Cabangan Church: A Congregation of Negritoes in Zambales

The church in Cabangan is the only church of Christ in the Philippines whose membership wholly consists of Aetas, or Negritoes (Spanish for “little black men”). At the time we met them (November 1989), they were led by a matriarchal figure named Rosita. I say “led” because I noticed that all the men listened to her, like her word was law. She was the wife of the most mature man among the group and exercised great influence among them. It was she who scheduled the classes for us.

These Aetas came down from Mount Pinatubo because food was scarce in the mountains. And so in the low lands they made do with what they could gather and hunt— wild animals like lizards and snakes and bananas and wild fruits from the riverside near the settlements of the Ilocanos. They helped in the harvesting of palay, and got paid either with money or with palay.

This was in the last days of 1989. I volunteered to do much of the  teaching, in Tagalog, which they also understood. My brother-in-law Tom would read the passages I cited in class in the Zambal dialect (the dialect of the Negritoes) using the Zambal translation of the Bible. That was how they came to know of the grace of Jesus and of their great need for a Savior. We spent a whole month teaching them. When they were ready, Tom baptized them in a river nearby.

We in a manner of speaking converted a whole village of them in San Juan, Cabangan, Zambales, consisting of 25 men and women not including children. After they became a church, we conducted worship services in the afternoons of Sunday. Tom and his family and I were then based in San Narciso. I was helping him grow the church there too.

This young Aeta named Leonardo is our song leader. Not being educated in a Bible college, he learns the songs by listening to other song leaders.

I left Zambales for Butuan City in February 1990. Tom went on and taught some more Negritoes in the area. His big break came when he baptized Ilocano families who owned farms in Cabangan. It signaled the beginning when the brown brethren (the Ilocanos) were gradually assimilated with the black brethren (the Negritoes) in the spirit of oneness with the God who saved both of them.

In the middle of 1990’s the late brother Lee Smeltzer donated some money to acquire the 1.5 hectare property above the Negrito settlement, now located in the village of Dolores, Cabangan. A year or so later, a chapel was built for this church with the funds donated by other US brethren.

There were fifty or more Negrito brethren in attendance when I preached there last Sunday, November 7, not including children. Tom told me that this Negrito church consists of 300 or more members. Many did not come; one reason was that the majority had moved to other places in Zambales, to Manila, and to Mindanao in search of jobs and opportunities to make a living.

Last Sunday I spoke on the subject so dear to my heart, using Hebrews 12:1-3 as text. I think I spoke for an hour, but nobody even noticed it! The Aeta brethren were reacting to my sermon, smiling as I spoke, making some favorable comments on my illustrations, nodding their heads in agreement!

That Sunday morning they had a meeting, and made a decision to support the coming Lectureship event this November 20. Each family will contribute a hundred pesos for the food. They already had collected over a thousand pesos for this purpose. Marcial the preacher says he will donate a sack of rice. They expect an attendance of over a hundred on that day.  Five speakers, including Tomas Lizardo and me and others from Kalaklan church will be speaking on this lectureship.

A Negrito hut near the church building. Brethren have agreed to my suggestion that this hut be moved down the hill so the church building can be expanded.

There is a plan to establish here a Bible school that will serve the Negrito and Ilocano brethren in the area. Two teachers have volunteered to teach. You will hear more about this work in the days ahead.

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Lectureship in Upper Kalaklan

 

November 1, 2010 was All Saints Day for those who observe this Catholic feast, a time they say should better be spent wishing the dead had been well. We however spent this day communing with the saints at Upper Kalaklan, at the meeting place of Olongapo church. It was a one-day lectureship attended by brethren from Central Luzon, specifically Zambales, Bataan and Pampanga. It was one lectureship I did not expect I would find myself in, since I never had any invitation.

 

Ed Maquiling and Tommy Lizardo Sr.

I came with my brother-in-law Tomas Lizardo and nephew Tom Lizardo Jr. But the brethren who recognized me made me feel welcome! Recognized is a better word. Brother Fred Angangan, for example, knew my face even if my name is still a stranger to him!

 

 

Rudy Gonzales, Fred Angangan and Ed Maquiling.

And oh, was I glad to see my old friend Higato Tulan Sr! He is now directing the PIBI-Angeles. He was the first speaker. He spoke on the subject that he considered he was well-prepared to tackle on: The use of instrumental music in worship. It was a good lecture.

 

The panelists answering the questions from the audience.

Fred Angangan spoke on death and life beyond the dead. It should benefit those who have doubts on whether or not the dead cease to exist after this life, on whether or not Hades is a fact.

