Philippine human-rights violations addressed by National Council of Churches

March 2, 2007

The governing board of the National Council of Churches USA on February 26 spoke out against human-rights violations in the Philippines.

"The people of the Philippines are crying out for justice," said a resolution adopted by the group.

The resolution noted that "over the past year, human rights violations, especially political and extrajudicial killings, have occurred with alarming frequency in the Philippines."

"The victims of these killings include clergy and lay church leaders," the resolution continued. "According to the Churches in the Philippines, in the history of their country there has never been such a high incidence of clergy killings."

Extra-judicial or political killings occur without the permission of a court or legal authority and are generally carried out by a State in order to rid itself of a disruptive influence. More than 700 such killings have been reported in the Philippines under the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, according to the human rights alliance KARAPATAN.

The NCC resolution said religious and civil society leaders are leading an international campaign to stop the killings and hold accountable those who are responsible. The effort includes compiling a report outlining the violations and suggesting several courses of action. The leaders are forming an ecumenical delegation to speak to the leaders of the United States, Canadian, European Union countries and the United Nations.

"And they are seeking the support of Churches, ecumenical organizations, and people of goodwill to strengthen their effort," the resolution said.

The resolution called on its members, including the Episcopal Church, "to be in solidarity with the National Council of Churches in the Philippines and its member communions as they seek an end to these killings."

It also called on members to:

* support the International Ecumenical Conference on Human Rights in the Philippines, to be held March 12-14 in Washington, D.C.;

* call upon the U.S. Congress, either through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee or the House Foreign Affairs Committee, to "hold a hearing or initiate other meaningful measures that address the deteriorating human rights situation" and time that action for between March 12-14 and around the visit of a high-ranking ecumenical and civil society delegation from the Philippines; and,

* advocate that the U.S. government "bring pressure on the Philippine government to end the killings, and to hold the perpetrators and their sponsors accountable, even to the point of conditioning its military, economic, and development assistance to the protection of human rights and to the implementation of principles of good governance."

The resolution said that the Philippines government had failed to protect its people.

"It is now up to the international community to intervene on behalf of the Philippine people," the resolution said. "Therefore, we urge the U.S. government to assert its leadership within the international community in order to bring justice to this horrific situation and peace to the people of the Philippines."

The resolution has not yet been posted on the organization's website.

In January, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori raised concerns about human rights violations in the Philippines and challenged the Philippine government for not showing "any real success in ending extra-judicial killings."

The murder of Bishop Alberto Ramento of the Philippine Independent Church, who was found stabbed to death at his Tarlac City rectory on the morning of October 3, prompted an outcry from Church leaders calling for an end to the spate of such killings. Ramento had been an outspoken critic of the Philippine government and received several death threats in the lead-up to his murder.

The Rev. Canon Brian Grieves, director of Peace and Justice Ministries for the Episcopal Church, went on a fact-finding mission to the Philippines in December 2006 and learned of the sobering statistics that more than 700 people had perished as a result of extra-judicial killings during Arroyo's administration.

A long-delayed report into allegations of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, which was released in February, says there is evidence to believe that military commanders were responsible for "allowing, tolerating and even encouraging" the killings of activists, church workers, journalists and judges.

Arroyo's administration had previously refused to release the report to the public, saying it was "incomplete," despite a nationwide clamor that was joined by bishops and church leaders.

"We are happy the report is finally out so we can be enlightened, because we don't see any good reason in creating a commission to probe the killings and withholding the results from the public," the Rev. Efren Supanga of the Episcopal Church of the Philippines told Ecumenical News International on February 23.

A church-based group said that with the publication of the report, it would try and seek justice for victims.