|Philippine judicial leader speaks out against killings
Philippine Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno welcomes
retired United Methodist Bishop Susan Morrison to a luncheon in Manila
held last August for the United Methodist Board of Church and Society's
Social Creed Task Force.
UMNS photos by Kathy L. Gilbert.
Second in a series
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Nov. 19, 2007 | MANILA, Philippines (UMNS)
Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno is a United Methodist who has
become a powerful voice in the fight to stop extrajudicial killings and
abductions that have haunted his country since 2001.
"I like to believe that of all the Christian denominations, The
United Methodist Church has the best social action ideas," said Puno. "I
like to think that the better part of me is the Methodist part."
Recently, Puno held a summit in Manila on the extrajudicial killings,
putting a spotlight on the nation's human rights crisis. The summit
included representatives from the judicial, executive and legislative
branches of government, as well as scholars, members of the legal
profession, the militant left, religious leaders and media.
Puno said one of the most compelling reasons to hold the summit was "to
prevent us (from) losing eye contact with these killings and
disappearances, revive our righteous indignation and spur our united
search for the elusive solution to this pestering problem."
Human rights groups have documented more than 800 extrajudicial killings
in the Philippines since 2001 when President Gloria Arroyo took office.
They say Arroyo's military have targeted political activists, including
On Sept. 25, the Supreme Court in Manila approved a Puno-supported
court rule on the writ of amparo, under which the military or police
cannot simply deny involvement in abductions or extrajudicial killings.
Rather, they also must prove they are not involved and, under court
order, open their detention facilities for inspection.
In an interview with United Methodist News Service, Puno explained why
he is using his power to enact the writ of amparo and why he has taken
the bold step to put the Arroyo government, police and military on
A court rule broader than the writ of habeas corpus was needed, he said.
"You begin with the writ of habeas corpus," he said. "It is a remedy
where a person who has been detained illegally by the public authorities
can be asked to produce the body of the victim. But when the public
authorities, especially the police or the military, make their return to
the writ in their answer, they just say the body is not with us. And
that is it. That’s the end of the remedy."
The writ of amparo goes deeper. "It imposes greater obligations on the
part of the public authorities as well as persons who may have a caused
the disappearance, or the extrajudicial killings," he said.
"I like to think that the better part of me is the Methodist part," says Puno, who was raised a United Methodist.
"Today, the Supreme Court promulgated the rule that will place the
constitutional right to life, liberty and security above violation and
threats of violation. This rule will provide the victims of extralegal
killings and enforced disappearances the protection they need and the
promise of vindication for their rights," Puno said in a Sept. 25
statement. The writ took effect Oct. 24.
Churches must help
Puno believes people have been "anaesthetized" over the escalation of
killings and disappearances. Many are afraid of becoming targets
themselves if they report the killings.
He knows he is putting his own life in danger by speaking publicly about
such injustices, and he appreciates the three United Methodist bishops
in the Philippines who also have been outspoken about the killings.
"The church has a great role in the Philippines," he said, noting that
churches helped to bring down the regime of President Ferdinand Marcos
Puno hosted a luncheon in August for the United Methodist Board of
Church and Society's Social Creed Task Force and other religious leaders
and discussed his vision for the country's future.
"Let me counsel that in Third World countries where people experience
unending exploitation, where years of dehumanization have brutalized
people as worse than useless, there is a worrisome weariness on the
credibility gap between our words and our works; more accurately,
between the Lord’s word and our work," he said.
The United Methodist task force was in the Philippines to present a
proposed denominational Social Creed to Filipino church leaders for
feedback and input. Other religious leaders invited included United
Methodist Bishops Solito K. Toquero, Benjamin A. Justo, Leo A. Soriano,
Jose C. Gamboa Jr., Emerito P. Nacpil and Daniel C. Arichea Jr.; Rev.
Ignacio Soliba, chairman of the National Council of Churches in the
Philippines and prime bishop of the Episcopal Church; Bishop Deogracias
Iniguez, Ecumenical Bishops Forum; Bishop Nathaneal Lazaro, IEMELIF
Church; Rev. Manuel Rapisura, Philippine Central Conference.
In response to Puno's address, United Methodist Bishop Susan Morrison,
former chair of the task force, called the meeting "a gift beyond
"I've had the opportunity to preach to two presidents and one king, but
this is first opportunity I've had a chief justice preach to me," she
said. "And may I add an incredibly prophetic and challenging sermon!
Paraphrasing Scripture, Morrison told the chief justice: "Your Christian
brothers and sisters in the faith community rise up and call you
blessed, and know we will be continually praying for you and your
faithful witness and ministry and for this great country of the
*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in
Nashville, Tenn. This report developed out of her trip to the
Philippines in August.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
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Philippines: Writ of Amparo as Human Rights Weapon
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