A Journey of Solidarity on Human Rights in the Philippines
The United Methodist Church Delegation
The United Methodist Church Delegation
A United Methodist delegation composed of 8 members from the United States and 2 from the Philippines recently met in Manila in response to an escalating human rights crisis. In recent months a wide range of peace advocates has been assassinated including church workers, human rights defenders, journalists, justice advocates, and others. Representing 11 million United Methodists from Africa, Europe, Russia, the Philippines, and the United States, the delegation heard from victims and survivors, church leaders, workers, human rights advocates, and representatives from non-governmental organizations. In addition, we met with officials of Malacanang Palace (the Philippine White House), the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and the United States Embassy.
I was named as a member of the delegation as a representative of the National Federation of Asian American United Methodists (NFAAUM), a member of the United Methodist Connectional Table, and because of my Filipino heritage. This report represents my experiences and reflections of this important trip that took place in early January of this year.
January 4, 2006 (Wednesday):
Our trip began with a briefing to the delegates provided by leaders of the Manila Area UMC and the United Church of Christ Philippines (UCCP) – two denominations with historic ties in their ministry in the country. Sharon Rose Joy Ruiz-Duremdes, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of the Philippines, presented an address on “The Mission Terrain and Its Challenges to the Churches.” In her remarks, she described dire economic condition of the country. Although President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo claimed in her New Year speech last December 30 that the Philippines were experiencing a robust economy, Ms. Ruiz-Duremdes questioned the claim. How can the economy be robust when 94% of all government revenues go to debt servicing? How can the economy be robust when 13.2 million out of 85 million Filipinos were either unemployed or underemployed in 2005 – the highest unemployment record in Philippine history? The truth of the matter is that the people’s economic conditions worsened after the first four and a half years of the Arroyo Administration, a fact she has had a hard time accepting. Throughout 2005 her administration became preoccupied with responding to the barrage of criticism by all sides of the Filipino community. Even though she was embattled, she raised taxes and quietly implemented an austerity program that cut back on social services, laid off government workers, and froze public sector salaries. Today people find themselves poorer, hungrier, sicker, poorly educated, and badly housed — and the conditions are worsening. There are widely circulated reports that 20% of the national budget was lost to corruption 2 years ago. According to a recent poll, 87% of the public believes that President Arroyo manipulated the results of the 2004 elections and used government funds in her “do or die” campaign for the presidency. While the nation slept on June 24, 2004, Arroyo was proclaimed as President of the Republic of the Philippines at 3:00 in the morning.
Later in the day, the delegation heard stories from Filipino citizens whose relatives have been killed, who have been harassed themselves, or who have received death threats for doing their work as justice advocates on behalf of farm and factory workers, ordinary citizens, and those living on very meager incomes. In order to hear all the stories, we divided into 4 groups to listen to as many people as possible.
In my group, we heard a wife describe the murder of a 37-year-old man who was working in the Ilocos region as a coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines-Cordillera and Ilocos. The sister of a United Church of Christ in the Philippines pastor in Leyte (an island in the Visayas where Douglas MacArthur landed during World War II) related how her brother was killed in his sleep after the burial of his father-in-law. The grieving mother of a 23-year-old young man described how her son was killed. His father is a UCCP pastor.Â The other person I heard was an Aglipayan Church pastor and radio commentator who has been constantly threatened and harassed almost on a daily basis. In a plenary late in the afternoon, each of the 4 groups shared what it had heard. It was a very poignant time and we were very grateful for all those who had come to share their stories — some from quite long distances. It seemed obvious to us that human rights did not seem to be present where many Filipino citizens are concerned.
In late afternoon, we had a dialogue with former Philippine Vice-president Teotisto Guingona, Congressman Satur Ocampo, Nathaniel Santiago of Bayan Muna, United Nations Ad Litem Judge Romeo T. Capulong, and Marie-Hilaw-Enriquez of the Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights (KARAPATAN). That night we had dinner with bishops and other leaders of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines. They showed a short DVD on issues of human rights and the story of the recently murdered pastor in Leyte.
January 5, 2006 (Thursday):
The delegation started the day with a visit to the United States Embassy in Manila – the fourth largest in the world. We met the highest officer present and a vice-consul and learned that the woman nominated as ambassador had not yet been confirmed by the US Senate; if confirmed, she would be the first female ambassador to the Philippines. The officers shared that they have been monitoring the human rights violations that have been reported to them. The US State Department was planning on presenting an official report covering 2005 in February. We requested that all reports of human rights violations are seriously considered before the US gives aid to the country.
