Prophets may be killed but the prophetic voice can never be silenced
“Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)
“Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)
The perpetrators may think they can silence the prophetic voice simply by killing the prophets. They may think they are doing the Philippines good. The reverse is the truth: they are doing a great disservice to our beloved country and its citizens.
The Rev. Edison Lapuz, Conference Minister of the North Eastern Leyte Conference (NELCON) and a member of the National Council of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) is the latest victim of a dastardly and systematic elimination of people who are perceived as “enemies of the State.” Ever since the coming out of a military-produced black propaganda material entitled “Know the Enemy,” there have been unsolved, open killings and brutal murders undertaken against personalities affiliated or connected to those groups identified as “enemies.” Such is the situation that even the Commission on Human Rights of the Republic of the Philippines is alarmed at the reported more than 50 victims of ambushes and systematic killings so far this year alone. In the last two months, 6 UCCP members in Leyte and Samar have been ambushed and/or assassinated.
The Rev. Edison Lapuz is the latest victim of irresponsible name-calling and labelling in an organized attempt to “cleanse and purge” the Church of so-called “leftists” or those of “progressive” persuasion.
As a pastor assigned to the rural communities, the Rev. Lapuz had been exposed to the struggle of peasants and fisher-folks to obtain land in Northern Leyte. His pastoral vocation brought him close to the issues and efforts of the marginalized. He consistently sought for the Church to be a living witness to the Gospel as it confronts the harsh reality of people’s suffering and actively worked with the ecumenical community. Believing in the possibility of enhancing the democratic space, Edison Lapuz became Eastern Visayas Coordinator for Bayan Muna, a post he held before he became Conference Minister of NELCON. Like many who gave the parliamentary and electoral struggle a chance, the Rev. Lapuz found out too late that democracy is only good for some – and people who propose alternatives become targets of those who are resisting having the political and economic monopoly broken.
As Conference Minister, Edison Lapuz was pastorally responsible for expressing the Church’s alarm and concern over the recent shooting of one UCCP member and the killing of another in his conference. The Rev. Lapuz unflinchingly maintained his firm commitment to stand for justice and righteousness; he set aside the death threats he was receiving as an attendant risk to the prophetic call. Indeed, his ultimate gift to the people and for his beloved country, deeply felt as intrinsic to his call as a pastor, echoes the words of Jesus:
“Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
As General Secretary, spokesperson of the Church, I address the following:
1. To the perpetrators of the dastardly act of assassination and murder, and those who are behind them:
You do not have the last say. We firmly believe that the God of justice – the God of the prophets, will vindicate the death of the Rev. Edison Lapuz and the many others whose lives you have snuffed out.
You may think you have done the country good by eliminating with extreme prejudice its perceived “enemies”— but for every life you unjustly take, many more will rise after them to cry out against the injustice until “two and two and fifty make a million” to see the day of genuine freedom come.
You may think you have done the country a service, but all you have done is push the Philippines down further into the abyss of lawlessness, into the dark pit of the disregard for the rule of law, into the quagmire of intolerant totalitarianism. By eliminating the perceived “enemies of the State” this way, you are, in fact, escalating the cycle and level of violence, leaving the people more and more limited options in seeking redress of wrongs.
2. To President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo:
As the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, yours is a solemn duty to ensure that the soldiers under your authority act as guardians of peace, democracy and freedom. The series of violence and killings in Eastern Visayas Region reveal no less than ineptitude, if not tolerance, on the part of the military who are supposed to be the defenders of our people.
We call upon our President as such, to act swiftly by:
a. Pulling-out Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan; and
b. Conducting an impartial investigation that the truth may come out and justice may be served to whom justice is due.
3. To those in the fellowship of the Church who had been making sweeping and unsubstantiated allegations against the leadership of the Church:
Behold the unfortunate consequence of name-calling and labeling which has put the lives of your brothers and sisters at stake and in danger. Upholding the Scripturally-based prophetic tradition is what we must commit to do fearlessly together.
4. To the general membership of the Church:
May we uphold in our prayers the bereaved family of our brother Edison. He left behind Emma M. Lapuz, his wife and two children: Edem Harmonay, (12 years) and Demy Freedom (6 years).
