Report of Team Visit to Eastern Visayas

Pastoral Ecumenical Delegation Visit (PEDV)
July 15-18, 2005

Pastoral Ecumenical Delegation Visit (PEDV)
July 15-18, 2005

1. Introduction:

At the invitation of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, a Pastoral Ecumenical delegation under the auspices of the World Council of Churches and the Christian Conference of Asia visited the Philippines from the 14th to the 21st of July 2005. Apart of the delegation visited Leyte and Samar to listen, learn and dialogue with a cross section of the people about increasing incidences of political repression and human rights violations. Amongst others, the delegation met church leaders, representatives of people’s organizations, families of victims, local government authorities and political parties, and military officials.

The delegation heard stories of pain and anguish, of brutalization and sufferings as a result of illegal detentions, torture, intimidation, hamletting and food blockades, and extra-judicial killings allegedly committed by the military. A top political leader expressing his anger and frustration at the situation shared with the group a long list of documented offenses committed by the military from February 2005, since Brig. Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr. was posted in Eastern Visayas as the commanding general of the 8th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army based in Camp Lukban, Brgy. Maulong, Catbalogan, Samar. The general had launched and publicly announced a crusade to wipeout alleged enemies of the state particularly the New People’s Army and alleged front organizations of the Communist Party of the Philippines within six months to one year. This political leader had already brought the situation to the attention of the Philippine congress and the Office of the President of the Philippines. But so far, his appeals seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

Commenting on this, the General stated to the group that there were 1,000 NPA’s operating in the area. The political leader said it is on record that General Palparan reported that there were only 300 cadres of the NPA operating in the area during a congressional inquiry on the state of human rights in Samar. The insurgency, according to the political leader we met had rather became strong because of the army’s repressive policies and actions of General Palparan. He had instilled fear amongst the poor and marginalized people by branding them as supporters and agents of the NPA’s. According to them, General Palparan has become the best recruiter for the NPA. They urged that Palparan should leave the region and let the people live in peace. The people had and could take care of themselves as they were doing in the past.

2. Militarization and Resistance

The Philippines has a long history of militarization, and the institution of the military has always been used by the establishment to protect the economic and political interest of the elites. The country has no visible external enemies and there is hardly any justification to maintain a huge military establishment. The military projects increasing activities on part of its “internal enemy’” in order to justify its growing defense budget. There has always been a close cooperation between the military establishments of the United States and the Philippines. Besides funding the, U.S. has supplied arms and provided trainings for the Philippine armed forces. Since September 11 and the U.S. War on Terror, this cooperation has increased. It has provided the Philippine military to revive and intensify its activities particularly in the rural areas where victims have been largely the poor and the socially marginalized.

The increase in military operations has inevitably resulted in resistance by the people in the rural communities with civil society groups and people’s organizations taking up the cause of the poor and marginalized communities. There is increasing awareness of the human rights violations that are being committed in the name of fighting terrorism and protecting national security.

On the other hand, there is the presence of armed revolutionary groups like the New People’s Army who has waged more than thirty years of struggle in the region. With the ongoing armed conflict, the life of civilians remains under threat and they become easily caught up between the lines in such a highly militarized situation.

Individual lawyers, clergy, journalist, worker and peasant leaders who have taken the courage to confront the military have been victimized and brutalized and in some cases eliminated. In the case of the province of Samar and Leyte (which has an obvious deterioration of the human rights situation February 2005) the most prominent cases of extra-legal killings are that of Atty. Felidito C. Dacut on March 14th 2005 in Tacloban City, and Rev. Edison C. Lapuz on 12th May 2005 in San Isidro, where no clear results of the investigation have been reported till today. They are just two among the many other cases that have been brought to the attention of the team by the Philippine Churches during this visit.

3. State Institutions and Accountability

The political institutions in the country are dominated by a small group of elites who have used these institutions to protect their economic interests. Presently, the system provides opportunity only to those who are rich and powerful to participate in the political process. In the Philippine congress, despite the fact that the large majority of the people are poor, their representation remains very minimal even with the introduction of the party-list system. The electoral system and process is flawed. It is badly in need of reform.

The judicial system is overloaded with litigation. It is slow and provides little opportunity for redress of grievances of the common people. Inefficiency and corruption in the investigative process of law enforcement agencies has further hampered the judicial process. As the group heard from the families of the victims, there has been no progress in tracking down the killers of their loved ones. The culture of impunity seems to have become all pervasive, as due process is ignored. Gen. Palparan told the group that, “at times we have to by pass the due process because we want to take this fast track”.

