philippines Province to offer people there encouragement, accompaniment and help in battling the lethal Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), the Order announced.

Father Lauro Larlar, Order of Augustinian Recollects Philippines Provincial told Catholic in Asia its Sierra Leone mission members serve in two separate parish communities in the Diocese of Makeni in West and northern Africa, one of the high risk areas of the country for Ebola infection.

“We are appealing to everyone to pray for our brothers in Sierra Leone, for all people working to stop the spread of the Ebola virus, and for people they serve, especially in high-risk places” Father Larlar said on Aug. 18.

By then, the World Health Organization (WHO) had reported at least 1,145 people have died from the outbreak of the disease among 2,127 confirmed probable and suspected cases recorded by ministries of health of Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. The actual number of cases could run much higher, the WHO statement added. 

Father Larlar said the Recollects working in Kambai and Kamalo communities arrived at the decision to stay after they discussed the situation and needs of the people with the Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Makeni.

He said four of the missionaries are Filipinos – Brother Jonathan Jamero and Fathers Roy Baluarte, Dennis Castillo and Russell Lapidez. The two other missionaries are Spanish priests Fathers Jose Luis Garayoa and Rene Gonzales.

“They are a young group, with one of the Spanish priests as the eldest – around 60 years old,” Larlar said. “The youngest would be two years ordained, so around 27 or 28 years old. The rest would be around 35-40 years-old.”

Three other Recollect missionaries who were on vacation in the Philippines could not re-enter Sierra Leone because of travel prohibitions, the Provincial added.

African government and airline authorities have restricted travel after cases of Ebola heaemorrhagic fever were reported on the continent. According to WHO Ebola outbreaks’ case fatality rate has reached 90 percent. 

Outbreaks occur primarily in remote villages in Central and West Africa near tropical rainforests where the virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through direct contact with blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people, and indirect contact with environments contaminated with such fluids. There is no licensed specific treatment or vaccine is available for use in people or animals, WHO added.

Apostolate of presence

Father Larlar said while the missionaries have been watching the crisis for months, they waited for Makeni Apostolic Administrator Xaverian Father Natalio Paganelli to return from Rome so they could discuss with him and other clergy about the situation and needs of the Church in Makeni.

Philippines-based Recollects advisers “simply asked them to first dialogue with the Apostolic Administrator, be sensitive to the needs of the people, and pray for the light of the Holy Spirit. So they gathered, met and prayed until they arrived at this decision,” Father Larlar said.

He said Paganelli gave the missionaries freedom and respected the decision of the group. The missioners decided not to leave because they believe they can help more by remaining with the people, Father Larlar said.

“They are attending to the people, they administer the sacraments, hold daily prayer with the people. That’s what we call the apostolate of presence – so people will feel they are not abandoned,” the Provincial Superior explained.

“People who are exposed to this virus will feel they are accompanied, that the Church suffers with them, the Church works for them,” he added.

Missonary’s experience of outbreak

In a report to their provincial headquarters in Quezon City, northeast of Manila, Father Lapidez shares his own experiences and those of people he encounters in missio . 

The missionary said people directly involved in caring for the sick and other sources have noted government’s delayed imposition of strict control of movement of people in the borders of Sierra Leone after the first Ebola infection from Guinea and Liberia were reported. He said he first heard of an outbreak of Ebola infection in April.

People also disregarded warnings against eating monkey or bush meat saying ancestors and elders have eaten these meat over time and they never got sick with Ebola disease.

They only began to recognize the fatal effect of the virus after Sheik Umar Khan, the only virologist in Sierra Leone and the head of the task force fighting EVD outbreak, died from infection last July, Father Lapidez observed. 

Traditional washing or ritual cleansing of dead bodies in people’s homes left family members susceptible to infection, Lapidez added citing the 16 year-old boy who took care of his sick mother then got infected and died of Ebola virus disease.

Later, three medical doctors and over 20 nurses who cared for patients caught the infection and died also. Father Lapidez said poor health facilities and shortage of trained personnel for handling Ebola infected patients contributed to these deaths. Medical staff said they left the work in protest of government’s neglect.

Because of stigma against people infected or suspected to be infected patients turned away from hospitals in favor of traditional healers. As a result, they transmitted the disease to healers, Father Lapidez reported.

He also wrote about family members of a woman who was admitted to a hospital in Freetown and confirmed to be carrying the Ebola virus who tried to forcibly take their relative out of the hospital. In the Ebola treatment Centre at Kenema, a group of people rioted outside the facility after a woman declared that Ebola does not exist.

Mission context

Recollect mission in Sierra Leone started sometime in 1997, but was cut off by the civil war. “After the war, when things were calmer, we returned – around 2004,” Father Larlar recalls.  

