“We saw and heard the heart-breaking stories of victims of human rights abuses and their family members. We saw and felt the pain of those who have lost loved ones by extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions, torture and enforced disappearance,” the nine-member delegation of the World Council of Churches said in a statement.
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — An international delegation of church leaders from the World Council of Churches (WCC) came to the country Dec. 1 and witnessed the continuing human rights violations under the Aquino administration.
The World Council of Churches (WCC) is a worldwide fellowship of 349 churches, denominations and church fellowships in more than 110 countries and territories representing 560 million Christians. It is based in Geneva, Switzerland and has a Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations.
The visit is part of the WCC’s “Living Letters” where representatives from other countries make an organized visit to a given host country for a particular compelling reason. They were hosted by the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP).
“We saw and heard the heart-breaking stories of victims of human rights abuses and their family members. We saw and felt the pain of those who have lost loved ones by extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions, torture and enforced disappearance,” the nine-member delegation said in a statement.
A team visited the Morong 43 and had a dialogue with Secretary Leila de Lima of the Department of Justice while another team visited the workers of Hacienda Luisita. Before that, the delegates also talked with families of victims of human rights violations under both the Arroyo and Aquino presidencies.
The Morong 43 are the 43 health workers arrested on Feb. 6 in Morong, Rizal by about 300 combined elements of the police and military. Thirty-eight are now detained at Camp Bagong Diwa while five have remained under military custody. They started their hunger strike, Dec. 3 to pressure the government for their release.
“I have not seen any change,” Tony Waworuntu, former staff of the Christian Conference of Asia and a member of the delegation, said in a press conference, Dec. 4. Waworuntu first visited the Philippines in 2005 as part of the WCC delegation.
“I am disappointed to see that extrajudicial killings are still happening but I sincerely hope that it will stop,” said Rev. Tara Jewel Curlewis, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in Australia.
The delegation also said they “saw and heard deep hopes that the President will keep his electoral promises to put an end to impunity with regard to extrajudicial killings, disappearances and abductions, implement genuine land reform, work toward reconciliation with justice and peace, and live up to his expressed commitment to give top priority to the peace negotiations.”
High Hopes on De Lima
The WCC delegates expressed high hopes on de Lima. “We saw, heard and rejoice in the resolve of… (Sec. de Lima) to have the charges against the 43 health workers withdrawn by December 10th, United Nations International Human Rights Day and if not by then, at least before Christmas,” said Rev. Dr. Dan Sandu of the Romanian Orthodox Church, reading from their unity statement.
“We also rejoice in her recognition of the existence of a culture of impunity that has resulted in extra-judicial killings and massive human rights violations, and her resolve to put an end to it. We affirm her belief that there is no inconsistency between human rights and justice; when you serve one, you?serve the other,” Sandu said.
The group joined the call for the immediate and unconditional release of the Morong 43.
Mardi Anette Tindal of the United Church of Canada said de Lima also spoke of a proposal to review all cases of extrajudicial killings. “She said that too few are being brought to justice,” Tindal said.
“The conditions of the farm workers at the Hacienda Luisita struck me,” Waworuntu said adding the distribution of land to the farm workers would make the Filipino people believe in Aquino’s promise of change.
The delegates called “for the immediate implementation of the decisions of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council to distribute the land to the farmers.”
They also noted the presence of local and foreign military personnel in Hacienda Luisita and in other parts of the country and said this poses a threat to the local communities. “We call upon the Philippine? Government to repeal the Visiting Forces Agreement and withdraw all military presence from civilian communities,” they said.??Actions
The group said they will send letters of concern to international bodies, the Philippine President, the Department of Justice and the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Curwelis said they would engage their churches and governments to raise the issue of human rights violations in the Philippines.
“I will return home inspired. There is strength of spirit in the people of the Philippines,” Tindal said.
“The will of God will prevail always. They [women of Morong 43] are fragile ladies but powerful. They did not meet us with despair, they encouraged us,” Sandu said.
Other members of the delegation include Vijula Aralanantham, Board Chairperson of Prison Fellowship International and Carmencita Karagdag, member of the WCC Central Committee. They are accompanied by WCC staff Segmenish Asfaw, Anastasia Dragan and Aneth Lwakatare. (Bulatlat.com)