An American “Ilocano”

Pastor rice

I met an American named Pastor Delbert Rice sometime back in 2001 when I was working for Upland Marketing Foundation Inc., a foundation devoted for social enterprise. “Pastor” fondly called by colleagues, was the Board Chairman of that Foundation.  He was tall, had grey white hair and blue grey eyes which is typical of American features. Surprisingly, he spoke fluent “Ilocano”, a native dialect up in Northern Philippines. I was flabbergasted when I heard him speak the dialect.

Fast forward in 2012, I came back to Upland Marketing Foundation, and got the chance to interact with him again through board meetings at the Foundation.  I was the “de-facto” board scribe tasked to writing down the minutes of the meeting.  He was the conscience of the Foundation and constantly admonished the board to always look out for the welfare of the marginalized indigenous tribes, and give them the opportunity for sustainable livelihood. He reminded all of us never to stray away from this mission.  His zeal for the “mission” never wavered even with the other Foundations he directed.

On one of the  board meetings they (board members) got around to asking him why he is fluent in “Ilocano”, and how long has he been staying in the Philippines. He would gladly tell them his life story. I remembered him jokingly say to me, with a bit of bravado, that he is more Filipino than I am.  He was much older than me.  In fact, old enough to be my “Lolo”. What he meant by being more Filipino was that he came over to the Philippines as a missionary from Oregon, U.S.A. back in the ’50s and estimated that I wasn’t born yet, thus reinforcing his claim.  What’s more he spoke fluent “Ilocano”..can you beat that..my mother is an Ilocano but I don’t know how to speak the dialect (shame on me). Why is this so? Pastor Delbert Rice stayed most of the time in Imugan, Santa Fe, Nueva Vizcaya amongst the indigenous “Ikalahan” tribe.  He was instrumental in improving their lives by building a school, providing livelihood and other community amenities for comfortable living, but was careful to preserve their identity and culture.

Spending a lot of time up in the north gave him a chance to immerse himself with the local culture and learn the local dialect.  Pastor Delbert Rice was very much informed of the anthropological history of the northern region’s different tribes.  He confessed that he is not an anthropologist, but he seems to know the cultural dynamics of the north, past and present, very well.  Surprisingly, he is an Engineer by education and training, but he seemed more like an anthropologist.   I learned through my talks with him that the “I” letter in front of the Ikalahan means a representation of the various indigenous northern tribe just like Ivatan, Ilocano, Itneg, etc.  I’m from this country, but I did not know that fact.  Ironically, it was through an American that spoke impeccable “Ilocano” who shared to me that information.  That was just the tip of the iceberg about his knowledge of the indigenous tribes of the region.

Pastor  Rice was also the chairman of another NGO that provides livelihood opportunities for indigenous people in Mindoro – the Mangyans; indigenous communities in Palawan and other parts of the Philippines.  Obviously, indigenous tribes in the Philippines are very much close to Pastor Rice’s heart. Spending most of his life uplifting their marginalized situation in this country.

Pastor Delbert Rice was a writer, he wrote books about the Christian faith and Northern Tribe Folklore.  One Christian faith book that he wrote with an interesting title “The Troublemaker” caught my interest.  He was referring to Paul the apostle who stirred trouble wherever he goes. The tone of the book was casual and he didn’t get tired of sharing with me excerpts on parts of the book.

Pastor Rice advancing in age, was diagnosed with prostrate cancer.  Through his fight with cancer, he continued serving the indigenous communities through the foundations he worked for. He was going through the rounds of board meetings, visiting the indigenous tribes at their place, even though it was already too difficult for him to travel.

The American “Ilocano”, Pastor passed in May 8, 2014.  He was buried in Imugan, up in the mountains of Nueva Vizcaya. He was interred in the land near his home. His remains were placed inside an indigenous wood coffin from  a forest timber carefully selected from the surrounding forest in Imugan’ and lovingly crafted by the indigenous people whom he fondly ministered to. The coffin was of special wood intended for indigenous burial rites only.  (Sigh)  I missed Pastor who made an impression on my life and inspired me, to look out for others who needs looking out for, and inspired, as well, to pursue my passion for writing.

I’m  a 20 plus year sales professional advocating social enterprise. You can get in touch with me thru my email address: melfonollerajr@gmail.com

 

 

 

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