It seems also to be obvious that the malfunctioning of state institutions like the judiciary, unjust access to resources such as land for people in the rural areas where many people suffer extreme poverty, the exclusion from any profits and benefits related to the exploitation of natural resources also by foreign investors are some of the underlying root causes of the conflict.

Under the Constitution, it is basically the responsibility of the State to protect the people, and to ensure there are no human rights violations. This can happen only if there are checks and balances on the actions of the Executive. These can only be provided by a conscientious legislature and independent judiciary that is open to the voices and concerns of the people and vigilant in protecting their interest. Only then can the state be accountable.

4. National Resource Extraction and Geo politics

Eastern Visayas is a critical economic engine of the country. It is endowed with rich agricultural land that produces much of the countries coconut, sugarcane, rice, tobacco, root crops, fruit and coffee. However, according to the research of the Regional Peasant Alliance of the Eastern Visayas, 70 to 80% of the regions farmers do not own the land they till. This resulted to the long peasant resistance to landlessness and further land acquisitions and marginalisation of peasant farmers by the state, a handful of family dynasties and foreign investors.

The virgin forests of this region have long been harvested by commercial logging companies, leaving large tracts of bare land and vulnerable to erosion.

The Eastern Visayas is endowed with abundant marine resources. However, these are dominated by major foreign commercial companies and local fishing magnates such as the Samar Sea, Carigan Bay, Maqueta Bay, Sognod Bay, Leyte Gulf, San Pedro Bay, Cabali-an Bay and the Philippine Sea.

It is also here where the geothermal power reserve that supplies the National Power Corporation and the Philippine National Oil Company is located. Yet, the local people of this area pay the highest electricity rates, with many still without access to electrical power.

More importantly, are the mineral deposits found in the Eastern Visayas. These include chromites, manganese, zinc, silver, gold, bauxite, nickel and copper. They pose a major mining interest and attraction to foreign mining companies.

This is why militarization of the area (supported and unchallenged by the government) is the main source of the violation of people’s human rights. The military [is set up to] protects ‘economic investments’, and not the people of the land. Peasant farmers who struggle for life giving economy, and civil and church groups who support these struggles are named as enemies of the state and must be eliminated. Power is concentrated in the hands of the few and structural/systemic violence, which includes the power of the military, is the order of the day.

It is critical for our analysis to name the ideology behind this market focused economic development as rooted in the neo liberal economic thinking, which claims to be without alternative, demanding an endless flow of sacrifices from the poor and from creation. We see here in the Eastern Visayas the impact of economic globalization and its global geo politics backed by the dominant ideology of globalization. This ideology also referred to as Empire ensures that political, economic and military is power vested in one center, and that this power penetrates the internal political, economic, cultural and social structures of a particular country such as the Philippines.

Today’s dominant leaders will not hesitate to use whatever power and force to suppress the people and the world when their objectives of economic exploitation are threatened or hindered.

5. The Poor and Poverty

We heard all over again the stories and experiences of the poor and sensed their vulnerability. In situations of structural injustices, violent conflicts, harassment and subtle intimidation, the poor of any society suffer first and most and increasingly.

Poverty is not an accident. Neither is it a punishment for lapse or sin. Poverty is a reality because power and greed are also realities. Poverty prevails because of unjust economic structures and systems sustained by those who benefit most from economic resources and profits.

Since the poor are deprived basic economic resources and political representation and power, any solution to the evil of poverty must strive to restore these rights and energies to the poor.

The resilience and spirituality of the poor expressed in the community they share through simplicity, sharing and courage must play a central role in this restoration of socio-economic justice. Whatever new models of community that emerges should ensure that this spirituality is not lost.

6. An Integrated Spirituality

The presence and leadership role of several clergy persons and lay people whom we met, clearly demonstrated a Gospel spirituality of prophetic urgency and pastoral care.

The prophetic presence challenges those entrusted with power and who abuse this power, to be accountable and transparent and to initiate and sustain reforms for the common good. It also articulates a voice on behalf of the voiceless. This includes the most afflicted, marginalized, and poorest of any society. .

Pastoral presence hears the cries and suffering of the afflicted, accompanies them and provides solidarity through identification.

