3rd ECP Prime Bishop passes away

The Most Rev. Ignacio C. Soliba, 3rd ECP Prime Bishop, passes to the heavenly realm!

The Most Rev. Ignacio C. Soliba, former Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Luzon [EDNL] and 3rd Prime Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines, passed away at 9:05 pm on 29th March 2016 at St. Paul’s Hospital in Tuguegarao, Cagayan. He has been in intensive care unit following a severe infection that made him comatose since Friday. He is survived by his three children: Theresa, Ali and Abanay Grace.

Bishop Soliba, born in Sagada, Mountain Province in March 1944, graduated with a degree in Theology from St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary in 1973. Earlier, he also completed a degree in Psychology at the University of the Philippines. He was ordained deacon in June 1973 and to the priesthood in February 1974. His past assignments included serving as vicar in various mission stations and as chaplain in mission schools. He was consecrated as the 2nd Bishop of EDNL in May 1991.

Bishop Soliba was elected as the 3rd  Prime Bishop of the ECP in May 1996, at a time when the Church was reeling from recurrent financial crisis brought about by the gradual phase-out of annual grant subsidy from its then mother Church, The Episcopal Church [TEC], following the ECP’s autonomy in 1990. The crisis was so severe that the ECP was compelled to sell a 1.5 hectare portion of the Cathedral Heights property in Quezon City to raise funds primarily to support its basic operations. The sale, approved by Executive Council in May 1994, almost split the constituency of the Church as oppositors thereto questioned the action before the Securities and Exchange Commission. With its subsequent affirmation by the SEC, the sale proceeded and the newly-installed Prime Bishop calmed the turbulent waters as he called for  collective reflection and unity that resulted in what was then referred to as ECP Vision 2007. This was a ten (10) year plan that affirmed the ECP’s earlier commitment to attain full financial autonomy by the end of 2007, at the same time calling for renewal and opening the entire country for mission expansion. Under his leadership, Vision 2007 became the rallying point to move forward with mission work at a time when, due to budgetary difficulties, the Church has closed down a number of programs including new works.

 P8.8 million from the P120 million proceeds of the landsale was used to capitalize the ECP Pension Fund and the remaining P111.2 million was constituted as a Capital Fund whose income was made available for the budgetary requirements of all the dioceses and institutions of the Church, stabilizing to a certain extent the financial difficulties that were then being experienced. Bishop Soliba then announced that, for the first time, the ECP had a national fund whose income will be shared by the dioceses and institutions. Income from the Capital Fund was also made available to finance development plans, resulting in the acquisition of several lots as well as construction of buildings that became major sources of income for the various dioceses. The Capital Fund, which has grown to P136,533,101.93 [2015 audit], jumpstarted the development of the financial and physical infrastructures of the Church into what they are today.

 At the 2002 Synod, Bishop Soliba and the leadership of the Church came under fire for investing in rural banks, one of which was closed at that time and the other also folded up six (6) years after. A management audit was conducted and although no financial mis-appropriation or mis-conduct was found, it enabled Executive Council to review and strengthen the Church’s financial systems and operations.

 One of the most challenging test to the leadership of Bishop Soliba came in 2004 following a review of the Church’s financial positions. The year before [2003], the ECP ended with the biggest budget deficit at P6 million and at a meeting in March 2004, there was a proposed resolution to ask for a 3-year extension of the end of TEC subsidy, from 2007 to 2010. At that time, TEC’s annual grant was substantially reduced at P9.3 million or 14% of the total annual budget but all the units expressed that they have exhausted all fund-generation possibilities and there was no more way they fill in the TEC subsidy if completely phased out. Despite the grim prognosis, however, the ECP, under Bishop Soliba’s leadership, made a dramatic decision not to ask for an extension but, in fact, to cut the subsidy right there and then. The bold decision was that, starting 2005, the ECP shall no longer use the grant subsidy for operational purposes but will add the same to its Centennial Endowment Fund [CEF]. Many diocesan leaders, congregations and groups strongly protested this action but Bishop Soliba stood his ground. “We will survive on what we have”, he repeatedly declared. And by December 2005, all the fears of incurring huge deficits, serious inability to pay salaries in full, suspension of expansion work, etc. turned out to be unfounded as the whole Church was able to survive and, in fact, ended the year with even a substantial surplus of P3 million. Effectively, ECP achieved full financial autonomy on 1st  January 2005. 

The fruits of ECP work for the next  three years (2005 – 2007) was almost miraculous. Those most critical 3-year period saw the ECP building not only the most number of churches (at any given triennium) but also some of the most beautiful structures. This was at a time when there were no budgets for new church buildings and chapels. Likewise during the same period, St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary, received the highest number of enrollees. And, finally,  the whole Church was able to produce P9.3 million in additional local income per year for three years to replace the grant subsidy which were re-allocated to the CEF. It was a most fitting conclusion to the era (of grant subsidy) that ran on for more than a century. 

In the ecumenical circles, Bishop Soliba is best remembered for his brutally frank statements that made his audience squirm in their seats. At a dialogue in Malacanang following the release of a statement of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines denouncing the atmosphere of impunity in the country that has led to the killing of many Filipinos, Bishop Soliba stood up and addressed  high government officials, who were accusing the church leaders as oppositionists, saying “we are fully supporting all of you, that is why we are raising all these issues because we want you to succeed and you can only do this if you properly address these issues.”

On the above-stated investments with rural banks, Bishop Soliba and the ECP leadership were vindicated from allegations of gross mis-management when the external audit in 2011 showed that, of the original P69.3 million investment with the said banks, the Church earned a total of P74.9 million over the years and have received insurance proceeds of P28.5 million, for a total cash inflow of P103.4 million. Less the principal placements, the net cash inflow or gain for the ECP amounted to P34.1 million [as of 2011].

On 20th February 2009, Bishop Soliba drove home to Tabuk, following the installation the day before of his successor, The Most Rev. Dr. Edward P. Malecdan. He had then just concluded 12 years of shepherding the ECP into the realization of its Vision 2007. To his successor, he said, “If this Church was able to more or less accomplish ECP Vision 2007, it can accomplish ECP Vision 2018. This Church can do it. We can do it and we will do it.”

Bishop Soliba’s death came at a time when the ECP just entered the last two minutes of Vision 2018.  He will not be there physically when the game ends but, wherever he will be, he would be among the happiest persons when the ECP shoots the winning basket when the final buzzer is sounded. The best way to pay tribute to him is by making that happen!

 

 

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