The two parish communities Kamabai and Kamalo entrusted to the order are located in the interior isolated areas. “One is 45 minutes drive from the capital, the other is about 2 to 3 hours from the capital depending on the road, whether it’s raining or not,” the Philippines head explained.

The parish has numerous chapels, even though Catholics are the minority. Majority of the population is Muslim, Father Larlar said, adding they live poorly and their relations with the mission have been “very peaceful”.

He said Recollect missionaries were concerned that if they left the people would feel abandoned and rejected because there is no other priests’ community there to take on their work. “Native priests are few. Most of the priests attending to the parishes are religious, many of whom also decided to stay,” Father Larlar said.

“There is so much intramurals among the tribes,” Father Larlar added. For years, the diocese has had no bishop “because they (locals) live there by rules of tribes, and after the bishops’ consecration they wouldn’t let him enter because he comes from a different tribe and hails from southeast of Sierra Leone,” Larlar explained.

Strong tribal practices are evident even at Mass and other Church activities. For example, when the priests celebrate Mass in a chapel, people of various faiths come. “We welcome them because Mass is a gathering of people, and in Africa the people are fond of gatherings. They just do not receive communion,” Father Larlar said.

Holy Spirit’s work

The Order’s head admitted their missionaries’ decision to stay “surprised us.”

“We appreciate and recognize that this must be the work of the Spirit inspiring them. We did not expect this decision. We had told them that if they feel they have to evacuate the place, we are ready to assist them with that.” Instead, “they surprised us and we are very happy with the decision and the readiness to suffer with the people, though we are worried.”

To show support, fellow Recollects in the Philippines keep constant contact with the missionaries. “We assured them of that, and to send financial assistance, just in case they would need more funds.

“Of course we offer our prayers and our sacrifices for them, tell people about their work and ask for their prayers as a way of accompanying our brothers in Sierra Leone,” Father Larlar continued.


Read also 

Ebola can’t drive Philippines missionaries from Sierra Leone

CBCP Easter Pastoral Instruction on Stewardship of Health

Sharing this message from CBCP president:

(I Cor 15:55)

Easter Pastoral Instruction on Stewardship of Health

Today the Church returns to the tomb and sees it empty. The tomb without the body inside leads us to an act of faith “He is risen!” The resurrected Jesus had a body but quite different from the way the disciples experienced Jesus before the Passover. The body of Jesus was both resurrected and changed.

As we celebrate the resurrection of Christ, let us also renew our faith in the resurrection of the body. This body as we have it is a gift from God. This body as we have it will be resurrected and will be changed. Taking care of this body is not always an exercise of vanity. Taking care of the body is a spiritual duty as good stewards of health.

Saint John Paul II tirelessly reminded us during his papal ministry that we are created in the likeness of God. The human body is sacred because the human body is a gift from God. We must act and live like God because we were created like Him.

The passage of the Reproductive Health Law also prompts us to lay down these teachings about the Christian understanding of health. While we respect and recognize the duty and right of the State to pass laws, we deem it our duty as pastors to teach you about the Christian understanding of health which the present RH law seems to misunderstand.


“As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” (1 Peter 4.10)

God has bestowed on us the great gift of life. As Christians we promote and defend a consistent life ethic symbolized by the “seamless garment”. Human life ought to be promoted and defended from the moment of conception to natural death. Our life is in our hands as stewards of the gift of life. And our stewardship of life calls us to be responsible stewards of health. While health may not be the greatest value and good of the person, health is a gift and a task for all of us.

The American bishops define a steward in the following way: a steward is one who receives God’s gifts gratefully, tends them in a responsible and accountable manner, shares them in justice and love for others and returns them with increase to the Lord. (USCCB. Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response, 1993)

What is health? The World Health Organization in 1948 defines health as follows: “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Later, the WHO added a significant reality to health that includes the spiritual aspect of human life. At its best, health is drawing our capacity to “fullness of life”. Health entails the harmony of the person with himself or herself, with others in the community of people and the whole created order.

The Church teaches us that our bodies are not simply material vessels for our souls. They are integral and essential aspects of who we are as persons created in the image and likeness of God. Vatican II reminds us that we are obliged to regard the human body “as good and honourable since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day.” (Gaudium et Spes 14, par. 1). The human person is a unity of body and soul. Just as we are called to care for the spiritual health of our souls, we are also called to be responsible stewards of the health of our bodies (CCC 364). Life and physical health are precious gifts entrusted to us by God. We must take reasonable care of them, taking into account the needs of others and the common good.” (CCC 2288) Taking care of one’s health is not a selfish activity but rather it is a necessary and important task related to the building of God’s Kingdom. A person with good health will have more time and energy to participate in the life of the Spirit and the saving mission of Christ.

