|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
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
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
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
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
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, 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."
The Rev. R. Randy Day says The United Methodist Church is committed to supporting human rights advocates
in the Philippines.
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,"
"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."
"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
Bishop Solito Toquero pleads for an end to the killings in his country.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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