The life of our brother Edison shed for the marginalized poor of the land and his commitment to the living out of the Church’s ministry with the least of Christ’s brothers and sisters remain to strengthen and encourage us to work for the well-being of the marginalized. Let us honor this commitment and pledge to continue to raise a prophetic voice, to do a socially transformative witness and ministry, to advocate for a society that is truly democratic and free, where diversity is respected, where freedom of belief and expression is upheld.
May we be faithful until the end . . . when God’s reign of love, justice and peace come to us at last!
Bishop Elmer M. Bolocon
May 16, 2005
Assassination of Rev. Edison Lapuz & Mr. Alfredo Malinao
Narrative Report of the Documentation Team Visit to San Isidro, Leyte
May 13, 2005
Profile of the Area:
The place, San Isidro Leyte is 3hrs from the city of Tacloban. From the town proper the barangay where the scene of the crime and also the residence of Rev. Lapuz, Sitio Motor, Barangay Crossing, is approximately 15 minutes tricycle ride. The area is located at the tip of the town, near the pier. There is only one exit and entry in going to the place. From the residence of Rev. Lapuz and the scene of the crime, it takes about 7 minutes to access the main road.
Profile of the Victims:
Rev. Edison Lapuz, Conference Minister of North Eastern Leyte Conference (NELCON)-UCCP, Coordinator of Eastern Visayas Conveners of Visayas Jurisdiction-UCCP, Chair of Katungod-Karapatan Eastern Visayas, Founding Member of Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR), Main Convener of Justice for Attorney Dacut Alliance.
Alfredo Malinao, Barangay Councilor of Barangay Crossing, San Isidro, Leyte. A peasant leader and organizer.
The incident happened at around 6:30 in the evening. According to Emma Lapuz, the wife of Rev. Lapuz, they just come from the burial of her father. After the burial, they immediately went home. They had their dinner and they went on to the house of his father. Rev. Lapuz went on to relax with his relatives and friends. All in all, there were 13 people who were there at the time of the incident, including the other victim, Alfredo Malinao. Emma was sleeping just across Rev. Edison. When she woke up, she saw two (2) unidentified men, both wearing some kind of long sleeve shirts. One of them shot Rev. Lapuz two (2) times, hitting him in the left temple and in the stomach. The other man shot Malinao in the center chest, near his heart. The gunmen were approximately two (2) meters from the victims. Rev. Lapuz died on the spot due to the shot on his temple. Malinao was at “50-50” condition when brought to the hospital. The doctors who attended Malinao told them that they could no longer revive Malinao. The two gunmen still managed to shoot the parked vehicle of Rev. Lapuz on the right-rear wheel before they fled from the crime scene. The two (2) went on to the two (2) motorcycles waiting at about 20 meters from the crime scene where another two (2) unidentified men were waiting. Each gunman joined a waiting motorcycle with driver, fleeing the place and heading to the main road.
- Before the incident, the residents noticed two unidentified motorcycles passing by their place. Both motorcycles had two riders on them. One motorcycle even went to the tip of the port as if catching some fish. Before 6:30 in the evening, the two (2) motorcycles with two (2) riders parked in a nearby store. The four (4) men bought some soft drinks and stayed on for some time. All four of them were wearing helmets even when drinking.
- The sister of Rev. Lapuz told the documentation team the last October 2004 there were military men in uniform who went to the house of the father of Rev. Lapuz. The soldiers asked for (1) the work of Rev. Lapuz, (2) the residence of Rev. Lapuz in Tacloban City, (3) the office of Rev. Lapuz, and (4) other information related to the whereabouts of Rev. Lapuz. The soldiers even asked for the latest picture of Rev. Lapuz. The father of Rev. Lapuz entertained them because the soldiers identified themselves to be members of the UCCP.
- At the wake of Rev. Lapuz, May 14, 2005 at around 11:00 in the morning five (5) soldiers went to the house where the body of Rev. Lapuz lay. The sister of Rev. Lapuz identified one (1) of the soldiers to be also one (1) of the soldiers who went to the house of their father and asked for the whereabouts of Rev. Lapuz. Any legal authority did not warrant the “visit” of the military men.
- At the burial mass of Alfredo Davis, where Rev. Lapuz was the celebrant, there were unidentified persons who were continuously vending all sorts of things, which is very unusual for a burial mass.