Philippine Churches and HR advocates found ally in the International Ecumenical Ecumenical Community

“In the absence of clear and measurable outcomes from domestic mechanisms, options for international accountability measures should be pursued.” This was the challenge of Bishop Reuel Norman A. Marigza, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines in his opening remarks during the online International Ecumenical Solidarity Gathering for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines, held on October 7, 2021.

The event was graced by two of the High Commissioners of InvestigatePH, Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe, General Secretary of the UMC General Board of Church and Society and Rev. Dr. Chris Ferguson, former General Secretary of the World Communion of Reformed Churches. Both of them gave compelling words of solidarity to the ecumenical movement in the Philippines.

“For human rights to have meaning, they have to be vigilantly defended, where possible the dignity of those denied their right needs to be restored” said Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe in her speech.

Rev. Dr. Chris Ferguson recalled the overwhelming suffering of the Filipino people under the Duterte administration. But also felt the depth and breadth of the courage of the rising up of the people and their strong affirmation of dignity.

The United Methodist leader, Bishop Ciriaco Francisco of the Manila Episcopal Area led the opening prayer in the program. Bishop Antonio Ablon of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente spoke about the continuing human rights violations among church people and shared his journey as a human rights defender. Bishop Melzar Labuntog, the General Secretary of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, spoke about faith in action in their ministry amidst persecution.

Several moving testimonies were heard from church people who are engaged in defense of human rights. Stories of threat and harassments were shared as well as their resilience and hope for peace based on justice. Among those who delivered their testimonies were Pastor Dan Balucio, who was arrested in May and was later released after three months of being jailed as the fabricated charges against him were dropped, and UMC District Superintendent, Rev. Glofie Baluntong, a humanitarian worker and human rights defender based in Mindoro, who shared her work and ministry under threat as a fabricated charge of attempted murder was filed against her. Llore Benedicto, whose two sons were killed in 2017, a volunteer-member of Rise Up for Life and Rights, welcomed the ICC’s decision to proceed with its official probe on the alleged crimes against humanity in President Duterte’s “war on drugs’.

Partners from international faith-based institutions also joined and expressed their support to the event and to the ministry of Philippine churches on peace and human rights. Peter Prove, the Director for the International Affairs of the World Council of Churches, expressed solidarity amid challenges and concern for the widespread human rights violations particularly the sham war on drugs and increasing cases of human rights defenders being targeted. Other known religious leaders and partners joined and expressed support for the Filipino people. They were the General Secretary of the Christian Conference of Asia, Dr. Mathews George Chunakara, Rev. Dr Jooseop Keum of the Council for World Mission, Rev. Kim Minji of the National Council of Churches in Korea, Alwynn Javier the Regional Representative for Asia Pacific of the ACT Alliance and, Patti Talbot and Derek Duncan representing the Asia Pacific Forum.

The webinar was concluded by The Right Reverend Rex R.B. Reyes, Jr, of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Philippines and co-chair of the Ecumenical Bishops’ Forum by sharing the recommendations of InvestigatePH. He emphasized the need for international solidarity work of the churches around the globe where it can amplify the human rights situation in the Philippines. One concrete action for this is the call to all governments who have cooperation agreements for military and police training in the Philippines to suspend all military and police aid to the country. Such action, also calls for the passing of the Philippine Human Rights Act in the US Congress.

The International Ecumenical Solidarity Gathering for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines was organized by several organizations and networks led by the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, with Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines, the Ecumenical Bishops’ Forum, the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, and, Manila Episcopal Area and Philippine Central Conference Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church and co-sponsored by ACT Alliance, Asia Pacific Forum1, Christian Conference of Asia, Council for World Mission, International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines, Karibu Foundation, National Council of Churches in Korea, and, the World Council of Churches. Around 150 Individuals across different time zones gathered virtually to express solidarity and be one in the pursuit of justice in the Philippines in this event led by church people.

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1The Asia Pacific Forum brings together 12 primarily North American denominations and partner agencies for ecumenical collaboration and action in solidarity with partners in the region: Anglican Church in Canada, KAIROS – Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiative, Presbyterian Church in Canada, Presbyterian World Service and Development, United Church of Canada, Disciples of Christ and United Church of Church – Common Board of Global Ministries, Episcopal Church – USA, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Foundation for Theological Education in Southeast Asia, International Ministries/American Baptist Foreign Mission Society, Presbyterian Church – USA, United Methodist Church – General Board of Global Ministries; General Board of Church and Society, Uniting Church of Australia – Uniting World.