In 2005, the shepherding of the faithful in Olutanga Island was turned over to the Divine Word Missionaries. At this time, the Jesuits already left the Prelature of Ipil. Fr. Joseph Audiencia, SVD became the first SVD parish priest of Parokya San Miguel. He arrived in the island on June 4, 2005 together with Fr. John Doa, SVD who became his assistant. According to Fr. Joseph, his visitario in the barrio was very challenging. He narrated, “Gikuyawan ko sa akong pagmisa sa mga kapilya. Hadlok ko nga basi i-massacre mi tanan” (I was always tensed everytime I go to the chapels in the barrios. I fear bad elements to massacre us).
A big blow to the mission team happened when after six months, Fr. John was pulled out of the parish for reason of his life’s security as he received serious threats. The team was saddened by the decision. Fr. Jerry Perocho, SVD replaced Fr. John.
In 2006, a typhoon struck the island and leaving many homeless families, especially those living in the coastal areas. Fr. Joseph and Fr. Jerry donated construction materials for Muslim families to rebuild their homes. The typhoon victims were very thankful to the generosity of the Divine Word Missionaries.
However, Fr. Jerry was also pulled out after a year because the superiors decided that he pursue further studies. Fr. Andring Ocariza, SVD replaced him.
Unfortunately, a serious accident happened to Fr. Andring in Mabuhay. He was hit by a backhoe while on board the barge in Hula-hula Port. Thank God, a military plane that moved out from Basilan air-lifted him to Zamboanga City for temporary treatment. He was again air-lifted the following day to Cebu City. While under recuperation, he stayed in Cebu and still dreams to be back to Olutanga Island one day.
At this time, the Gasa Balik sa Dios (GBSD) was introduced in the parish to remind the faithful of their participation in the life of the Church. Fr. Joseph also started befriending the Muslims and initiated interreligious dialogue among the locals. In December 2005, his Halad-Pinaskuhan was instrumental in the completion of the tile project in the flooring of the Church.
In September 2009, the Quest for St. Michael was introduced to further look for financing in the Church project. Niel Cole became the first ever winner for St. Michael 2009. Kim Caloňge succeeded him in 2010.
In May 25, 2011, I arrived in Parokya San Miguel after my two-year stint as parochial vicar in the Nuestra Seňora delos Remedios Parish in Subanipa. I remembered vividly that day. The youth from Subanipa brought me to Mabuhay. With pain and sadness of heart, they lift my things all the way to my new room. But they were singing happy songs. Later on, three of these young men entered the seminary. One also entered the convent.
My companion Fr. Manuel Mijares SVD arrived the following month. I was happy because we are good friends, and we are both young. We regularly visit the communities and participate in the Poblacion kriska. On June 2011, the first ever Legion of Mary praesidium was erected with Melinda Adlaon as the first Legion president. In less than three months, Jam Jura Vender was also installed as the legion president of Birhen sa Fatima chapel in Malinao.
I was installed by the Bishop on August 6, 2011 on the Feast of Transfiguration. Fr. Joseph, on the other hand, finally left the Olutanga Mission on September 19 for his new special mission in Silsilah in Zamboanga City. His departure finally ended the first generation of the Divine Word Missionaries in the island.
Fr. Manuel and I pledged that we celebrate the anticipated and Sunday masses together. I personally like that kind of set-up because we get to know each other all the more. In a special way, I felt also closer to him as a confrere in our celebration of the sacraments.
In less than a year, the ceiling of the parish was painted, thanks to GBSD. Also, the formation center was extended between the convent and the parish church when the former vegetable garden was converted into a multi-purpose hall where meals are served after the Sunday masses. The wall connecting the parish pharmacy and the Church was made concrete.
In October 20 of that year, the war between the lawless elements and the military broke out in Talaib, a nearby sitio in the mainland that affected the lives of the parishioners. Many people were displaced. The parish convent became a temporary refuge of the “bakwits” – a popular word which refers to those who were caught in the cross-fire between the lawless elements and the military and had no choice but to flee from their homes to avoid being sandwiched in the battle.
It was my first time to see fighter planes dropping bombs live! In every drop of a bomb, the whole island trembled, literally. The month-long war was like experiencing earthquakes every thirty minutes. My CAFGU escorts were with me in the convent day and night. We also cancelled our barrio masses.
Those were the most stressful days in the parish. However, our faith was always alive. We turned to the intercession of St. Michael Archangel , the parish patron, to guard and protect us. For several days, the parishioners roamed around the Poblacion chanting the St. Michael gozus.
My faith as the parish priest was always tested. On April 5, 2012, Holy Thursday, while having my dinner together with the 12 apostles, I received the info that I was at the top list of potential kidnap victims, while my assistant was second. What can I do? That was part of the package in this very special mission area, so I learned to just live with it. It did not cripple my spirit.
In my Holy Masses, I learned to surrender everything to God, fully trusting that He will always be on my side. That’s how I survived each day.