Our contemporary times present various challenges to living a healthy life. Drawing from the richness of the Christian tradition, particularly the practice of Christian virtues, this pastoral letter seeks to offer guidance to those who strive to be responsible stewards of bodily health.


Human virtues are firm attitudes, stable dispositions, habitual perfections of intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions, and guide our conduct according to reason and faith. They make possible ease, self-mastery, and joy in leading a morally good life (CCC 1804). Virtues can be learned by education, developed by habitual and deliberate practice, and sustained by God’s grace. Through God’s help, our efforts at living out Christian virtues will enable us to grow more perfectly in our following of Christ

There are four cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. Prudence enables us to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means to achieve it (CCC 1806). Justice moves us to give what is due to God and to our neighbour (CCC1807). Temperance moderates our attraction to pleasures and provides a balance in the use of created goods (CCC1809). Fortitude enables us to be firm in the face of challenges and to persevere in our pursuit of good (CCC 1808). Each of these virtues comes into play as we strive to care for our bodies and our health.

Food and Drink: Called to live in Moderation

Camachile, bananas of Subic, Zambales NJ Viehland Photos

Camachile, bananas of Subic, Zambales NJ Viehland Photos

Some of the leading causes of mortality for Filipinos, such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, are either caused or aggravated by inordinate consumption of food and drink. Being responsible with one’s diet is one way of being a good steward of one’s health. The virtue of temperance can help us deal with our appetites for certain types of food and drink that can cause harm to our health. Temperance teaches us self-control and discipline with regard to our appetites in pursuit of the goal of good health. The virtue of prudence guides our practice of temperance by reminding us not to consume too much or too little; one needs to discern the right type and quantity of food and drink that is appropriate to maintain one’s health.

Exercise: “Mens sana in corpore sano” (a healthy mind in a healthy body)

Along with a correct diet, exercise is also an important element in maintaining good health. Exercise enables us to control our weight and reduce our risk of developing chronic diseases. While many persons have a positive attitude toward regular exercise, some persons need more encouragement and motivation to start a habit of exercise. The virtue of fortitude can help a person to persevere in physical exercise and not be discouraged when progress is slow or difficult. Fortitude enables a person to work toward the goal of good health while bearing with the challenge of being faithful to regular exercise. Prudence accompanies fortitude in this case when careful discernment is needed in choosing the appropriate type and amount of exercise for the person’s condition. Prudence will tell a person not to exercise too much in a manner that would cause injury and not to exercise too little in a way that has negligible effect. All experts agree: no exercise is bad, too much exercise is bad, some exercise is good.


Maintaining proper health also requires sufficient rest to allow the body to renew its energy and repair itself. Catholic social teaching remind us that rest from work is a right (Laborem Exercens #19). Human life has a rhythm of work and rest (CCC 2184). Everyone should take care to set aside sufficient time for leisure (CCC 2187). The virtue of justice requires that employers, despite economic constraints, should make sure that employees have adequate time for rest (CCC 2187).  Prudence will remind us that too much rest can lead to slothfulness while too little rest can cause grave harm to the body and spirit.

Harmful Substances and Activities

The natural law urges every person to do good and avoid evil. While we should pursue what is good for our health (e.g., proper nutrition, adequate exercise, and sufficient rest) we should also avoid what is harmful to our wellbeing.

The virtue of temperance disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine. Those incur grave guilt who, by drunkenness or a love of speed, endanger their own and others’ safety on the road, at sea, or in the air (CCC2290). The use of drugs inflicts very grave damage on human health and life. Their use, except on strictly therapeutic grounds, is a grave offense.  (CCC2291). Prudence would remind us that there are substances and activities that should be avoided if we desire to maintain our physical well-being for the present and the future.

Unhealthy Perspectives on the Human Body

While it is quite clear that doing little to take care of our health is wrong, doing too much to achieve physical perfection can also be unhealthy and harmful.  Morality rejects a neo-pagan notion that tends to promote the cult of the body, to sacrifice everything for its sake, to idolize physical perfection and success at sports (CCC 2289).

Vanity, idealized body images, and excessive competitiveness can lead people to manipulate their bodies in ways that do not respect the human body’s health, integrity, dignity, and intrinsic value. Examples of such harmful manipulation of bodies include excessive use of cosmetic surgery, unhealthy forms of dieting, and the use of banned substances in sports.


Love and life! As Christians, we believe in the priority of these values over health. We live healthy lives because we are willing to nurture and to care for the gift of life. And we are willing to care for others in love and concern for them. We are reminded of this: there may not always be cure in the many illnesses that people face every day, but there must always be care and love for those who are ill among us. And it is love that enables life to grow and even to improve.