We had requested an audience with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo but were told that she would be unable to meet with us. Instead, we went to the Palace annex and met the Undersecretary for Religious Affairs. We joked that we had never heard of such an office and wondered if it had been created for us! When we learned that the undersecretary was not familiar with some of our concerns, we shared our main purpose and related issues. The delegation also gave her a copy of the United Methodist Book of Resolutions provided by Kristina Gonzalez, a staff member of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference who had brought the book with her from Seattle. The undersecretary promised us that she would relay the information to President Arroyo.
Following the meeting, the delegation was joined by staff members and district superintendents as we proceeded to Camp Emilio Aguinaldo in Quezon City to meet with high officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Meeting in the Lakambini Room of the AFP Commissioned Officers Club, we were presented with programs entitled “AFP – United Methodist Church Delegates Conference.” The agenda included a review of the human rights situation with an emphasis on alleged human rights violations. A colonel made opening remarks, we introduced ourselves, and Bishop John Hopkins presented short remarks. A power point presentation on the work and purpose of AFP was shown and a discussion and open forum followed. At every remark or question we posed, AFP officers had rationales. No comment or question was unanswered.
When one of the delegation members noted that the church workers who were killed had not been armed and were not subversives or Communists, an officer said, “They might have been doing something else on the side.” The officers asserted that soldiers or officers who do not follow the rules of engagement with suspects (according to the AFP Military Law) would be arrested and tried. They also provided numbers of military personnel who had been tried. As our meeting ended, we strongly stated that it was inappropriate for the AFP to refer to church workers as Communists, subversives, or other demeaning names. We also asked them to investigate all cases of alleged human rights violations that have been put aside.
At dinner we met more leaders of the Philippine Central Conference including retired Bishop Nakpil.
January 6, 2006 (Friday):
Early the next morning we traveled to Quezon City’s Sulu Hotel for a press conference that lasted from breakfast until noon. The delegation distributed a news release to everyone present, titled, â€œStatement of The United Methodist Church Delegation on Human Rights in the Philippines.â€Â In attendance were church-related personnel, representatives of NGO groups, and members of the media. Bishop Hopkins presented opening remarks and then invited members of the delegation to answer questions from the media.
That evening members of the delegation met with leaders of the Central Conference for an informal conversation on several issues including the autonomy of the Philippine Central Conference.
January 7, 2006 (Saturday):
The next day we learned that the press conference had been covered by 1 TV channel the previous evening and by 7 newspapers that morning. Rev. Dr. Romeo Del Rosario (Romy), President of Union Theological Seminary (UTS) in Dasmarinas, picked me up and we traveled to Tagaytay City to visit Ruth Prudente, retired staffperson of the Women’s Division, and her husband, Dr. Nemesio Prudente, retired President of former Philippine College of Commerce, now the Polytechnic University of the Philippines. Ruth has been a friend of mine for over 30 years when she was working with the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns then with Womenâ€™s Division and living in New York City. Later we drove to the UTS campus. Many UTS alumni are working as pastors in the United States within the UMC (including district superintendents), the United Church of Christ (UCC), and the Presbyterian Church.
January 8, 2006 (Sunday):
Levi Bautista, the only other delegate still left in Manila, and I attended services at Central UMC, the oldest Protestant church in the Philippines. Rev. Dr. Homer Wesley Referuzo preached at the 10:40 a.m. English service. We met many church leaders including Presiding Justice Reyes who invited us to lunch with his family members.
January 9, 2006 (Monday):
That week the Philippine Central Conference Board of Church and Society had their 2-day organizational meeting for 2006. Twenty-five participants were in attendance from across the Philippines. Levi led a workshop on the Social Principles and I updated the participants on what Filipino American United Methodists are doing in terms of social issues and congregational development. While Levi stayed for both days of the Conference, I traveled to Dumaguete City to visit my relatives for the rest of the week.
Conclusion: Personal Observations:
As a Filipino-American, I feel that a “solidarity visit” like this one is very important in light of the Filipino people’s need for advocates from outside their country. While many Filipino citizens feel marginalized, powerless and helpless when it comes to the economic condition of the country, I discovered that many people in my own province did not know anything about human rights abuses. Some were middle class or better and may be disinterested. Others were so poor that they had no access to the media – TV, daily newspapers, or the radio. Surviving on a daily basis with very little money is their only concern. They have little connection to the government and consider it “theater.” While militarization is on the rise again, the government is not really doing anything new to help the poor. The very, very poor remain in filthy, unsafe slum conditions with no clean water, no health care, and not much to eat.
