A Reign of Terror – the Philippines Today
Reprinted from The Common Good, No 41, Pentecost 2007
By Sharon Rose Joy Ruiz-Duremdes
The church and faith community institutions in the Philippines are under siege. To date, at least 25 church people including 10 clergy, six lay workers of church-based programs, seven members of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) and two members of the United Methodist Church (UMC) who were active in their respective leadership bodies or mandated organizations, have become victims of extra-judicial killings over the last six years. Four other church people survived attempts on their lives and four received death threats.
The attacks on these members of the church and faith communities – including a renowned Bishop – have been executed alongside other thousands of incidents of gross and systematic violations victimizing hundreds of thousands of people during the same period. A Bishop was stabbed dead inside his own rectory, pastors were shot while attending to their flocks on a Sunday service, and lay missionaries were attacked after attending human rights activities. Aside from those representing the church and faith communities, the victims have come from all walks of life and
Include human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists – people who embody institutions engaged in the protection and promotion of human rights, in ensuring that the weak and powerless are given the due process of law, and in rendering voice to the voiceless.
Generally speaking, the attacks on the church and faith community institutions in the Philippines are nothing new – such assaults date back to the Marcos dictatorship (1972-1986). When martial law was declared by Ferdinand E. Marcos in September 1972, the General Secretary of the NCCP, Bishop La Verne D. Mercado, was arrested by the military and thrown to jail. During the dark years of the dictatorship and over the next periods following its fall, several other members of the clergy and lay missionaries would suffer the same fate – or even worse. An Italian priest was attacked with machetes and cannibalized by a fanatical anti-communist band, a Roman Catholic Filipino priest was abducted by men known to be under a senior military official and went missing, and seminaries and sanctuaries were raided and their programs vilified as ‘leftist.’ Mosques also became targets of bombings and indiscriminate firing during counter-terrorist operations.
A Reign of Terror
What makes the assaults on the church and faith communities distinct today is not only the brazenness their leaders and members are attacked but that they were carried out under a regime of counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism programs by the government. These campaigns reveal the existence of military hit lists naming several leading church organizations as targets of military surveillance and ‘neutralization’ – a military jargon which means physical elimination.
All these tend to effect a reign of terror hovering over these institutions thus affecting not only their leadership but also their entire missions and programs that involve rendering spiritual guidance, shepherding their flock, making the torch of justice and peace afire – in making sure that human dignity and human rights remain universal, inviolable and inalienable. Something is wrong when members of the clergy and lay missionaries are being silenced when they are deeply engaged in missions that address the concerns of their constituencies – and the Philippine society as a whole.
Something is wrong when members of the church and faith institutions are killed, go missing or are arrested while pursuing their calling to bring about justice closer to the poor, to fight for their rights, and advocate peace in a society that is torn asunder by armed conflicts fueled by structural problems. Of greater alarm is that the gross and systematic attacks on these pilgrims of peace and servants of God are forcing their institutions to an inevitable clash with the State – perhaps the better to make these institutions further weakened and unable to render service to their flocks under a situation where the legal and judicial system no longer draws any hope to the people?
The Church will come under judgment if she does nothing to help ease the suffering and pain of hundreds of thousands of victims of human rights abuse – for that matter the whole Philippine society. The cry of the kith and kin of those whose lives were snuffed out because service to the needy was their paramount reason for being, is the cry of God. The Church cannot hear God’s cry and not respond.
United Against Repression
For the ecumenical movement in the Philippines, the defense of human rights is a commitment rooted in our being as churches. Faith communities are called to loving service and ensure that human dignity is preserved at all times and in all places. Pursuing this service and witness is at once a call to discipleship. Thus, even as she promotes the rights of people to express and articulate their needs and aspirations freely, the church is vigilant in defending the people from the oppression of others, from the arbitrary use of power, from unjust structures of society and from any other threat that prevents the attainment of abundant life.
The defense of human rights is an ecumenical agenda as indeed, the quest for peace with justice is a universal engagement by all people of goodwill. It becomes compelling when the very stones cry out for justice. The assault on civil liberties in the Philippines in recent years has cut across the broad spectrum of society, and has been carried out with unsurpassed impunity.
This leaves no second thoughts for the church to live out her witness. The defense of human rights is at the core of the prophetic ministry of the church because the Gospel is directed at the ministry of advocating human freedom – the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ in a situation where falsehood and wrong hold their sway. Wherefore, the churches denounce those that are antithetical to the Gospel. Not that the churches claim to know all the solutions to society’s ills. Rather, in situations of tyranny where human existence and survival are not only under threat but also under assault, the church must stand her ground, uncompromising and courageous in exposing the evil designs wherever they comes from.
Seen and understood in the foregoing terms, the defence and promotion of human rights takes center stage in the apostolate of the ecumenical movement in the Philippines. Where the imago dei in persons is tarnished or violated, the churches have vehemently raised their voices of condemnation.
It is for this reason that the ecumenical community in the Philippines has found common cause in the unequivocal resistance to extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, harassments and other forms of political persecution under the watch of President Gloria M. Arroyo. In particular, we remember the words of Bishop Mercado when in his last report to the General Convention he explained in simple terms the nature of the life and work of the Council: ‘The NCCP has constantly sought to make its programs and services relevant and responsive to the needs and challenges of our church and society. The Council operates on the belief that the Gospel is directed to the ministry of advocacy, a prophetic role, by announcing the Good News of Jesus Christ and at the same time denouncing that which is not in line with the Christian Gospel… It is in the being of Jesus Christ which defines our ministry in the NCCP. It draws its life from the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The activities and actions of the Council are motivated by the demands of the Christian faith and centered in Christ, the Head of the Church and the Lord of us all.’
The rationale of the NCCP’s peace program affirmed that declaration when in 1989 it said: ‘We are committed to peace and human rights. On this matter, there can be no equivocation. It is a commitment that is not born out of the practicalities of political adjustment or of the vagaries of military strategy. It is a commitment rooted in our being Church.’
This Ecumenical Report is the cry of anguish of every oppressed Filipino, vexed unjustly by the exemplars of idolatry and malevolence. It is the ecumenical community’s offering to ennoble the memory of the people’s martyrs, and to enliven the hope that seems only to flicker and embolden the lips that refuse to be muzzled by untruth. It is the churches’ angered scream against repression.
This is the preface to the ecumenical report Let the Stones Cry Out, written by Sharon Rose Joy Ruiz-Duremdes, General Secretary, National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP). (Full Text – www.oikournene org/index.php?)