Friday, October 07, 2005

Seeing the Philippines through the Eyes of the Poor

‘I helped the poor and they called me a saint, I asked why they were poor and they called me a Communist’ – Brazilian Bishop Helder Camara

My time in the Philippines has helped me to understand more clearly what it means to take up the cross, to see the world through the eyes of poor and oppressed peoples and to stand in solidarity with them, as they bear their cross – as they endure unjust sufferings inflicted on them by the mighty ones. We must struggle with all we've got, that the victory of the cross may be made a reality in their lives.

By Barry Naylor
Urban Canon, Diocese of Leicester
Posted by Bulatlat

My interest in the Philippines arose out of an encounter I had with a young Filipino Christian who spent some time at Leicester Cathedral, as a result of the CMS E2E programme. He told me stories of repression and abuse taking place in his homeland, of which I was totally unaware. I followed this up by visiting various websites to learn more (notably and the website of the Daily Inquirer – ). I developed a contact with the National Council of Churches in the Philippines in particular with Ms Sharon Rose Ruiz-Duremdes, the General Secretary. In the spring of 2005 I helped organise, and host, a visit to the UK by Ms. Ruiz-Duremdes. This strengthened my relationship with the NCCP and I was asked if I would attend two events taking place in the Philippines in August 2005. I was facilitated in this by a grant from the USPG.

General Ver
The first of these was an International Solidarity Mission in defence of a people fighting repression. This was organised by several organisations including the human rights group, KARAPATAN, and the Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR). Eighty six delegates from sixteen countries comprised this fact-finding mission. We split into groups and visited different areas of the Philippines – Tarlac (Hacienda Luisita), Mindoro, Samar and Surigao. We were unable to visit the Moro areas in southern Philippines because of security problems.

The team I was with visited Samar in Eastern Visayas. We were hosted by local human rights organisations, Churches and people’s organisations. We had to be particularly aware of security at all times and some of the local people who were with us told of the local military’s “order of battle”, published quite openly, on which one was “Number 4” and the other “Number 6”. We listened to many testimonies from witnesses and victims of human rights abuses, all alleging involvement of the forces of “law and order”.

In Samar, between February and August this year, there have been over 35 killings and 513 cases of human rights abuses. Since the appointment of Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan as local military commander there have been three cases of human rights abuses reported every single day, in this region alone. As reported by the press, he told a meeting of local barangay leaders: “For every soldier killed, ten civilians will be killed in their place.” This is the man who led the Filipino contingent in Iraq and, rather than being disciplined, has twice been promoted in recent months – thus illustrating collusion at the very highest levels of government in this institutionalisation of terror. The military cover up their abuses with lies and dis-information – after a radio interview I did, a colonel was asked for his response. He told the listeners that my views could be totally disregarded because he had concrete evidence that I, and my colleagues, were funded by Osama Bin Laden and the Abu Sayyaf terrorists in Mindanao.

General Ver, of the 801st Brigade and 63rd Infantry Battalion, assured us one day that whenever his troops were on duty they had to wear uniform, so they could easily be identified. But the very next day we encountered and were harassed by troops on duty in the countryside, armed to the teeth but wearing T-shirts with no identification.

On this same day, as we met a group of peasants at Barangay (village) Cancaiyas, who had come from neighbouring villages. They told of homes burnt, livelihoods lost and relatives injured during forced mass evacuations by the military. During this meeting soldiers infiltrated the meeting and took photos of all those present. We were concerned about what might happen to the villagers after we left but were assured that they knew exactly the risks they were taking. They were willing to take the risks, so they could tell their stories, that the rest of the world might know and do something to remedy the injustice under which they toiled.

We heard evidences of extra-judicial killings – of striking workers at the Hacienda Luisita last November, of the massacre of the Padiwan family in Mindanao in February, of human rights workers, civil rights lawyers, priests and ministers, of journalists, as well as ordinary working people being killed. We met weeping widows and distraught children, and their number is added to, week by week. The list would go on and on.

Upon my return to the UK, I learned that Norman Bocar, a human rights lawyer was shot in the back of the head by a man on a motorcycle. Bocar’s execution was similar to the killing of Atty. Federico Dacut, a few weeks earlier. Since my return the Rev. Raul Domingo has died, as a result of gunshot wounds sustained during the time I was in the Philippines. He was the third minister murdered this year – after William Tadena of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente and Edison Lapuz of the UCCP. William Caparro, another priest and his wife were seriously wounded shot but, fortunately, survived. The IFI, the second largest Church in the Philippines, is identified by the military as an “enemy of the state” because of its strong commitment to working with the poorest sections of Filipino society and helping workers to organise. All the priests shot were working alongside poor and marginalised peoples.

