[ACNS] Bishop Esteban Sabawil of Northern Luzon in the Episcopal Church of the Philippines, has died at the age of 61, just over a year after being consecrated. Bishop Sabawil was ordained in 1983 in his hometown in the northern Province of Kalinga. Initially destined to be sent to Hawaii, in response to a request by the diocese there to take care of a congregation composed mostly of Filipinos, he was instead sent to a very remote congregation in the northern Philippines – Adams, in the province of Ilocos Norte. He recalled arriving to his new posting in rain and hiking for three hours uphill and along a winding road. His ministry involved going, on occasion, on foot for five or six hours.
In 1986 when the Diocese of Northern Luzon was carved out of the Diocese of the Northern Philippines, Fr Sabawil was sent there and took on the dual functions of canon missioner and social concerns officer, attending to many social issues at a time when armed conflicts abounded not only between the military and rebel forces but also involving local tribes. He was installed as the fourth Bishop of that diocese in October 2015.
He married Amalia in 1985 and they had six children. He once applied unsuccessfully for a vacant government post and then ran for a position as a local mayor, but he wasn’t elected. He realised that as an ordained person, government service was not for him, saying: “There are so many politicians, while there are so few clergymen”; and he described the desire to enter politics – as an active clergyman – as a temptation to be resisted, due to the fact of there “only being a few labourers in the midst of so great a work!”
Giving the homily at his funeral, the Prime Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines, the Most Revd Renato Abibico, recalled that unsuccessful foray into local politics: “He went on indefinite leave from the active ministry in order to run for the position of Mayor in Pasil, Kalinga, but because he did not know the ‘art of politics’ he lost miserably, or to be more theological in language, God did not approve his plans” he said.
“It is too unfortunate that he has not been able to find full expression of his ministry as a bishop, as he only served just a little more than a year, because death has befriended him too soon. . . In our midst lies a husband, a father, a grandfather, a failed politician, a deacon, priest and a bishop all rolled into one. Indeed, Bishop Sabawil might be like Zacchaeus in stature but is a Goliath in terms of good and commendable accomplishments that adorned his colourful, abundant and well lived life where I am sure God is well pleased with him saying, “this is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”