Cal Nevada Churches urged to share the stories of Filipino Martyrs

June 12, 2007


By Jeneane Jones


Pinole, CALIFORNIA -They left the sanctuary as they came in. In single file – silently carrying with them the photographs of martyrs; young men and women killed throughout the Philippines in what have been termed “extra-judicial killings” - death without due process.  The silent walk has become the group’s signature protest. These are members of a fact finding team from California-Nevada Annual Conference who visit churches to share information in this Filipino-dense part of the country, about the brutality a nation’s military is accused of visiting upon its citizens. 


During a Sunday program at Pinole UMC at the edges of the San Francisco Bay Area, the Rev. Linda Prendergast retells the story of a young woman, her photo 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, including California-Nevada Bishop Beverly J. Shamana, traveled to three different regions of the Philippines in February 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 (UCCP). United Methodist pastors and workers have also been killed.

 The Rev. Arturo Capuli, one of the members of the team, says he’s clear why people of faith have been targeted. “They are leaders for one thing, They awaken people. They enlighten people, they encourage people to stand up for their rights.” Just one day earlier, Saturday, June 9, another person of faith paid the ultimate price for helping people. Filipino papers reported a young seminarian stabbed to death in Quezon City by a lone assailant who entered his home. The World Council of Churches has joined Call-Nevada in stating that Christians have suffered the brunt of violations of human rights 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, the Rev, Capuli was with members of the team who were stopped and searched.

“We had a big gathering that night in the town. 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 was also quick to add that the danger was no less than what Filipino people are facing daily.


The Rev. Arturo 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 [to the Philippines]. But instead, 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 has said 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. But during Sunday’s program, the audience heard the response of Arroyo’s government may be more like a change in tactics.

Laddie Perez-Galang, another fact finding team member said, “we heard today the military is changing their M-O. Now they’re abducting people and arresting them. After they abduct them they come up with some kind of charges.


The Rev. Capuli and the team says it will continue to offer churches a chance to listen to their stories – the stories of victims of abuse. At Annual Conference Session June 20-24 the fact finding team will introduce a resolution to allow them to extend their work permanently and, according to Laddie Perez-Galang they will have legislation to, “place additional pressure on the US government about the money they are sending 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.”