There are many Orthodox living in the Philippines but the official number is not known. Government statistics do not record religious affiliation except Catholics, "others", and more recently, Muslims.
The Syrian Consul General in the Philippines, Mr Issam El-Debs, does not know how many Orthodox from Syria reside in the Philippines. Similarly, the Lebanese Consul in the Philippines, Mr Joseph Assad, does not know how many Orthodox from Lebanon reside in the Philippines.
The grandparents of Mr Assad and their children left Antioch in Greater Syria over 100 years ago for Australia. While en route, their ship developed problems and diverted to the southern Philippines. His family has lived in the Philippines ever since.
Mr Assad (above left) says none of the Lebanese Filipinos speak Arabic now, having become fully assimilated into Filipino society. They all speak English perfectly, and most can also speak Tagalog, the other official language of the Philippines.
Over three million Filipinos work in Arabic countries and remit money home to their families in the Philippines. Over 200,000 Filipinos used to work in Lebanon, but following the 2006 aggression by Israel, the majority lost their employment and were repatriated back to the Philippines, with no money and no prospects for work.
There is no universal social security system in the Philippines.
Jerick, a member of the Orthodox Church in the Philippines, recently moved to Mandaluyong City one of the 13 cities which makes up MetroManila, in the Philippines.
Father Christopher made a private visit to the Philippines in early December 2006. During the visit he accepted an invitation from Jerick to visit where he lives in Madaluyong City, MetroManila. Father Christopher is pictured below rear centre, accompanied by Episcopal seminarian Leo (Jafhar) Basing-at y Banao, (rear right), visiting Jerrick's landlady (on Father Christopher's right), and her extended family, including two orphans.
Jerick lives in a tenement settlement which has little facilities and certainly does not know any town planning. Residences are built with whatever materials are readily available, usually discarded rubble and debris from demolished buildings.
Before the Manila Water Corporation agreed to provide water to the tenement settlements, the residents had to carry water by bucket from street taps, or else let into water pipes belonging to the Water Corporation or other citizens. Town water is now provided by the Corporation which meters each residence. 200 water meters are provided for this part of the settlement. 1200 people live in this area, the size of three standard suburban houseblocks in Australia.
After many years without, electricity is now provided by the electricity authority which meters usage. When banks of meters burn out, new banks of meters are erected nearby. In the photo below, the old burnt out banks are on the left, and the newer sets are in the centre of the photo above the main entrance to the settlement.
Near the meters (behind the boys in the photo below), are a couple of dwellings which were blown down by the September 2006 typhoon. There is no insurance or government assistance to rebuild.
There is no universal health system in the Philippines. Health insurance is only available for the wealthy employed. Children with curable diseases like the one pictured below with his mother, will not be treated unless assisted by Church or other private charities. No one had offered to help this child with his undiagnosed illness.
The next door neighbour expressed her concern about the sick child to Father Christopher, but has more children of her own and her sister's family to cope with than will allow her to directly help her neighbour's sick child.
The next door neighbour's family of nine live in the room shown below. Mats are put on the floor at night for sleeping. They cook and shower outside.
Privacy is at a premium. This young boy studies on his balcony. When he gets heavier, he will have to find somewhere else, because the balcony will not be able to support his weight anymore.
In the boarding house where Jerick lodges, four males share the one bedroom. The roof has no insulation which means they bake inside during the hot tropical summer months.
The four of them also cook inside their room, which has a total floor area of 9 square meters.
Mattresses are put on the floor in the evening for two, and the other two have to share the one bed.
The bedroom window looks out onto the entrance way.
Jerick is a successful electrician who earns about 9,000 pesos a month, the equivalent of AU $75.00 per week. His father, his family's breadwinner, died 12 months ago and he had to move to Manila from an outlying province to find regular paying work to maintain his mother, and younger brothers and sisters. He sends 5,000 pesos to them each month and lives on AU $30 per week in Manila, which is an expensive city compared to his home town.
There are no Orthodox churches anywhere near his boarding house in MetroManila and none in his home province.
On 7 February 1935, Russian Archpriest Mikhail Yerokhin was appointed Rector of the Russian Orthodox parish in Manila. It was called the parish of the Iberian Icon of the Mother of God. In 1935 the Russian Orthodox escaping from Revolutionary Soviet Russia were kindly permitted by the Episcopal Church in the Philippines to use the north transept of their Cathedral in Taft Avenue, MetroManila. They happily remained there until 1937 when they built their own church. The Russian Orthodox church and the Episcopal Cathedral were both bombed to bits in World War Two.
Commencing January 1949 under the care of the World Council of Churches, and guided by the International Refugee Organisation, 5,500 displaced Russian Orthodox from Shanghai were settled on the island of Tubabao in the central Philippines. Tubabao Island, is about four hours boat ride from the city of Guiuan in Eastern Samar. The displaced White Russians from China landed on chartered flights at the former US Naval base there in 1945, and were then shipped by boat to Tubabao where they erected a wooden church and lived in a tent city.
Russian Orthodox Archbishop John Maximovitch of Shanghai lived in the displaced persons camp on Tubabao for some months before going to Washington DC in July 1949 to argue the case to Congress for the settlement into the United States of the displaced persons on Tubabao. Russian refugees remained on Tubabao for some years before all were offered final settlement in other countries, mainly the USA and Australia.
The National Headquarters of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines (pictured below) is located in Quezon City, MetroManila. The Most Reverend Ignacios Soliba, Prime Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines, works from these National Headquarters.
The Episcopal Church in the Philippines continues to be most kind and helpful to Orthodox in the Philippines. Father Christopher was invited to reside at the National Headquarters of the Episcopal Church, and stayed there for the whole time he was in the Philippines.
His Grace Bishop Ignacios also indicated his inclination to allow the use of the north chapel in the National Cathedral of the Episcopal Church to the Orthodox Church in the Philippines for as long as the Orthodox Church needs, until an Orthodox church is built.
Dean of the National Cathedral, Very Reverend Father Joel del Rosario, also indicated he would favourably consider a formal application for the use of the north chapel in the National Cathedral for as long as needed "by our Orthodox brothers".
At the moment there is only one Orthodox church in Manila, which was built by Greek magnates 10 years ago, in Paranaque. They cater for the Greek community in MetroManila. There are only two other Orthodox buildings in the whole of the rest of the Philippines.
About 40 Russian families live in MetroManila and another 160 Ukrainian families also live in MetroManila. Most of the Ukrainians are expert employees in the petro-chemical industry.
Although there is a great need for Orthodox churches in other parts of metroManila and all the other provinces of the Philippines especially for the poor, none of the Orthodox jurisdictions have been able to assist any further up to this time.
The Episcopal seminarian Leo (Jafhar) Basing-at y Banao, who accompanied Father Christopher to the tenement settlement where Jerrick lives, attends Saint Andrew's Theological Seminary in Quezon City.
Leo's home village has no church at all. His brother, Mike Basing-at y Banao, has requested permission to build an Orthodox church in their village. During the long break Leo lives in his home village in the northern highlands, but resides in the seminary in MetroManila during term time.
There are very many tenement settlements in MetroManila including this one on the banks of the river behind the seminary.
The Syrian Consul-General, Mr Issam El-Debs told Father Christopher that he knows of some Orthodox families who have lived continuously in the Philippines for over 200 years, since 1804. He knows one Orthodox gentleman who was born in the Philippines in 1902 and is still living there in 2006.
They hope and pray some wise leader of the Orthodox Church will be able to assist the many Orthodox Christians in the Philippines who are bereft of any Orthodox Church at this time.