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Judicial Council hears about violence in Philippines

Philippines’ Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno, a member of Puno United Methodist Church in Quezon City, opens the Judicial Council meeting in Manila with devotions. UMNS photos by Neill Caldwell.

By Neill Caldwell*
May 1, 2007 |  MANILA, Philippines (UMNS)

Judicial Council President James Holsinger (left) listens as Bishop Solito K. Toquero reads Scripture before a meeting of The United Methodist Church's top court.

Human rights violations and violence against both Filipinos and Westerners remain key problems facing the Philippines, a United Methodist bishop told members of the denomination’s "supreme court."

"We need justice in the Philippines," said Bishop Solito K. Toquero, who leads The United Methodist Church’s Manila Area. "Those who speak out against the government and who work for the poor are being killed."

Toquero spoke to eight members of the Judicial Council who were attending the court’s April 25-28 meeting, its first outside American soil.

Using Micah 6:8 as his devotional text, Toquero said leaders of The United Methodist Church and other churches in the Philippines are seeking to do God’s will by advocating for justice, calling attention to injustice, poverty and violence, and visiting with prisoners – "even political detainees, rebels and Muslim detainees to minister to them."

Toquero also mentioned the recent death of Peace Corps volunteer and freelance journalist Julia Campbell of Fairfax, Va., who was killed while visiting the country’s famous rice terraces, a popular tourist destination.

"This is what is happening in the Philippines right now," Bishop Toquero said. "There are places where we must tell Westerners not to go.

"We have met with a group of generals to share our concerns and we hope that our president (Gloria Macapagal Arroyo) will do something about the growing militarization. We also hope that the United States will add its pressure on the (Arroyo) government."

Members of the Judicial Council of The United Methodist Church tour Fort Santiago in Old Manila following the council's historic meeting in the Philippines.

On a recent trip to Washington, D.C., Bishop Toquero and other Filipino clergy met with the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs, chaired by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., to share concerns.

Filipino church leaders also met with the United Nations Human Rights Council in March seeking an investigation into "extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other forms of violations of human rights in the Philippines." Seven cases of killings of church people, including a United Methodist pastor, are among the violations of human rights documented in "Let the Stones Cry Out," an 85-page report prepared by the National Council of Churches in the Philippines. The report documents 836 politically motivated killings since 2001 when Arroyo became president. Among the victims are teachers, students, journalists, clergy and other religious leaders.

In February, United Methodist Bishop Beverly Shamana and members of the church’s San Francisco Area made a fact-finding trip to the Philippines, a nation of 85 million people spread over 7,100 islands, speaking more than 80 languages or dialects.

Filipino clergy fear that the government’s new "Human Security Act" will be used to escalate human rights violations in the name of counterterrorism.

National Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno, a lay member of Puno United Methodist Church in Quezon City who has spoken out against human rights violations in the Philippines, opened the Judicial Council’s historic meeting with a devotion on the topic of Christ’s love.

"We are becoming a world more prone to violence," Puno told the council members, "both physical and spiritual violence. There is only one antidote to hatred and violence, and that is love. Jesus was a victim of violence, but not once did he nurture hatred in his heart or use violence to change the status quo. His commandment was love.

"Love is still the greatest and most meaningful force in the world today," Puno added. "If love has left our hearts, can this be the reason for mankind’s drift?"

*Caldwell is editor of the Virginia Advocate, the newspaper of the United Methodist Church’s Virginia Annual (regional) Conference.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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