Philippines: Elisa Gahapon del Puerto

I am childless but I have 40,000 children. The children in Basilan suffer the most from this senseless war and they need all the love and help we can give them.

— Elisa Gahapon del Puerto

Elisa Gahapon del Puerto (born 1957), a social worker, has spent more than two decades forging peace and healing the wounds of war in the province of Basilan. Her efforts have led to a continuing dialogue among warring rebel factions such as the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Abu Sayyaf Group. Under the Prelature of Isabela and the Christian Children’s Fund (CCF), she implements programs and services to address the people’s urgent needs such as health, water supply, housing, literacy, environmental conservation and peace advocacy.

It was early dawn in 2001 when Elisa set out with her driver for Maluso, a municipality 30 kms from Isabela, the capital city of Basilan. On their way, she noticed a body sprawled by the roadside. She asked her driver to stop, they picked up the man and brought him to the hospital, where he was declared dead on arrival from loss of blood. Elisa was to learn later that hiding just behind the bushes where she stopped to pick up the wounded man were some of the men who had earlier ambushed a public utility vehicle, leaving four persons beheaded and mutilated. When she met one of these ambushers later, he told her they could easily have taken her hostage, but they did not because, he said, "You have done a lot for our children." An island province in Southern Philippines, Basilan has long been enmeshed in a cycle of war and violence, but it is the dreaded kidnap-for-ransom Abu Sayyaf ('Bearer of the Sword') Group that brought global notoriety to the place. Elisa remembers her childhood in Basilan when Muslims and Christians coexisted harmoniously. "It was a few months before Martial Law was declared in 1972 when peace and order deteriorated," she recalls. As a working student serving the Prelature of Basilan, she saw the need to do her part in healing this wounded land. "Who can serve Basilan better than Basileños themselves?" she asks, adding, "The children in Basilan suffer the most from this senseless war and they need all the love and help we can give them."

Christian Children’s Fund (CCF)