We heard instances of torture - like Constantio Calubid from Samar. His 14-year-old son Julius described how he tried, courageously, but unsuccessfully, to prevent the soldiers from dragging his father from their family home and abducting him. Constantio’s lifeless body was found a few weeks later with his toe nails removed and bearing several knife wounds and contusions.

We were taken to an apartment in a downtown street of Catbalogan City, by a victim of torture, Pablo Dacutanan, who in an affidavit had sworn that he had been tortured there and that the military used it regularly to intimidate people. We met a young man, Elvis Basada, imprisoned in Calbiga, who claimed he was abducted and tortured by the military. He was forced into a jail, which was more like a medieval dungeon, and was charged with murder and banditry. In Calbiga, the local Catholic priest had been forced out of the parish by threats to his life from the military.

We also heard of forced disappearances, forced confessions, forced displacement of communities especially in areas where foreign companies planned to pursue mining or mineral extraction; in Mindanao alone – 78,000 people have been displaced. We heard of violence against women and children – of a ten-year-old boy beaten up by the military because they said he would just grow up into another New People’s Army (NPA) rebel. Then he was made to dig his own grave with his bare hands and was kicked into it, before the soldiers stopped their torture.

At the end of the ISM, an International people’s Tribunal was held in Manila. This was presided over by three international figures of high repute – Lennox Hinds (USA), Professor of Law at Rutgers University; Irene Fernandez (Malaysia), nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize; and Hakan Karakus (Turkey), President of the International Association of People’s Lawyers. The Tribunal heard evidence from several victims of torture and abuse. We heard of the systematic persecution of people and their representatives from many areas of the country. Evidence was also presented by the different groups of the ISM of human rights abuses they had documented.

During the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (January 21st 2001 – June 30th 2005), KARAPATAN has documented 4,207 cases of human rights abuses involving 232,796 victims – the number is now even bigger. What linked all these stories was the actual, or the suspected, involvement of the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) or the PNP (Philippines National Police). When I questioned General Ver about why no one had been brought to justice for these crimes, he said that it was the responsibility of the police. When witnesses spoke to us of going to the police to complain of abuses by the military, they said they were told by the police that is was not their responsibility, but that of the military.

At the Tribunal, I was invited to chair the International College of Jurors. After considering the evidence, I announced the verdict that we found the defendants Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and George Bush, et al, guilty of human rights violations. In one media report it was announced that at this moment “the thousand-strong audience, many of them farmers and indigenous peoples from the provinces gripped by militarization and a `reign of terror` instantaneously stood up and applauded with shouts of jubilation and tears - - -”

This was followed by a torchlight procession at which I was approached by a group of young seminarians, amazed that a priest from the Church of England should be expressing such solidarity with the repressed people of their land. They did not think the English Church was much concerned about their plight – what a sad perception! This perception was, however, borne out by other conversations I had, when requests for expressions of international solidarity from other churches had been so tardily responded to by Churches over here, in comparison to generous and immediate responses from other lands.

After the ISM, I joined a group of Muslims and Christians to attend a conference in General Santos City, Mindanao in the southern Philippines. This was organised by the NCCP and the Moro-Christian People’s Alliance. The aim of the conference was “Bridging gaps, breaking religious barriers and strengthening Muslim-Christian solidarity and unity”.

I spent the first day and night in the small Muslim barangay of Waan, near Davao. I stayed with a family in their home – a very poor but a hospitable family. Their young daughter was about to finish high school and wanted to go to college but here was no way they could afford the fees; she was therefore, filling in the papers to become an overseas Foreign Worker in Kuwait, driven out of her homeland, and away from her family, by poverty. We were welcomed by an Islamic Women’s organisation KHADIDJA. In this village we heard further stories of abuse – one told by a woman whose husband had gone to work, as usual. In a military raid in the area, he was seen being dragged by a group of men into a white van. He has not been seen since. This lady asked: “What can you do for me?” We felt helpless but said the one thing we could do was to ensure that all the stories we had heard did, indeed, get publicised throughout the world.

