The head of one of the world’s largest church bodies recently denounced the extrajudicial killings of two lay church ministers in the Philippines.
In solidarity with the National Council of Churches in the Philippines and the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, the World Council of Churches sent a letter to President-elect Benigno Aquino III on Tuesday condemning the killing of Benjamin Bayles and Jovelito Agustin.
Both victims were active lay ministers in their churches and known to be outspoken advocates of human rights. Bayles was a human rights advocate involved with peasants and worker organizations. And Agustin was a broadcaster who helped victims of illegal recruitment and defended workers’ rights. They were murdered by suspected paramilitary groups on June 14 and 15, respectively.
“We are deeply concerned by the ongoing extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and continuing impunity in the Philippines that have caused the lives of many civilians who raise their voices denouncing human rights violations and asking for justice and lasting peace,” wrote the Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of WCC, in the letter.
“Lay people and clergy have not been spared from this violence,” he added.
The Most. Rev. Godofredo David, primate of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, called on President-elect Aquino to hold the government of his predecessor Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo accountable for the political repression and killings in the Philippines.
Aquino on Tuesday, the same day he was inaugurated, announced that he was forming a “truth commission” to investigate the allegations of human rights abuses and corruption under Macapagal-Arroyo. Aquino had campaigned vowing to fight corruption.
The president-elect said the commission would look into extrajudicial killings and “make sure those who committed crimes” would be punished.
Human rights group Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights) reports that 1,118 extrajudicial killings were documented in the Philippines between 2001 and October 2009. The group also recorded 204 victims of enforced disappearance and 1,026 victims of torture.
In the month of June alone, there were six extrajudicial killings, including those of Bayles and Agustin.
“Our prayer is that the rule of law will prevail in the Philippines and that your government will become known for building peace and establishing justice,” Tveit wrote.