Needless to say, this integrated ministry is not easily understood or appreciated by all in the wider faith community. If approached through dialogue however, this ministry ironically has tremendous potential to teach and nourish the whole community in our common journey in Christ.

Since such an integrated spirituality entails risks it requires the good will, prayers and support of the wider community.

7. Justice, Peace and Reconciliation

In its witness and mission by the death and resurrection of Christ, the Church is called upon to engage in wholistic ministry. This requires peace and justice and includes healing and reconciliation. The tendency to take entrenched sides in circumstances of conflict must be anticipated and countered through the discipline of self-scrutiny that Christ taught.

Consequently, the church in the Philippines must at the same time address justice issues and also be an agent of reconciliation. This balanced consistency, discerned in Christ, is a unique contribution the church offers to both oppressors and the oppressed.

The Biblical vision of Shalom requires the church to strive towards a better life of equality, dignity, and a sharing of all God’s resources amongst all God’s people.

All conflicts end when enemies becomes sisters and brothers. The church in the Philippines and indeed Asia and the world must live and work in rhythm between the Lord’s table where we are nourished in Christ, and the peace table where we nourish one another through dialogue and negotiations.

8. Conclusions / Recommendations / Affirmations

In view of this situation, the conflict cannot be solved by a military approach. There is a clear need for dialogue between the conflicting parties and a comprehensive approach by the government in order to enable the rural communities to enjoy their full civil, political, economic, social and cultural human rights. Such an approach might only become successful if the need for real structural reforms will be addressed by the Philippine legislative and executive powers.

Without effective measures taken by the government to implement and safeguard the fundamental rights of the people and to develop their livelihoods, to end impunity, to establish the rule of law, to guarantee a just and fair share of access to resources and to revise the existing legislation such as e.g. the mining act from 1995 accordingly there will be no peace and security.

a. To the Philippine people, the congregations and churches

We warmly thank the people whom we met during our visit to Samar and Leyte for their hospitality and their open sharing with us. We assure them of our deep respect and stay in solidarity with them.

We are grateful for the pastoral care Christian congregations in Samar and Leyte, the NCCP and the churches in the whole country are extending to the Philippine people especially those who are marginalized and we encourage them in their prophetic witness and firm solidarity with the poor.

b. To the Philippine Government and legislative bodies

We ask the Philippine Government to take immediate action to impartially investigate the cases of reported extralegal killings in the province of Samar and Leyte and to take concrete steps to protect the lives of church workers, human rights defenders and journalists.

We further more call upon the Philippine Government to revise its military strategy to solve the conflict in the province and to resume peace talks with the NPA.

We encourage the government and legislative bodies to consider seriously the implementation of real structural reforms in the country (e.g. land reform, reform of the judicial system) in order to address the root causes of the conflict such as the extreme poverty and marginalization of so many people in the rural areas as well as in the cities of the Philippines.

c. To the churches worldwide and the ecumenical bodies

We ask the World Council of Churches, the Christian Conference of Asia, the partners of the NCCP and the Philippine Churches all over the world to stay in solidarity and prayer with the Filipino people.

We call upon our churches and ecumenical bodies to strive for the global implementation of human rights and to remind governments and international private business on their responsibility with regard to development and human rights.

We ask our churches and ecumenical bodies to take up the suffering of the Filipino people in their prayers statements and action and by doing this to support the Philippine Churches in their efforts to stop human rights violations and to work for a better quality of life and for the liberation of the people.

In Jeremiah 22,16 we hear the prophet saying: “He saw to it that justice and help were given to the poor and the needy and all went well for him”. In this word of the bible the sovereign of the country of Israel, the former King Josiah is praised while he respected the rights of the poor and to ensure that they could enjoy them. As people of God with these words we are called to stay with the poor and to remind those in power to work for justice for the needy.

Mr. Clement John, World Council of Churches
Dr. Jochen Motte, United Evangelical Mission, Germany
Rt. Rev. Duleep de Chickera, Anglican Church of Sri Lanka
Ms. Omega Bula, United Church of Canada
Rev. Dr. Xiaoling Zhu, United Church of Christ, USA, and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), USA & Canada
Mr. Tony Waworuntu, Christian Conference of Asia
Bishop Elmer Bolocon, United Church of Christ in the Philippines
Atty. Emilio Capulong, United Church of Christ in the Philippines
Rev. Ferdinand Mercado, Iglesia Evangelica Metodista En las Islas Filipinas