I can see the effects of the dire economic conditions on the majority of the population where a high growth rate or explosion is still a big issue. With unemployment being so high, the Philippines “exports” workers to other countries in the hope that they will find better conditions there. Corruption in government, business, and society in general must be curbed to really achieve a level of prosperity that could attract more investments into the country and stabilize the economy.
We need to give the people hope that the present condition is not all there is.
We need to pray for the Philippines.
We need to be in constant solidarity with the people.
We need to write our legislators in Congress and ask them to check on human rights violations before foreign aid is given to any country.
We need to educate Americans on what the US government is doing in other countries and how US policies affect the economic, political and military conditions of other countries.
Members of the Delegation:
Bishop John Hopkins, Head of the Delegation – Bishop Hopkins is also Chair of the Connectional Table of the UMC and Resident Bishop of the Ohio East Conference, UMC
Rev. R. Randy Day, General Secretary, General Board of Global Ministries
Mr. James Winkler, General Secretary of the General Board of Church and Society
Rev. Larry Hollon, General Secretary of United Methodist Communications
Rev. Larry Pickens, General Secretary of the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns
Ms. Ascencion L. (Inday) Day, Executive Director, National Federation of Asian American United Methodists (NFAAUM) and Member of the Connectional Table of the UMC
Rev. Liberato (Levi) Bautista, Assistant General Secretary for United Nations and International Affairs, General Board of Church and Society
Kristina Gonzalez, Associate Director of Racial Ethnic Ministries, Pacific Northwest Annual Conference, and Member of the Connectional Table of the UMC
Bishop Solito K. Toquero, Resident Bishop of the Manila Area, Philippine Central Conference, and President, General Commission on Archives and History
Rev. Ruby-Nell Estrella, District Superintendent of the Northwest Manila District in the Philippines, and Member of the Connectional Table of the UMC from the Philippine Central Conference
Partial List of Those Who Met with the Delegation:
Ms. Sharon Rose Joy Ruiz-Duremdes, General Secretary, National Council of Churches of the Philippines
Bishop Benjamin Justo of the Baguio Area, UMC
Bishop Leo Soriano of the Davao Area, UMC
Bishop Elmer Bolocon, General Secretary, United Church of Christ in the Philippines
Thirty persons from across the Philippines who were family members of human rights violations victims
Former Philippine Vice-president Teotisto Guingona
Congressman Satur Ocampo
Nathaniel Santiago of Bayan Muna
Judge Romeo Capulong, UN Ad Litim Judge
Ms. Marie Hilao-Enriquez of KARAPATAN (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights)
Leaders from the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP)
Scott Douglas Bellard, Acting Deputy Chief of Mission, United States Embassy, Manila
Rachel E. Wolfe, Vice Consul and Third Secretary, United States Embassy, Manila
Ms. Maria Gonzalez-Tobias, Undersecretary for Religious Affairs, Malacanang Palace Annex
Col. Carlix P. Donila, PAF (GSC), Camp Aguinaldo
Commodore Emilio C. Marayag, AFP, Assistant DCS for Personnel, AJ1, Camp Aguinaldo
Cpt. Bernard F. Pelobello (AGS) PA, Emcee, Camp Aguinaldo Conference
Rev. Vic Lapuz, Assistant to Bishop Sol Toquero
Staff of the Philippine Central Conference, Manila and Davao Areas
For More Information on the Delegation on Human Rights in the Philippines (All the information here provided by Rev. Larry Hollon,
General Secretary, United Methodist Communications)
The link to the delegation photos is:
The United Methodist News Service link to the story in the archive is here:
Links to posts on my personal blog are as follows:
Testimony from victims: http://web.mac.com/larryhol/iWeb/Larry%20Hollon/Human%20Rights%20Delegation.html
My reactions to the military briefing by the officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines:
Reactions to our first day in Manila:
I put a podcast on my personal blog featuring Father Rolando de Leon at this link:
Finally, I put the statement by the Catholic Bishopâ€™s Conference of the Philippines here: (I have just not had time to post all the other delegation documentation as I do this blog on my off-time and it gets so very time-consuming to keep it fresh.):
Report by Inday Day, Executive Director
National Federation of Asian American United Methodists
Member, The Connectional Table of the UMC