Cal-Nevada Delegation to Philippines Decries Human Rights Violations

July 25, 2008

A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
July 25, 2008

Killings and abductions in the Philippines "continue without let-up," according to a United Methodist delegation from the U.S. that recently visited the country.

The visit was the second time a delegation from The United Methodist Church's California-Nevada Annual (regional) Conference has traveled to the Philippines to hear about human rights violations, which have been ongoing since 2001. The conference's first visit in February 2007 led to a meeting with U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer in which the group advocated for a U.S. inquiry into the issue.


Eighteen delegates, including seven young adults, traveled to three regions of the country June 24-July 7. The California-Nevada Conference has sent more than $12,000 to the Philippines to support families of victims of human rights violations.

Karapatan, a human rights group in the Philippines that tracks the violations, reports that from Jan. 21, 2001, to March 31, 2008, 903 people have been victims of extrajudicial killings. The government of President Gloria Arroyo has been criticized for its inaction and for possible ties to groups carrying out the extrajudicial killings. In that same time period, 193 people have "disappeared."

"We heard from victims and survivors, human rights advocates, and a variety of persons from these militarized communities," said the Rev. Michael Yoshii, co-chairperson of the delegation and pastor of Buena Vista (Calif.) United Methodist Church. "The testimonies of the people, and what we witnessed helped us in drawing this conclusion: The impunity of human rights violations under the present administration continues without let-up."

The National Council on Churches in the Philippines hosted the group and took the delegation to Guihulnga, Negros Oriental; Pananuman, Abra; and Nueva Ecija. The group also met with victims and survivors at the NCCP office in Manila.
'I am them too!'
Laddie Perez-Galang, a member of South Hayward (Calif.) United Methodist Church, led the group that went to Nueva Ecija.

Delegates visit Judge Ruben Reyes,
a member of the denomination's
Judicial Council.

The group met with two brothers in Pantabanga whose parents, United Methodist lay leaders, were tortured and forced to commit suicide.

"They were given two choices: their lives or the lives of their children," she said. "They already lost one of their older sons in a massacre that happened earlier. We were informed that there were other forced suicides in that area."

Perez-Galang lived in the Philippines until 1974 and was 13 when she left with her parents. She was also part of the first delegation that visited in 2007.

"I thought I was prepared and ready to actually see with my own eyes what I was reading and hearing about what is going on in the Philippines," she said. "When we talked with the survivors and families of the victims, I felt their pain, their sorrows, their anger. I am them too!"
Victims speak out
Edith Burgos told the group her son, Jonas, was abducted and has been missing for more than a year. Jonas was an organizer among the poor farmers and fishers. The Rev. Melchor Abesamis, a student at Union Theological Seminary, was abducted, tortured and imprisoned for a litany of offenses. He was released and shared his story with the delegation for the first time in public.

Some of the delegation members visited a village recently occupied by AFP forces.

"At the village we were shown the empty bomb casings left behind after a monthlong intensive bombing raid," Yoshii said. "While there were no physical casualties as a result of the military activities, the daily bombing left the villagers in trauma, shock and disbelief that their homes could be taken over by their own military forces."

The children's choir of the United Methodist Church of Barangay Conversion in Nueva Ecija performs for the delegation.

The group also visited a United Church of Christ pastor, the Rev. Berlin Guerrero, in the Cavite prison where he has been under arrest on charges of murder since May 27, 2007. He was abducted in front of his wife and three children and has been subjected to torture. Guerrero has maintained his innocence and said he has been a target of the state.

Guerrero has begun a prison ministry providing worship services and Bible studies, and he has organized a choir, Yoshii said. Mylene Guerrero, his wife, has been trying to get a visa to go to the United States for a speaking tour with Bishop Eliezar Pascua, but so far she has been unsuccessful.

"We told her that in spite of not making the trip to the U.S., her husband's case was becoming well known just through her attempt to visit," Yoshii said.

Perez-Galang said the group was told many fact-finding teams had come to the country but nothing had changed.

"They asked, 'What's the difference between them and us?'" she said. "We told them we made a commitment and a promise to the survivors, families of victims, human rights advocates and workers that we will tell their stories to our church members, our congressional leaders and representatives and everybody."
*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.