 

 

Brethren have begun to arrive for the lectures.

Another timely lecture was the one discussed by brother Daniel Elamparo on the subject of the family. A very much needed teaching that the young and the not so young could benefit from.

 

Audience consists of both the younger and the older Christians from three provinces of Central Luzon.

Tom Lizardo Sr. spoke on the subject of local autonomy. And I was called on to be one of his two panelists. Our job was to answer questions. Difficult questions, like those one tackles in a Bible college situation.

 

 

Brothers Fred Angangan Jr. and Ruel Vitug.

I met Ruel Vitug, a brother who also aspires to be one of the elders of the church of Kalaklan someday, and I encouraged him to keep on with this goal. This man is one to whom they have entrusted the life and the future of PIBI-Kalaklan, and they have found no better man!

 

Brother Abelardo Mayor Sr.

And I met Rudy Gonzales! And this after twenty years! Fresh in my memory is that day when he offered us a shelter for the night when I knocked at his door with my daughter Abigail in tow. He never knew me then, but he knew my sister Diane and my brother-in-law Tommy, and that was enough for us.

 

Our afternoon audience.

What I wanted to see was sister Flor Poblete, but she was not around at the time. Maybe she was busy. But I had been told that sister Poblete had been the brain behind this lectureship and that she spent her own money for the food and other expenses for this event.


My Visit to Zambales

You could say it’s not my first. For Zambales, that stretch of land between Bataan and Pangasinan which with its vast rice fields and mango orchards and higher per capita income from OFWs  has contributed much to the economy of the Philippines, has fascinated me ever since I first came here in 1989.

Much has changed in Zambales. The sleepy towns of Castillejos, San Marcelino, San Narciso, San Felipe, Cabangan, and Iba, are sleepy no more. You know Castillejos to be the birthplace of Ramon Magsaysay, the only Ilocano president most loved by the Ilonggos. Now the town has its share of metropolitan life. San Marcelino now boasts of an Agora, a market place, which I guess is the biggest in all Zambales. San Narciso and San Felipe have attracted investors, and you now see businesses rising up. And Iba? You should see it these days. A single mall– they call it the Happy Valley Mall– is just the beginning, for one day you will see SM and Robinson giving this town, the provincial capital of all Zambales, the much-needed boost.

And Cabangan. It was here where we– my brother-in-law Tommy Lizardo and I — had baptized a whole village of Aetas in 1990. Cabangan used to be vast fields filled with golden grains, but the presence of gasoline stations and hardware stores and grocery markets is a welcome sight.

Last Sunday, October 31, was not my first time to preach in Iba, Zambales, where the Lizardo family is based. Oftentimes, I don’t mind being asked to do both the preaching and the Bible teaching. It is a great thing to be nurturing God’s people wherever they are. And the Christians of Iba appreciate good sermons.

The church meets in one of the rooms in a hotel fronting the Victory Liner terminal. The hotel has a somewhat amusing name: “Mama Dear.” Some Christians from Palauig, from Botolan and from Iba proper call Iba Church of Christ their home congregation. Last Sunday we had Christians from Cavite and Laguna too who came to visit their ancestral homes in Zambales for a week or so and thought of fellowshipping with the church of Iba. We had a number of these last Sunday. One of them was brother Romy Piocos. He came with another couple.

My brother-in-law Tommy Lizardo is the preacher here. He is being assisted in the work by brother Joseph Collado. Joseph used to teach at PIBI-Olongapo City, but later decided to take up a course in education. He was our song leader.

Yesterday, Wednesday, I taught a class in Cabangan. I met Rosita, the Aeta lady whom we baptized in 1990. She is now 70 years old and is disabled. She is now a widow, and lives in one of the huts built on the property of the church. When she heard me, she got out and shook my hands. After twenty years, she still remembers me!

I saw Annie. She was just an eight-year-old girl when I first saw her. Now she is a mother of a brood.

I saw Leo Franco. He is an Ilonggo from Mindanao, but came to Zambales to be with his Aeta wife. It was Leo who was the more talkative among the group. I mean, he’s the guy who kept asking questions, an attitude which I appreciated much.

There are others who attended whose names I have not yet committed to memory. But we shall see each other in the days ahead.

Cabangan Church of Christ now has a chapel of its own, built on the property donated by the late brother Smeltzer. Brother Marcial, an Aeta who has been educated at PIBI-Olongapo, is their preacher.

Plans are in the offing to build a Bible college here that will serve the Aetas and Ilocanos and other lowlanders in the area.

 

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