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Prayer event focuses on human rights in Philippines


Clergy hold photos of Filipino victims of extrajudicial killings and focus on
human rights violations in the Philippines during a World Day of Prayer
service in Sacramento, Calif. A UMNS photo courtesy of the
California-Nevada Annual Conference.












By Jeneane Jones*
March 12, 2007 | SACRAMENTO, Calif. (UMNS)

On the day he would address a World Day of Prayer worship service at a local church, Bishop Eliezer Pascua was awakened by an early morning phone call from the Philippines.

The top staff executive of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines listened as the caller told of the latest killing just hours earlier - another UCCP member gunned down in the streets.

The murder of Renato Torrecampo Pacaide, 53, who was secretary general of a peasant movement in Mindanao, brought to 835 the number of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines in five years. Of that number, more than two dozen church people and clergy have been killed, including a United Methodist pastor. The UCCP has been the hardest hit denomination.

Standing behind photos of some of the victims, Pascua spoke during an ecumenical worship service at Westminster Presbyterian Church. In a voice brimming with both frustration and sorrow, he quoted the Psalms: "How long O Lord will you forget us…but we have trusted in you. We believe God is present."

On March 12-14, Pascua joins United Methodist Bishop Solito Toquero, episcopal leader of the Manila area, and a delegation of religious leaders from the Philippines area in Washington, D.C., for an international conference addressing human rights abuses in the Philippines.

Brutal stories

United Methodists from the California-Nevada Conference (region) returned in February from a 10-day, fact-finding mission in the Philippines.

Laddie Perez-Galang, from South Hayward United Methodist Church, traveled with 16 others to three regions of the Southeast Asian island nation. Each group heard unique stories with brutal similarities - stories of peasant laborers killed in rice fields, of torture and mass killings.

The team heard reports of church workers being identified with the New People's Army, the armed extension of the Communist Party of the Philippines, because they were helping secure the civil rights of farm workers. Reportedly, that connection was providing the military with its license to kill.

"The military government is taking advantage of uneducated people who do not know their rights," said Perez-Galang. "If they speak up, they are arrested and killed. And if educated people inform them of their rights, they are marked or labeled as either NPAs or communists."

The government of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has investigated the killings but, according to Human Rights Watch, a climate of fear and a lack of cooperation by military authorities have made the probe ineffective. Victims and their families are afraid to come forward for fear of police reprisals.


Bishop Beverly Shamana 

The Rev. Michael Yoshii, a coordinator of the Cal-Nevada United Methodist Church   team, said neither fear nor distance could silence some, however. "Some people walked six hours to come and be interviewed by our group. They were under watch and their safety was not insured in many cases," Yoshii said.

United Methodist Bishop Beverly Shamana, of the California-Nevada Conference (region), was part of the fact-finding mission and said her group now faces the task of education and advocacy. "There is a lack of information, and international classicism is at work," she said.

Because the killings happened in an underdeveloped country, Shamana said, the stories of human rights atrocities have not received much attention from the world community.

"Our representatives and many communities who care simply don't know yet," Shamana said. "And so it is up to us to get the word out and get people educated, get them moving."

World Day of Prayer

This year's commemoration of World Day of Prayer on March 2 was a chance for Sacramento's ecumenical community to spotlight an underreported story being played out on streets and in villages across the Philippines. The stories include that of Noli Capulong, a youth leader in the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, shot and killed last May as he headed to Bible study.

During the worship service, the Rev. Dennis Duhaylungsod of Filipino American United Church of Christ in Fremont, who worked with Capulong, shared that the 20-year-old was killed on the day his mother sponsored a resolution to stop the killings in the Philippines. 

Holding up a black and white photo of Capulong, Duhaylungsod described the young man's apparent crime: "He attended a community meeting to help organize the village [to start] their own drug store."

For Deborah Lee of the PANA Institute, which studies leadership development in Pacific Asian and North American Religion, the day of prayer centered on faith, justice and human rights in the Philippines. "It is time to focus on human rights abuses [and] the killings of unarmed civilians who because of their political positions to stand for the poor, are being assassinated by their own military," she said.

The decision to host the World Day of Prayer at Westminster Presbyterian was strategic. The Spanish-Mediterranean-styled church in downtown Sacramento sits in the shadow of the California State Capitol.

“None of us is free until we are all free.”
–The Rev. Michael Yoshii

The Rev. Larry Emery, one of the event's coordinators, challenged U.S. citizens to "hold our representatives in Washington accountable for the aid sent to our overseas allies in the name of American people, and to insure that aid is not used to oppose legitimate opposition to government, no matter their political public view, no matter their religious affiliation."

Emery called for letter-writing campaigns to U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who chairs the Senate Foreign Affairs Sub Committee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

"Write and call your senators," he said. "Urge them to conduct a thorough and complete hearing into the human rights violations to determine whether the military is being used to threaten the civil rights and the very lives of the citizens of that nation."

As the service closed, Emery invited worshippers to carry and leave flowers on the state Capitol steps, along with photos of those killed in the Philippines.

"We are working out our mutual collective salvation," said Yoshii, "understanding that our salvation is bound up in our support and solidarity of each other. None of us is free until we are all free."

* Jones is conference communications director, California-Nevada Annual Conference.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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