“Look I am sending you out like sheep among wolves; so be cunning as snakes  and yet innocent as doves.  Be prepared for people to hand you over to  sanhedrins and scourge you in their synagogues.  You will be brought before  governors and kings for my sake.  But when you are handed over, do not worry  about how to speak or what to say, what you are to say will be given to you when  the time comes, because it is not you who will be speaking; the Spirit of your  Father will be speaking in you. (Matthew 10:16-20)”

A Journey for Human Rights

The Ecumenical Voice for Peace and Human Rights in the Philippines (herein referred to as “Ecumenical Voice”) is the name of the delegation, composed of church and human rights leaders, which brought and presented the NCCP-released “Let the Stones Cry Out: An Ecumenical Report on Human Rights in the Philippines and A Call to Action” before churches and government bodies in the US, Canada and Switzerland, last March 2007.

With the help of international ecumenical bodies like the World Council of Churches, Lutheran World Federation, National Council of Christian Churches in the USA and United Church of Canada, among others, the said delegation was able to have audiences with:

  • Members of Parliament in Canada
  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Canada
  • The sub-committee on foreign relations in the US Senate ( a hearing on the extra judicial killings in the Philippines was held, chaired by Sen. Barbara Boxer, two members of the delegation spoke before the hearing.)
  • The Office of US Rep. Dan Lantos.
  • The Minister and Deputy Permanent Representative of the Permanent Mission of Germany to the Office of the United Nations at Geneva (the delegation also met with the minister in Germany’s capacity as President of the European Union).
  • Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

The members of the delegation also presented oral interventions during the session of the UN Human Rights Council.

All told, the efforts of the delegation and the international ecumenical partners were successful and merited a lot of media attention. Many church people and human rights advocates from the said countries vowed to continue the efforts to stop the killings and other human rights violations in the Philippines.

Since then, the killings and abductions continued.

The Disconcerting Trend

On September 6, 2009, a Sunday morning, Fr. Cecilio Lucero, a Roman Catholic priest was ambushed by armed men. Fr. Lucero is one of the latest victims of extra-judicial killings that is widely known to be a part of the government’s counter-insurgency program, Oplan Bantay Laya. His murder follows the pattern of other victims, critics who were labelled as communists or “enemies of the state”. Fr. Lucero was the parish priest of St. Joseph the Worker Parish of Catubig, Samar in Eastern Visayas . He was an advocate of human rights and social justice. He was the head of the the Catarman Diocesan Human Rights and Social Action Desk, the chairperson of the Committee on Human Rights and the Task Force Peace and Order of the Diocese of Catarman. He was also a member of the Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR), a national ecumenical organization of progressive church people. The said organization is listed as a legal front of the Communist Party of the Philippines in the Trinity of War, Book III , of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and as “one of the enemies of the State” in the Order of Battle of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in its Oplan Bantay Laya II counter-insurgency campaigns. More alarming was the report that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo herself labeled Fr. Lucero as “that communist priest” during the inauguration of the Catubig Bridge last June 16, 2009.

Fr. Lucero’s death shows the scale and magnitude of the bloody and brutal impacts of Oplan Bantay Laya. The impunity of it indicates that nobody is safe anymore. The victims ranged from peasants, workers, community leaders, indigenous peoples and Muslims; to activists, students, health proffesionals, church workers, human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists as well as Congressional party-list organizers and volunteers. Even a man of the cloth of the most predominant religion in the country, the Roman Catholic Church, has fallen victim. His killing also clearly dramatized the spike in the number of victims of extrajudicial killings that started to increase again in 2008.

According to the human rights group Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights, there is an increase in the number of victims of extrajudicial killings (EJK). From January to October 2009, 77 victims of extrajudicial killings were documented, more than half of the recorded number of victims of the same period in 2008. In 8 years and 10 months under the Arroyo regime, there were 1,118 documented victims of extrajudicial killings.  For the same period, Karapatan also recorded a total of 204 victims of enforced disappearance and 1,026 victims of torture. There are also thousands of victims of forcible evacuation and displacement due to the military operations in the rural areas.

Karapatan also stated that “with the addition of 57 victims of the Ampatuan Massacre, the 2009 latest EJK total has surpassed those in all years of the GMA’s rule except in 2005 and 2006.”

Prof. Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary executions, has steadfastly conluded that the counter-insurgency program of the government is one of the primary reasons for the extra-judicial killings in the Philippines. He repeatedly called for its review since he visited the country in February 2007 and in his follow-up report to the UN Human Rights Council last year. He also asked the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to “acknowledge” the fact of its involvement in the extra-judicial killings and conduct a “genuine” investigation. He also noted that “not a single member of the armed forces has been convicted for killing leftist activists”.

Sadly, Prof. Alston’s recommendations were not adopted, if not largely ignored, by the government and the AFP.

Another cause for alarm was the recent arrest and continued detention of forty three health workers who participated in a training conducted by a non-government organization, the Council for Health and Development.  Reports say they were arrested in Morong , Rizal on February 6 in the residence of Dr. Melicia Velmonte, a respected physician. The detained health workers include Dr. Alexis Montes, a member and former national health program coordinator of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines.  Dr. Montes was a member of the NCCP’s Commission on Faith, Witness and Service at one time. The detainees, and even the report of Chairperson Leila de Lima of the Commission on Human Rights, claim that they were tortured.

Amplifying Our Cry

“Unless we learn to see God’s image in every person, we can never fully  understand what it means to have compassion. Unless we see the face of Jesus  Christ in every human being, we can never be fully in community. Unless people  remain vigilant that we who were bought from slavery shall never be slaves  again, we can never deepen our experience of the resurrection.” (Postscript, “Let the Stones Cry Out: The Continuing Search for Justice”)

Given this situation, there is an urgent need to amplify our collective cry for justice and  an end to extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and other forms of human rights violations under Oplan Bantay Laya. This counter-insurgency program is a travesty against God’s gift of life. The need to work together is an imperative especially in the light of the coming elections, which has always been traditionally violent and bloody. Our collective cry will also be a call for solidarity for the international community especially for those countries visited by the Ecumenical Voice to continue the ecumenical dialogue and accompaniment.

Thus, the Ecumenical Voice for Peace and Human Rights in the Philippines must continue to be active and dynamic by being in the forefront of the national effort for the protection of human rights and civil liberties. To make the Ecumenical Voice louder, other church leaders, human rights defenders and civil libertarians are invited to join.

Also, for the Ecumenical Voice to engage its ecumenical partners in the US, Canada and Europe to actively pursue measures and initiatives to bring about to its logical conclusions the various lobbying efforts made before the US Senate, the Canadian Parliament, the concerned bodies of the United Nations and the European Union.


General Objective:

To expand the Voice as a national network of church leaders, human rights defenders and civil libertarians, survivors and families of victims of human rights violations and be a forerunner in issuing the cry of the Filipino people for peace based on justice.

Particular Objectives:

  1. To serve as a prophetic voice against human rights violations
  2. To show a unified effort that can further challenge the international community to help push for an end to the human rights violations
  3. To help generate material, financial and other support for the victims and their families
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