|Churches share stories of Filipino martyrs
Photographs of clergy victims of extra-judicial
killings in the Philippines are paraded at the start of a commemoration
service at Pinole (Calif.) United Methodist Church. The service was
organized by members of the California-Nevada Conference Filipino task
force, including the Rev. Arturo Capuli (right) and Laddie Perez-Galang
UMNS photos by Jeneane Jones.
By Jeneane Jones*
June 14, 2007 | PINOLE, Calif. (UMNS)
Laddie Perez-Galang arranges photos of people killed in the Philippines in the
past six years.
They left the sanctuary as they came in: silently, in single file,
carrying photographs of young men and women killed throughout the
Philippines in "extra-judicial killings"—deaths without due process.
The silent walk-in has become the group’s signature protest.
As members of a fact-finding team from the United Methodist
California-Nevada Annual (regional) Conference, they visit churches to
share information about alleged brutality toward Filipino citizens by
the military of the Philippines.
During a June 10 program at Pinole United Methodist Church on the
edge of the San Francisco Bay Area, the Rev. Linda Prendergast retells
the story of a young woman whose photo is on a nearby screen. "Hooded
gunmen barged into her home … and, while she and her children watched
from the dinner table, the men shot and kill her husband at the table.
His crime was that he was working to bring better conditions to the
The fact-finding team of 17 United Methodists, including
California-Nevada Bishop Beverly J. Shamana, traveled in February to
three regions of the Philippines to hear the personal accounts behind
reports concerning the more than 800 killed in six years. The majority
of those victims have been church workers, primarily members of the
United Church of Christ of the Philippines. United Methodist pastors and
workers also have been killed.
Standing up for rights
The Rev. Arturo Capuli, a member of the team, is clear on why people
of faith have been targeted. "They are leaders, for one thing," Capuli
said. "They awaken people. They enlighten people. They encourage people
to stand up for their rights."
On June 9, another person of faith paid the ultimate price for
helping people. Filipino newspapers reported that a lone assailant
stabbed a young seminarian to death in his home in Quezon City.
The Cal-Nevada team concurs with the World Council of Churches that
Christians have suffered the brunt of human rights violations under the
Philippine government's counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism
While the team’s trip was needed, it was also a dangerous mission. In Mindinao, some of its members were stopped and searched.
"We had a big gathering that night in the town," said Capuli. "We
noticed we were being videotaped by the military people. Then we were
told that instead of staying the night in that town, we would be in
danger, so we traveled about five more hours (in another direction) in
order to be safe."
The retired pastor quickly notes that the danger was no less than what Filipino people face daily.
An acolyte lights candles to honor the martyrs.
Capuli says it is not only the Philippine government that must be
held accountable for the violence, but the U.S. government as well.
"We should persuade our government not to send any military aid, but
instead (to) send economic aid. And if we cannot but send military aid,
what we should do is to make sure that money is not used to exploit and
abuse the human rights of our people."
The government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo says it has
conducted an investigation into the more than 800 killings. At meetings
this week in Rome with Pope Benedict XVI, Arroyo's protocol officer said
she would address how her government is responding to the violence
attributed to death squads.
Capuli and the team will continue to give churches a chance to listen
to their stories—stories of victims of abuse. At the annual conference
session June 20-24, the fact-finding team will introduce a resolution to
allow them to extend their work permanently.
Laddie Perez-Galang, another member of the fact-finding team, said
they will have legislation to place additional pressure on the U.S.
government about the money being sent to the Philippines.
"We want some strings attached to it so the U.S. government can put
pressure on the Philippine government to start prosecuting the
perpetrators of this violence," Perez-Galang said.
*Jones is director of communications for The United Methodist Church's California-Nevada Annual Conference.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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