We live in a stressful world. So many demands and many deadlines keep us on our toes. There are two kinds of stress: eu – stress (good stress) and dis – stress (bad stress). Work is stressful and thus good when it brings out the best in us – when it challenges us to excel and be the best for people around us, especially the poor and marginalized. Work is distressful when it diminishes our humanity – when it manipulates and exploits others and the whole created order.


The Family

The sanctuary of life, and thus of health is the family. Healthy living is exemplified in the dynamics of a family life that nurtures the values of love and temperance, respect and responsibility.  A healthy balanced lifestyle promotes family “bonding” of parents and children. One must take into serious consideration the responsibility of the family to instil a healthy sense of self in relation to others. On the one hand, the commandment’s “to honour” means showing proper gratitude, affection, respect, obedience and care to parents. (CCC 2214f) On the other hand, the church teaches that parents have the duty to provide so far as they can for their children’s needs, guiding them in faith and morals and creating for them an environment for personal growth (CCC 2221 – 31). We must admit, however, that the continuous migration of our people, especially parents have created “unhealthy family situations”. There is still no substitute to a parent’s love and concern, supervision and guidance. We therefore exhort the extraordinary work performed by guardians. You have an obligation to help in the strengthening of character building among the children and the young. Treat these children and young people as if they were your own. Love them as best as you can.

The School

Healthy living is exemplified and strengthened in the school. The whole school curriculum is directed to the integral formation of the person. A specific school discipline is Music, Arts, Physical Education and Health known as MAPEH. Educators point to the “multiple intelligences” that must be developed in each child and young person. Learning after all is not simply an intellectual pursuit. It is the wholesome and holistic program to bring out the best in the person. In Catholic Education, the formation in the school has one objective – “to make saints of our students!”

Catholic Hospitals and Community – based Health Care Workers

The Second Plenary Council of the Philippines points to institutions of health care as agents of renewal. Physicians, nurses, midwives, physical therapists, medical technologists have been gifted by God with the graces to heal and make people whole again. They should be reminded that there may not always be cure but there must always be care. In the end, it is the compassionate love of Jesus expressed by health care workers that makes a difference in the lives of the sick among us.


St. Paul tells us that our body is temple of the Holy Spirit which we have received from God. You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor. 6: 19-20). Taking good care of our health is a fitting response of gratitude for God’s graciousness in creating us in his image and likeness.  Like the good steward in Scripture, may we also be responsible stewards of the gift of health that God has granted us as we make our earthly pilgrimage to our heavenly home, where the fullness of life awaits us.

The healthiest person on earth is the saint. Through self-denial and asceticism, mortification and prayer, the saint is one who seeks God in all his/her endeavours. Our health, after all, should be at the service of our primary vocation – to seek the Kingdom of God.

Let us renew our faith in the resurrection of the body, an important part of what we believe in as Christians. We beg our Lady who gave her body to Jesus as His dwelling place for nine months to make us ready and willing to give our bodies to Jesus too so that we receive the promised fullness of life.

For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, April 20, 2014, Easter Sunday


Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan
CBCP President

Statement of Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas, CBCP President, RH Law

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines addresses a press conference at the end of the 2012 CBCP plenary assembly at Pope Pius XII Catholic Center in Manila. NJ Viehland Photo

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines addresses a press conference at the end of the 2012 CBCP plenary assembly at Pope Pius XII Catholic Center in Manila.                          NJ Viehland Photo

I encourage our Catholic faithful to maintain respect and esteem for the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has decided on the RH issue based on existing laws in the Philippines.

The Church must continue to uphold the sacredness of human life, to teach always the dignity of the human person and to safeguard the life of every human person from conception to natural death.

Although the Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the RH law, it has truly watered down the RH law and consequently upheld the importance of adhering to an informed religious conscience even among government workers. It has also stood on the side of the rights of parents to teach their children.

We cannot see eye-to-eye with our pro-RH brethren on this divisive issue but we can work hand-in-hand for the good of the country.

On the part of the Church, we must continue to teach what is right and moral. We will continue to proclaim the beauty and holiness of every human person. Through two thousand years, the Church has lived in eras of persecution, authoritarian regimes, wars and revolutions. The Church can continue its mission even with such unjust laws. Let us move on from being an RH-law-reactionary-group to a truly Spirit empowered disciples of the Gospel of life and love. We have a positive message to proclaim.

April 8, 2014

Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan
CBCP President

[to follow- Full text of Supreme Court ruling on Constitutionality of the RH Law. NJV]