June 7, 2006
Dear Fellow United Methodists,
Greetings from the Philippines, in the name of Jesus Christ, the Lord of peace.
Of late, the number of extra-judicial killings in the Philippines has reached alarming proportions. According to Karapatan – the Alliance for the Advancement of Human Rights – more than 600 have been victims of extra-judicial killings nationwide, since President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo came into power in 2001. This figure does not include the number of journalists killed in the line of duty. The victims include human rights lawyers and workers, clerics and other church workers, local government officials, peasant and union leaders and other members and supporters of people’s organizations and political parties critical of the government of President Arroyo.
The manner in which these killings were carried out and the impunity of the deeds show a disturbing and chilling pattern. Many of the killings involved motorcycle-riding men wearing ski masks and armed with high caliber weapons. There were also many instances when witnesses testified that soldiers or para-military units were responsible. The alarming trend has prompted the Philippine Commission on Human Rights and Amnesty International to condemn the killings.
These brazen disregard for human life are a blatant affront to God’s plan of peace based on justice. Of the victims, fifteen were church people, twelve of which belong to the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP). One of the recent victims, Mr. Noli Capulong, was a former staff of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP).
Our United Methodist Church has not been exempted from this persecution. Mr. Mabini Wandale, lay worker of the Pinagtuliran United Methodist Church in Sta. Cruz, Mindoro Occidental has been abducted in 2004 and is presently still missing. Rev. Noli Saranilla, District Superintendent of The United Methodist Church in Palawan has received death threats through text messages. Two church workers in Palawan Philippines Annual Conference, both sisters Cristine Butaca (deaconess), and Alpha Jane Butaca (local pastor), were implicated as members of a rebel group that tried to kill military personnel in Palawan, their province. In truth and in fact, these two sisters were in Manila at the time of the alleged commission of the crime, on their way to Baguio City to attend the United Methodist Women’s Biennial Convention. We have secured the services of a lawyer to defend them in court. Likewise, Rev. Egmidio Equila, former District Superintendent in Nueva Ecija province, was reportedly in the military's order of battle. Worse, in a PowerPoint presentation of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) entitled “Knowing the Enemy,” churches, along with people’s organizations, were listed as communist fronts and are therefore “enemies of the state”.
A delegation of the Connectional Table of The United Methodist Church earlier this year (January 2-6, 2006) had the opportunity to dialogue with the families of victims and met with high-ranking military and civilian officials of the Philippine Government and the US Embassy in Manila. They expressed their strong conviction that the killings must stop. They asserted that “it is unacceptable that those who are laboring on behalf of Jesus Christ with and for the poor and marginalized are labeled as subversives or leftists or enemies of the state.”
This grim state of affairs haunts us as we remain steadfast in our prophetic role as God’s instruments of peace with justice. While we continue our tasks as peacemakers in these times of great peril, the corresponding efforts of our brothers and sisters of faith in the international community is also imperative. The efforts of international friends have been historically proven as very helpful in exposing the dictatorial rule of Ferdinand Marcos during the dark days of martial law.
We thus appeal to you, sisters and brothers, to journey with us in our campaign to stop the killings and persecution of people who have chosen to speak for poor, powerless and oppressed peoples.
You can help by:
1. Offering prayers in your churches for all victims of extra-judicial killings in the Philippines.
2. Approving a resolution or statement at your annual conference that addresses the issues raised in this letter. You may also circulate this letter widely.
3. Writing letters of concern addressed to the Philippine government and its military branch.
4. Asking your government to speak out against these killings.
5. Making statements or resolutions affirming your commitment to protect God’s gift of life and condemning these brutal killings.
6. Supporting the families of the victims.
7. Launching solidarity missions to the Philippines or people-to-people exchanges.
8. Supporting the peacebuilding efforts and initiatives of the Philippine churches and ecumenical movement.
You may think of other ways you deem appropriate that will help us in our campaign that are not included in this list. We thank you for those ways and means.
Your invaluable prayers and acts of solidarity will greatly inspire us and help us in our ministry for a just and lasting peace in the Philippines.
Yours in Christ,
BISHOP SOLITO K. TOQUERO