We heard of brutal and vindictive Islamophobic attacks – increasing in intensity after Bush declared “War on Terror”, following 9/11. We were told of an unprecedented campaign against the Bangsomoro Muslim people not only in Mindanao and Sulu but also in the country’s capital city, Manila. We heard stories that in Manila women wearing the hijab were often refused taxi rides. We heard of foreign Muslims, particularly Arabs, being arrested and detained on trumped-up charges. One speaker, Robert Muhammad Maulana Alonto, described how American teachers are now being encouraged to go into local madaris in Mindanao to teach English and to promote a “culture of peace”. The speaker’s impassioned response was: “It defies imagination to think that those who deprive us of our freedom, bomb our villages, burn our homes, destroy our mosques, kill our innocent people, starve our children in refugee camps, jail our youths, label our Islamic faith as ‘terrorist ideology’ and have consigned our Moro nation to perpetual poverty and mendicancy would be preaching this so called ‘culture of peace’”.

During my time in the Philippines, I encountered a remarkable hospitality and warmth, a deep appreciation of international concern. I met people radiating joy and truly able to celebrate life. I also encountered real darkness, as I had never encountered before, a pervading sense of fear and terror and many, many examples of injustice, and individuals and communities deeply wounded and oppressed.

All these take place in a country claiming to be a democracy but in which, so frequently, the military abuses its role and overrides civil authority. An opposition congressman, Joel Virador, told us “a culture of open terror has been institutionalized”. The government colludes in the oppression of thousands upon thousands of its own citizens. One way it is perceived as doing this, is by close association with Bush’s “War on Terror” – widely interpreted by so many I heard (bishops, priests, religious, lawyers, academics, politicians) not as a “War on Terror” but as a “War of Terror” - a war waged against legitimate people’s movements, to further the aim of establishing global hegemony.

It is also described by the General Secretary of the NCCP as “the lustful greed for world domination”. In her final address at the Muslim Christian Solidarity Conference, she said she totally failed to understand how any Bible-believing Christian could support the “War on Terror”, as defined by the powerful. She proceeded to say, “it is very clear that the War on Terror is essentially an ideological construct designed to justify the American projection of power and military dominance required to maintain the current global disparity of resource control and consumption.” She quoted George Kennan, of the U.S. State Department, who commented that any talk of human rights and / or civil liberties is nothing but “sentimentality and day-dreaming - vague and unreal objectives”.

Carmencita Karadag, the Coordinator of Peace for Life, said that so often it seems the root causes, that find expression in violent acts, are completely ignored - she listed “abject poverty and disease, massive dispossession, denial of sovereignty cultural and economic dislocation, widespread abuse of power – all largely attributable to corporate, and now increasingly militarized, globalization and the relentless drive for global hegemony and power” .Prof. Maake Masanga, of the University of Pretoria, ended a scholarly and moving address with the story of the Emperor’s new clothes: “We need to tell this Emperor he is naked and we should not participate in being caught in the trap of lies”. It was lies that crucified our Lord on Calvary and it is lies and darkness that continue to crucify his people today.

Ms. Ruiz-Duremdes concluded the conference in Mindanao in these words: “The bishops, the ustadjes, the Roman catholic sisters and priests, pastors, church institution workers, Muslim and Christian activists and the guests from overseas, now turned partners and friends, linked arms and held each other in even tighter embrace to cement the commitment to dispel the dark forces of evil wrought by the lustful greed for global domination and to relentlessly struggle for the coming of that day when that friendlier tomorrow shall dawn and smile upon the peoples of the world”.

My time in the Philippines has helped me to understand more clearly what it means to take up the cross, to see the world through the eyes of poor and oppressed peoples and to stand in solidarity with them, as they bear their cross – as they endure unjust sufferings inflicted on them by the mighty ones. Their tears must be our tears, their suffering must be our suffering, we must feel the pain inflicted by the torturers, the destroyers of their communities and, in international solidarity, we must struggle with all we’ve got, that the victory of the cross may be made a reality in their lives, assisted by our loving and efficacious support and prayers. Pray God that the victory comes sooner, rather than later. As we take up the cross and share in the pain of the struggle so may we also, one day, share in the joy of the victory. Posted by Bulatlat

© 2005 Bulatlat ■ Alipato Publications
Permission is granted to reprint or redistribute this article, provided its author/s and Bulatlat are properly credited and notified.

"He does much who loves God much, and he does much who does his deed well, and he does his deed well who does it rather for the COMMON GOOD than for his own will." - Thomas Ń Kempis, 1379-1471, German Monk, Mystic, Religious Writer

“The HEALTH of the people is really the foundation upon which all their happiness and all their powers as a state depend.” – Benjamin Disraeli, 1804-1881, British Statesman, Prime Minister

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