Church Leaders Condemn Political Massacre in Philippines

December 04, 2009

A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Dec. 1, 2009 | MANILA, Philippines (UMNS)

Religious leaders, including The United Methodist Church, are calling for an end to private armies and are reaching out to the victims of a political massacre that left 57 people dead.
 
The United Methodist California-Nevada Annual (regional) Conference has sent three teams to the Philippines to hear stories of abductions, torture and killings.
 
"Even as we grieve and mourn, we are outraged," the National Council of Churches in the Philippines said in a statement after the Nov. 23 killings.
 
"Disarming the private armies of warlords is of paramount import in the course of the coming elections," Bishop Felixberto Calang of the Philippine Independent Church told Ecumenical News International from the southern Philippine city of Cagayan de Oro. "Let us call for the repudiation of private armies and work for a people-friendly and just environment so that we can have fair, free and honest elections."
 
Andal Ampatuan Jr., the heir of a powerful clan and an ally of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, was charged Dec. 1 in connection with the attack on a caravan of journalists, lawyers, and the wife, relatives and several supporters of Ampatuan's rival, Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu of Maguindanao's Buluan township. Mangadadatu's supporters had intended to file for his candidacy for governor in elections scheduled for next May.
 
"This massacre is a grim reminder of the pervading culture of impunity and the lack of respect for human rights that has been in our midst and that has turned for the worse since 2001," said the statement signed by the Rev. Rex Reyes Jr., top executive of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines.
 
Conscience of the nation
 
The United Methodist Church in the Philippines has been active in working with the council to shine the spotlight on extrajudicial killings, which have escalated since Arroyo was elected in 2001. Arroyo has denied any military role in the killings and declared a national day of mourning after the recent massacre.
 
"If you are against the government … you're an enemy of the government," said Bishop Leo A. Soriano, Davao Area.
 
Soriano was in the United States recently for a Council of Bishops meeting and spoke about the ongoing violence in his country. "If you try to raise some issues and questions about corruption and about how things are being done, then you are an enemy of the government. And you will simply be eliminated."
 
Justice Reynato Puno, a United Methodist who is chief justice of the Philippine Supreme Court, has questioned the roles of the government and military in hundreds of deaths and abductions in the Philippines. "Telling the truth requires courage," he said.
 
Many of the victims have been church workers who support the poor. The Rev. Isaias St. Rosa, a United Methodist local pastor, was shot by gunmen outside his home in 2006.
 
Soriano said the church is the conscience of the nation. "We have to speak all these things in spite of death threats. We have so many victims who died doing these things, and this is their Christian faith."
 
Praying for peace
 
The National Council of Churches in the Philippines called the incident "a massacre most foul, gross and utterly repugnant."
 
"The gruesome massacre of unarmed civilians is also a painful reminder that government statements to the dismantling of political warlordism have been mere rhetoric," the council said. "Government has either turned a blind eye or entered into alliances with these warlords for political expediency at the expense of creating democratic space. Political warlordism is a manifestation of a feudal social order, and we join the call that it should now be outdated.
 
"To our partners around the world, our deep gratitude for upholding us in your supplication and affirming our calls," the churches said. "We pray that peace and justice be given a chance in Mindanao and elsewhere in this country." The province where the massacre took place is on the island of Mindanao.
 
"We pray that all the resources that have been poured in Mindanao bail the people out from the mire of poverty, neglect and human indignity," the council said. "We pray that we all rise from this blasphemy for the sake of the God who loves us all and calls us to be one people, and for the sake of our children and the children yet unborn." 
 
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*Gilbert is a news writer for United Methodist News Service in Nashville, Tenn.