A Response of Solidarity and Support to Acts of Justice and Mercy: A Report by the International Fact-Finding Team of the California-Nevada Annual Conference
We, the members of The California-Nevada Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church’s Fact-Finding Team, moved by a desire for mercy and justice and inspired by our connectional church, traveled on a pastoral trip to Kidapawan and Arakan from April 22 to 24th
, 2016. While there, we interviewed people who participated in the Kidapawan protest rally in various ways. We spoke with neighbors and business owners in the vicinity, as well as the mayor of Makilala, Rudy Caoagdan. We visited families in Arakan and Magpet, and heard stories from protestors and farmers. We also spoke with United Methodist Bishop Ciriaco Francisco.
From all of this, we have learned the following:
We confirm the findings of the previous National Fact-Finding Team that the people are, indeed, hungry. We witnessed first-hand the realities of the drought. We saw fields that have turned yellow and brown, as well as rice paddies that are completely dry. We do not presume to know how disastrous an experience this is for ordinary farmers. We only confirm the truth - there is a drought, which has resulted in food scarcity among the farmers and indigenous persons of Cotabato. Moreover, El Nino (which is causing the drought) was predicted months ago, and the government took no apparent preventative actions to mitigate the effects.
We find the farmers to be justified in their demands for rice. In the face of starvation, we do not know what other choice people have. During the two months prior to the Kidapawan protest, the people demanded release of Calamity Aid promised by the government with no results: We affirm the people’s right to organize mass action. Moreover, we affirm those people who came from the countryside to advocate for food security for themselves, their families, and their communities. We experienced the arduous journey from Magpet to Arakan to Kidapawan firsthand. We imagine that hunger could be the only motivation for the farmers to make such a journey in the heat, especially for those who had to leave their families behind.
We were privileged to meet some of those who made the journey – especially the Manobo people of The United Methodist Mission Church in Magpet. More than 90 percent of their congregation went to Kidapawn and joined the mass of people there demanding rice, including some who were pregnant or elderly. We are impressed with their bravery, and inspired by their commitment to the welfare of their community.
We confirm that they, as part of the 6,000 farmers protesting in Kidapawan March 30 – April 1, prevented movement on a national highway. Among all of the farmers we interviewed, we found no one who came to Kidapawan ignorant of the purpose of the rally. They were, however, unaware that the rally would be met with violence. We affirm the preciousness of human life, and therefore, we uniformly condemn the violent response of the Philippine National Police and SWAT team. Based on eye-witness testimony, we have reason to believe that the violent dispersal was not due to the actions and decisions of individual police. Additionally, we condemn the arrest, detention, and bail costs imposed upon the protesting farmers. Those who came to ask for rice instead were met with violence and now have incurred greater debt.
In the face of such grave injustice, we affirm the leadership of Bishop Ciriaco Francisco of the Mindanao Philippines Annual Conference. He, along with Rev. Ricarte Rapisura, Director of the Spottswood Methodist Mission Center (SMMC), responded to the critical need of the people for sanctuary, and welcomed the farmers into the center during the violent dispersal. We have no way of knowing what would have happened to the farmers if they had been left in the streets.
We also confirm that SMMC was not alone in its providing sanctuary to the farmers. We were humbled to meet a local woman who lives near the barricade site. She provided water and facilities to the farmers during the rally, incurring a much higher-than-average utility bill, as well as discomfort for her and her family. During the violent dispersal, she even risked her own safety to provide safety to farmers in her own home. She herself is seven months pregnant. To visit both this compassionate bystander and Bishop Francisco is our privilege and our responsibility.
Given all that we have witnessed, we recommend the following resolutions:
- We call on the government to drop the charges against those who were arrested as a result of the rally. These charges are not only illegal, but also unjust.
- We call on the government to provide relief to those facing food scarcity in Cotabato, and around the Philippines. Moreover, we call on the government to take steps to address the drought, and to be more preemptive as they anticipate inevitable future environmental disasters.
- We call for an independent investigation into the response of the Philippines National Police and SWAT teams on April 1. We have reason to believe that the violent dispersal was not the result of independent police members’ actions. More inquiry is needed, and due to conflict of interest, this inquiry must come from outside of the government.
- We call on churches and people of faith and goodwill to be in solidarity with the farmers of Cotabato. Beyond immediate food relief, people need justice. In such kairos moments as these, we each must choose a stance.
As the Fact Finding Team sent by the California-Nevada Annual Conference:
- We resolve to stand with the farmers, our ecumenical partners, people’s organizations, workers, and all those who stand for justice.
- We request that the Council of Bishops send a representative to the Philippines in August of 2016 in which at that time, the College of Bishops and the Philippines Central Conference we will hold a Sanctuary Summit in order to better educate pastors and church people about how to provide safe havens for those in need. We encourage those from our ecumenical partners and other people’s organizations to attend.
- In the meantime, we will send our official report to Bishop Brown, and will submit a late item resolution and recommendations based on our report to the Annual Conference session in June of 2016.
As individual United Methodists, we are humbled to testify to all we have witnessed among the famers and church people of Cotabato. We will share all we have learned in our congregations and throughout our connections in the United States. We witnessed The United Methodist Church supporting the immediate needs of the people, and we hope to embody that spirit in our lives going forward. We will continue to be faithful to God’s call to work for justice and peace as we seek to fulfill our church’s mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Members of the Fact-Finding Team:
Ms. Kathy Jean Reynolds, Chairperson, Federation for Social Action
Rev. Lindsey Kerr, Pastor, California-Nevada Annual Conference of the UMC
Rev. Dr. Bener Agtarap, Representative to the Office of the Bishop, Resident Bp. Warner Brown, Jr. of the California-Nevada Annual Conference, San Francisco Episcopal Area
Rev. Dr. Felicisimo Cao, President of the Filipino American Ministry Caucus
(The Solidarity visit was held last April 22-24, 2016)
For an update on the situation, click here