|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
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
United Methodists from the California-Nevada Conference (region)
returned in February from a 10-day, fact-finding mission in the
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
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.
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.
Bishop Beverly Shamana
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
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
"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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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