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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 (left).
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 farmers."

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 strategies.

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."


An acolyte lights candles to honor the martyrs.

The retired pastor quickly notes that the danger was no less than what Filipino people face daily.

U.S. responsibility

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 newsdesk@umcom.org.

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