Ecumenical delegation to visit the Philippines
June 2, 2005
By United Methodist News Service
An ecumenical delegation will visit the Philippines to collect facts about political repression and offer pastoral support to affected churches and families.
United Methodist Bishop Solito Toquero of Manila and Sharon Rose Joy Ruiz-Duremdes, chief executive of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, urged the visit.
"Now more than ever, we are seeing the church under siege only because she has decided to take up her cross and follow Jesus through his Via Dolorosa," they wrote in a May 16 invitation. "Church people who have walked alongside our struggling people have joined the myriads of peace advocates and human rights defenders whose lives have been snuffed out."
Most recently, the Rev. Edison Lapuz, a pastor of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, was brutally murdered.
The delegation -- which is being arranged through the World Council of Churches and the Christian Conference of Asia -- will visit the Philippines July 15-21. The council hopes to set up meetings with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, military authorities in Central Luzon and Eastern Visayas, and representatives of the Department of National Defense and the Senate Committee on Human Rights, as well as church leaders and members of nongovernmental organizations.
Among the areas the delegation will visit is Samar, a province in Eastern Visayas where most of the recent killings have occurred, and Hacienda Luisita, a sugar cane plantation where striking peasants and farm workers were massacred.
The Rev. R. Randy Day, chief executive of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, said in a recent statement that the situation in the Philippines is "deeply disturbing to the Christian conscience."
Day has joined with Protestant leaders in the Philippines in calling for a full and fair investigation of the May 12 murder of Lapuz, who was shot while he slept. Alfredo Malinao, also a grassroots organizer, died after the late night attack on a house where a group had gathered following a funeral.
Both were involved with a human rights organization, Promotion of the Church People's Response, which has highlighted what it considers the unjust social, political, and economic practices permitted by the administration of President Macapagal-Arroyo. Bishop Elmer M. Bolocon, United Church of Christ chief executive, had reported that 50 people, including six church members, have been ambushed or assassinated in 2005 on the islands of Leyte and Samar.
Day joined with Toquero in calling upon the president to investigate the murders of Lapuz and others. "I plead with the government," Day said, "to establish fair economic policies and to control the use of violence against those who question current practices." The mission executive noted that he attended Sillman University in the Philippines and has a deep affection for the country and its people.
In a May 16 statement, Bolocon noted that Lapuz "was pastorally responsible for expressing the church's alarm and concern over the recent shooting of one UCCP member and the killing of another in his conference. The Rev. Lapuz unflinchingly maintained his firm commitment to stand for justice and righteousness; he set aside the death threats he was receiving as an attendant risk to the prophetic call."
Addressing "the perpetrators of the dastardly act of assassination and murder," Bolocon declared that by eliminating "the perceived 'enemies of the State' this way, you are, in fact, escalating the cycle and level of violence, leaving the people more and more limited options in seeking redress of wrongs."
Numerous church leaders, Protestant and Catholic, have warned against a trend toward martial law in the Philippines, with opponents coming under intimidation and attack.
In a separate May 16 statement, Toquero said the increase in killings of peace advocates is "leading us to think that a systematic plan of silencing people expressing dissent is on a full-scale implementation."
He cited the United Methodist Church's Social Principles, which state in Paragraph 164: "We hold governments responsible for the protection of the rights of the people to free and fair elections and to the freedoms of speech, religion, assembly, communications media, and petition for redress of grievances without fear of reprisal; . . . We also strongly reject domestic surveillance and intimidation of political opponents of governments in power and all other misuses of elective or appointive offices. . . . the mistreatment or torture of persons by government for any purpose violates Christian teaching and must be condemned and/or opposed by Christians and churches wherever and whenever it occurs."
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.