A United Methodist delegation to the Philippines urged the nation’s president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, to take a more aggressive role to stop the killing of clergy, laity, journalists and human rights workers who work with the poor.
In a Jan. 6 news conference in Manila, Bishop John Hopkins, head of the delegation, said, "The killing must stop," noting that "extrajudicial" murders had increased in the past year in the country.
Hopkins said the delegation heard first-handing testimonies from more than 20 victims and surviving family members from many parts of the Philippines who described their suffering from murders targeted at religious and community workers.
"Our people are not armed," said the bishop, who leads the denomination's Ohio East Area, according to the United Methodist News Service. "They teach, provide medical care, counsel and educate. We implore the government and military officials to recognize the important work of those who seek to minister with the poor and marginalized, and to distinguish their work as vital and important to the country and its people."
During their testimonies, victims explained that community workers are called "subversive" or accused of supporting terrorism or holding membership in political groups advocating violent resistance to the Arroyo administration, UMNS reported.
The delegation met with Scott Douglas Bellard, acting deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy, to ask for U.S. officials to press the Philippine government to distinguish between armed terrorists and church and community workers.
Meetings with the undersecretary of religious affairs for the Philippine government, Maria Isabel Gonzales-Tobias, and several other high-ranking members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines were also held.
Kristina Gonzalez, a member of the delegation, told reporters at the news conference that the security of the nation is being “inversely affected by its lack of commitment to human rights,” UMNS reported.
Jim Winkler, chief executive of the Untied Methodist Board of Church and Society, reported that witnesses and survivors informed the delegation that armed military personnel in full body armor would ask where a clergy or worker was and those people would disappear or be found murdered.
Several families reported armed men on motorcycles wearing ski masks and helmets that ambushed individuals and killed them. The motorcycles lack license tags or carry counterfeit tags, making them untraceable.
The delegation called for Arroyo to take the following actions:
- Begin an immediate and impartial investigation of all recent extrajudicial executions.
- Make a commitment not to impose martial rule or other limitations on civil liberties or human rights.
- Revise the government's military strategy for resolving the insurgency to ensure the safety of noncombatants and to avoid indiscriminate destruction of property.
- Cease the practice by the government and military of labeling those who work for justice and for the poor as subversive or communist.
- Conduct follow-up meetings with the three bishops of the United Methodist Church in the Philippines, including mission partners in other communions, to discuss progress on the investigations.