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Delegates urge U.S. to help stop murders in Philippines


Athea Penalosa speaks on the plight of children in the Philippines to an ecumenical gathering of religious leaders and human rights advocates on March 13 in Washington. UMNS photos by Christine Kumar. 












March 15, 2007 |  WASHINGTON (UMNS)

Filipino members of a religious human rights delegation put their own lives in jeopardy to urge U.S. lawmakers to help stop the extra-judicial killings that have claimed the lives of more than 800 since 2001.

Two of the nine-member delegation testified during a March 14 hearing in Washington on extra-judicial killings in the Philippines. The hearing, chaired by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., was the first conducted by the subcommittee under her leadership, the Senate Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

Earlier in the day, the delegation met with the staff of the House Committee on Foreign Relations, chaired by Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., in a closed-door briefing.

The delegation, the Ecumenical Voice on Peace and Human Rights in the Philippines, asked senators and representatives to review military aid and development assistance being sent to the Philippines to make sure that assistance is not being used to violate human rights and further extra-judicial killings.

The delegation called on the U.S. Congress and church leaders to urge Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to put an end to the extra-judicial killings that have claimed the lives of 836 people since 2001, including 24 clergy and religious leaders.

The two members of the delegation invited to speak were Marie Hilao-Enriquez of Karapatan, with the Alliance for the Advancement of Human Rights, and the Rev. Eliezer Pascua, executive of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines.

Both the Senate hearing and the House briefing resulted from concerted efforts of church and ecumenical bodies led by the Rev. Bob Edgar, a United Methodist who is top executive of the U.S. National Council of Churches of Christ.

"The delegation was anxious if not desperate to have a voice and an audience with Sen. Boxer's committee and also Rep. Tom Lantos," Edgar said. The delegation knows speaking out will "put them on lists to be threatened or harmed," he said. "They indicated the risks were worth the dangers."

The delegation also presented a new human rights report on the Philippines to the Senate subcommittee and the House committee. The report was presented earlier to church leaders at the International Ecumenical Conference on Human Rights in the Philippines, held March 12-14.

The Philippine report, "Let the Stones Cry Out: An Ecumenical Report on Human Rights in the Philippines and a Call to Action," was prepared by the National Council of Churches in the Philippines. The 86-page report details cases of political killings and studies the chilling pattern and alarming proportions with which these assaults on life were perpetrated.

Highest priority

Speaking at the National City Christian Church during the conference, the delegates described how insurgents killed people for exercising their political beliefs and right to free expression, and for living Christ-centered lives of serving others.


The Rev. R. Randy Day says The United Methodist Church is committed to supporting human rights advocates
in the Philippines.

The Rev. R. Randy Day, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries assured more than 50 ecumenical church leaders and human rights activists that The United Methodist Church is committed to supporting human rights advocates in the Philippines. "This is our highest priority," he said. "We will stand in solidarity together."

Sharon Rose Joy Ruiz-Duremdes, executive of  the National Council of Churches and lay leader of the Convention of Philippines Baptist Church, laid a candle wrapped in black linen on a table and urged the church leaders and advocates to respond to the urgency of the massacres of innocent victims. "Human rights should not be surrendered," she said.

"What about the children?" asked Athea Penalosa, information and publicity coordinator of the Children's Rehabilitation Center in Quezon City, Philippines, where she monitors and documents cases of human rights violations against children and their families. "These are our future leaders and hope for our nation." 

She spoke of a 12-year-old girl whose mother was murdered. "The little girl refuses to talk to anyone and refuses to comb her hair; she will wait for mama to come and comb her hair."

The children's unheard fears are reflected in pictures that they draw in school. Pictures of families being murdered by soldiers with big guns have replaced happy faces of family members, homes and trees. "We want to bring the children to safe sanctuaries," said Penalosa. "May our collective voice for justice resonate."

Ignored pleas


Bishop Solito Toquero pleads for an end to the killings in his country.  

"I am in a rage and angry," said Bishop Solito Toquero, leader of The United Methodist Church's Manila Area. He said the plea to President Arroyo to end the killings has been ignored. "The killings continue." 

Day and Jim Winkler, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, met with Arroyo last year in the Philippines to urge her to put an end to the violence.

Winkler told the attendees at the conference that the U.S. government shares the blame for the political killings. "President Bush said in 2001 that there are two fronts in the war on terror, Afghanistan and the Philippines," he said.

Bush's statement encouraged governments to continue the war without regard for people's civil liberties and human rights, Winkler said. He plans to go Geneva, Switzerland, with the Filipino delegation to speak with members of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

As the delegates told stories of those killed, the church leaders and advocates were asked to pause between each and pray silently. In a corner of the room, pictures of dead church leaders rested on chairs. Large banners, hanging in a small room, related stories of children dying in their mothers' arms, pastors who were afraid to attend to their flock Sunday morning and common people being afraid to speak out.

Bishop Toquero urged everyone to join together in unity to stop the killings. "Our cries help us," he said.

*Christine Kumar, a reporter for the Baltimore-Washington Annual (regional) Conference, and Noel Pangilinan, media representative for the International Ecumenical Conference on Human Rights in the Philippines, contributed to this report.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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