Richmond Church Hears Philippines Human Rights Message

July 17, 2019

As a “Just Peace Philippines” congregation, First United Methodist Church of Richmond offers at least one Sunday sermon per year on the human rights situation in the Philippines. On June 23, Nikki Salde-Azzam of Buena Vista UMC in Alameda, a member of the California-Nevada Annual Conference's Philippines Solidarity Task Force, preached at FUMC Richmond and shared the story of Elijah (from 1 Kings 19:1-15a), calling attention to how it parallels the experiences of Filipino human rights advocates. Like Elijah, activists literally face the danger of being hunted down and killed or being imprisoned for their advocacy. Still, like Elijah, activists persist in their quest for justice.

More than 30,000 Filipino people have been killed since President Rodrigo Duterte took office in June 2016, as a result of his so-called “War on Drugs” policy, while the United States has stood largely silent. (In 2017, in fact, according to a New York Times report, U.S. President Donald Trump called Duterte to "congratulate him" on the success of his War on Drugs.)

Last year (June 19, 2018) the United States and 37 other (of the 47 total) members of the United Nations Human Rights Council signed a statement on human rights in the Philippines issued by the government of Iceland:

While acknowledging that drug use in the Philippines is a serious problem, actions to tackle drug abuse must be carried out in full respect of the rule of law and compliance with international human rights obligations. We urge the government of the Philippines to take all necessary measures to bring killings associated with the campaign against illegal drugs to an end and cooperate with the international community to investigate all related deaths and hold perpetrators accountable.

The independent scholar David G. Timberman writes, in "Philippine Politics Under Duterte: A Midterm Assessment," a treatise for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, "This statement appears to be the strongest public statement with which the U.S. government has been associated, but it received little attention in the media."

And he noted, "On the same day this statement was issued, the United States pulled out of the Human Rights Council."

Timberman continues, "As long as strategic and security interests dominate U.S. policy toward the Philippines, and with the U.S. Congress largely consumed with domestic politics, it is unlikely that the U.S. government will take meaningful steps to support human rights and democracy in the Philippines. Therefore, American NGOs, foundations, and universities will need to step up and take the lead."

FUMC Richmond collects an annual special offering to support the Philippines Solidarity Task Force; helps prepare and serve lunch for the annual “Movin’ 4 the Movement” Basketball Tournament and Report Back, organized by the Philippines Solidarity Task Force to engage and inform young people about the current Philippines human rights situation; and prays for the Filipino people engaged in struggle. Last year the church also joined with other congregations in its circuit to host speakers from a Caravan for Justice, held at El Sobrante UMC.

To learn more about how to become a “Just Peace Philippines” congregation, or to arrange a speaker from the Philippines Solidarity Task Force for a program at your church, contact the Rev. Jeanelle Ablola at, or Kira Salde-Azzam at