Mission Center for displaced peoples attacked in Philippines

Mission Center for displaced peoples attacked in Philippines

A Pastoral Letter
February 24, 2016

Ah, you who make iniquitous decrees, who write oppressive statutes,  to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be your spoil, and that you may make the orphans your prey!  What will you do on the day of punishment, in the calamity that will come from far away? To whom will you flee for help, and where will you leave your wealth, so as not to crouch among the prisoners or fall among the slain? Isaiah 10:1-4b, NRSV

uccp-on-haran-burning.jpgShortly after 2 o’clock in the very early morning of Wednesday, 24 February 2016, a number of persons broke into the Haran Mission Center of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines in Davao City. They poured gasoline on two different areas of the compound, lit them and escaped. The first fire broke out in the area where the Lumad evacuees’ dwellings were. This was eventually put out, but five people, including three children, suffered burn injuries. Another fire broke out in the area where the student dormitories were. Media footage of this fire shows how two buildings were razed. After the fires were put out, Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) investigators found two gallon-sized containers that smelled of gasoline and a 1.5-liter plastic bottle still filled with gasoline near the sites of the fires. The initial BFP investigation rules arson. We say this is frustrated multiple murder.

For more than a year now, the Haran Mission Center has sheltered around 700 Lumad or indigenous people who have sought sanctuary there. They have been displaced from their various communities in Mindanao because of heavy militarization. The Lumad live in mineral rich areas coveted by foreign mining companies. There is massive militarization in these areas to protect foreign mining interests. Even as they are sheltered in Haran, a zone of peace for many decades now, there are still threats to the Lumad’s safety. They continue to be harassed, and just last December, they received threats that their temporary dwellings in Haran will be burned down. The threats have been executed, and once again, the Lumad have been harmed.

But there is nothing particularly new about all these. Then until now, the ruling dispensation actually ‘make iniquitous decrees’ and ‘write oppressive statutes’—take extra measures to ensure that their interests and those of their ilk are protected by the might of the state. Never mind that communities and whole tribes are divested of their land and life. Never mind that the young are deprived of their right to education. Never mind that the elders and wisdom-keepers are killed. Never mind that the environment is despoiled. They will ‘turn aside justice’ and ‘deprive the people of their rights’ just as long as their wanton greed is fed, though not even sated.

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free; the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous. The LORD watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. Psalm 146:5-9, NRSV

The UCCP Haran Mission Center has time and again received threats for doing its mission and ministry of caring for the oppressed and for providing sanctuary to those in need of it. When these attempts made in the light of day did not prosper, those behind these evil acts now attack under the cover of darkness. But God will not allow that the greedy and wicked will have their way in the world. For as long as God’s people continue to stand alongside the oppressed in their fight for justice, for as long as God’s people continue to give food to the hungry and provide refuge to the dispossessed, then God will continue to be our hope. People of God, let us be the hope that we long for and stand with God and on our Declaration of Principles which states in part:

“In accordance with the biblical understanding that all persons are created in the image of God, the Church affirms and upholds the inviolability of the rights of persons as reflected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights… and those that relate specifically to refugees, women, youth, children, minority groups and other persons who cannot safeguard their own rights.”

Let us not be cowed, for surely the way of the wicked will be brought to ruin; we can only wonder what they will do on the day of punishment. Let us ever be watchful and continue in God’s work of bringing Shalom here on earth that includes our Lumad sisters and brothers. Let us continue alongside them in their fight for self-determination and their right to ancestral domain. Let us say no to forced displacements, land-grabbing, school closures, extra-judicial killings, and all kinds of violations of their rights. Let us condemn in the strongest possible terms this recent act of persecution and cowardice.

We call on our constituents and partners to join us in prayer and vigilance. We are tightening security measures within and even outside of Haran. We call for a thorough investigation of this incident and for the perpetrators to be brought to justice at the soonest possible time. We hold the Aquino administration accountable for this fascist attack on the Church and the Lumad on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the so-called People Power uprising. We call for the resumption of the peace talks between the GPH and the NDFP, and for human rights to be upheld.

We will continue to do the mission entrusted by God to the Church. Let us continue in prayer and service for God’s people.

Signed by:

Bishop Reuel Norman O Marigza, General Secretary
Bishop Elorde Sambat, North Luzon Jurisdictional Area
Bishop Jaime Moriles, East Visayas Jurisdictional Area
Bishop Joel Tendero, South Luzon Jurisdictional Area
Bishop Melzar Labuntog, Northwest Mindanao Jurisdictional Area
Bishop Ermgencio Padillo, Middle Luzon Jurisdictional Area
Bishop Hamuel Tequis, Southeast Mindanao Jurisdictional Area
Bishop Jezer Bertoldo, West Visayas Jurisdictional Area