Addressing Poverty and Inequality using Synodal Principles at the 2024 CEAP JEEPGY Conference

April 23, 2024

From April 10-12, 2024, over 70 delegates from schools all over the country convened in Bacolod City to reflect on solutions to poverty and economic inequality using a synodal approach advocated by Pope Francis. Hosted in the halls of the University of St. La Salle – Bacolod, and created in partnership with the Private Education Assistance Committee (PEAC), this year’s JEEPGY Conference provided a constructive avenue for academic institutions to understand the roots of poverty and inequality and to formulate innovative approaches and strategies to combat these issues.
The Conference began with a Eucharistic Celebration, presided by San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza, D.D., with the homily delivered by CEAP Vice-President and Programs Committee Chairperson Fr. Mauricio T. Ulep, CMF. Fr. Ulep invited the audience to allow themselves to be disturbed by the rampancy of death caused by poverty, and to examine the structures in our society that enable this rampancy. To experience the Risen Lord, people need to be more sensitive and responsive to the cries of the poor.
After some inspiring words of welcome from University of St. La Salle President Br. Joaquin “Ken” Severino S. Martinez, FSC, CEAP Executive Director, Mr. Jose Allan I. Arellano, read the Opening Remarks on behalf of CEAP President, Fr. Albert N. Delvo, PhD. He also delivered the Conference Overview. In his overview, Mr. Arellano promised that the Conference would be an opportunity apply synodal principles vis-à-vis the stark reality of poverty in our country. Moreover, the issue of poverty in our country has been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, which pushed many Filipinos into poverty and prevented them from having access to the most basic necessities.
During his Keynote Address, Bishop Alminaza supported Mr. Arellano’s remarks, and shared his own experiences and his hopes that effective solutions would be created in this year’s Conference. He said that all change should stem from a “pastoral cycle” between seeing the reality in front of us, making judgments and processing our emotions, and proceeding to action. The cycle should also make us realize our identities not just as persons, but as communities. Every little thing that we do affects other people. This truth should compel us to consider the needs of others, because what happens in society essentially happens to ourselves. The shift in focus from “I” to “we” is what constitutes the core of synodality in the Church – listening to others for the sake of strengthening communities and meaningful change.
Bishop Alminaza also discussed in detail a number of issues that beset Philippine society today, especially ones exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, such as poverty, malnutrition, economic crises, and the development of our youth. According to him, a synodal approach is necessary for leaders to see and to feel the needs of our people. Understanding reality from the lens of those who have the least helps leaders serve more effectively and humanely. He invited the participants to conceptualize innovative approaches, initiatives, strategies, and practices inspired by synodal principles, drawing from examples of local initiatives within Negros and from the projects in stewardship and philanthropy from his own diocese in San Carlos.
Bishop Alminaza’s session was followed by a sharing from three panelists who work with organizations in the region seeking to address poverty. The first panelist, Ms. Joy Jarabelo, shared the initiatives of the Federation of Urban Poor People’s Org – Negros, Inc (FED-UP) to help the urban poor in her province. Ms. Coleen Awit from the Center of Energy, Ecology and Development (CEED) shared how the issue of poverty may be seen from the lens of limited and shared resources. The last panelist, Ms. Liberty Adorias-Alarcon, spoke of the efforts undertaken by the Local Government through Technology and Livelihood Development Center (TLDC) to improve lives.
On the morning of the second day of the Conference, participants were divided into five groups for an exposure trip to five different sites. They were received by organizations who have contributed significantly to addressing poverty in the province. These five organizations are 1 ) Sagup Negros, Inc. 2 ) Negros Women for Tomorrow Foundation (Dungganon), 3 ) Technology and Livelihood Development Center (TLDC) – Negros Occidental, 4 ) Negrense Volunteers for Change (NVC) Foundation, Inc. and 5 ) USLS Bahay Pag-asa Youth Center. Participants were introduced to the projects and visions of each organization and the issues each organization tries to address.
In the afternoon, a spiritual conversation was facilitated by Ms. Krystel Marie Santiago from the Diocese of Bacolod Projects Office, the session provided an opportunity for the participants to listen to what the Spirit is saying through a sharing on what they have learned and what they have seen from the different organizations. At the end of the sharing, they were asked how they feel called to respond to poverty, inequality, and other salient issues.
The last part of the afternoon divided participants into four concurrent sessions, each session discussing a particular JEEPGY pillar. The four sessions were a ) Justice and Peace, b ) Ecological Integrity, c ) Engaged Citizenship and Youth Empowerment, and d ) Gender Equality. The resource person for the first concurrent session was Fr. Cris Gonzales from the Pastoral Office of the Diocese of Bacolod, and facilitated by CEAP Justice and Peace Subcommittee Chairperson Dr. Loreta Navarro Castro. The resource person for Ecological Integrity was Mr. Rafael L. Coscolluela from the Energy and Environment Concerns, and Plantacion de Sikwate President and farmer Mr. Chris Fadriga. Sr. Marvelous L. Misolas, MM from the CEAP Ecological Integrity Subcommittee facilitated the said session. The “Engaged Citizenship and Youth Empowerment” session was filled with the most participants, with resource person Youth Empowering Youth Initiative, Inc. President Mr. Teodoro Angelo Villanueva, and facilitated by CEAP Deputy Executive Director Ms. Mary Ann S. Cruz. Those in the fourth session, “Gender Equality”, listened to Province of Negros Occidental Action Officer Mrs. Marie June P. Castro, and the session was facilitated by Ms. Teresita G. Barcoma from the Balayan Social Development Center. The objective of the concurrent sessions was to raise awareness on interconnection between all the JEEPGY pillars and to provide an avenue for people to share inspiring initiatives regarding JEEPGY-related advocacies.
On the third day, a session on poverty reduction initiatives was delivered by Ms. Milagros “Millie” L. Kilayko, the President of the Negrense Volunteers for Change (NVC) Foundation, Inc. Ms. Kilayko’s session was centered on malnutrition as a critical issue in the Philippines, and how her foundation wishes to address the issue through the “Mingo Meals” program. She shared how the program fed thousands of children through packs of instant food filled with rice and mongo beans. Through this project, the foundation helped uplift many children from starvation and provided new livelihoods for farmers. After Ms. Kilayko’s session, a special portion of the event, known as “Coffee Conversations for Networking and Linkages”, gave the floor to different participants to share their schools’ initiatives relating to JEEPGY.
The closing Eucharistic Celebration was presided by Fr. Hubert M. Javellana, PhD., from the Diocese of Bacolod.
In its unique approach of understanding poverty through its roots and initiating solutions at the organizational level, the 2024 CEAP JEEPGY Conference provided a perspective on poverty that is now more accessible through any lens from which societal structures can be examined. By pooling together different ideas, practices, and measures from different groups and individuals, the Conference proves that while institutional responses to poverty are necessary, change can only take place when every individual is aware of one’s special role in the system and takes steps to raise others along with oneself.