Quezon City, April 7, 2011: Around 60 participants including members of the clergy, church workers, and human rights advocates, came together for the Unity Forum on Churches as Havens and Sanctuaries for Human Rights to reflect on the churches’ role in the context of the human rights situation under the present administration. The said activity was sponsored by the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP).
The one day unity forum involved speakers who helped set the agenda. Mr. Jigs Clamor, Secretary General of KARAPATAN Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights, started the day by providing the human rights situation. He said that the human rights situation in the country remains bleak as violations continue under the present dispensation. Clamor shared that there are already 42 victims of extrajudicial killings and 5 victims of enforced disappearance since President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III took office.
Clamor was followed by the moving testimonies of Dr. Edith Burgos, chair of Desaparecidos and mother of missing activist, Jonas Burgos; Mr. Jonathan Sta. Rosa, of the Ecumenical Mission for Peace and Development (EMPD) and brother of slain UMC pastor Isaias Sta. Rosa; and Mr. Raymond Manalo of Hustisya, who along with his brother were abducted and tortured but eventually managed to escape from their captors after 18 months in captivity from the military. All of them underscored the importance of the churches' role in upholding and defending human rights. Dr. Burgos even stated that the parable of the Good Samaritan is a good example of being in solidarity with human rights victims.
After the testimonies, Fr. Rex RB. Reyes, Jr., General Secretary of NCCP gave a Biblico-theological Reflection. Echoing Dr. Burgos' illustration of the Good Samaritan in the churches' role for human rights work, Fr. Reyes stated that “churches as sanctuaries and havens for human rights victims is the statement of the Ecumenical Movement that where and when vulnerable people are assaulted, robbed of their rights, killed or left wounded, we shall not pass by.”
In the afternoon, Mr. Tadz Ifurong, Head of Services of KARAPATAN, gave an orientation on human rights. He was followed (by) Mr. Mervin Toquero, Assistant Program Secretary of Faith, Witness and Service of the NCCP, who shared about the Council's human rights work.
After listening to the presentations, the participants, who came from different churches and organizations, broke up into small groups to share their reflections and to come up with recommendations on how churches can mobilize its resources toward human rights advocacy and to support HR victims and their families.
The participants realized that while the complex issue of human rights was discussed and presented in a comprehensive manner, the one-day event just scratched the surface of the issue. The participants were encouraged to begin the process of thinking about the challenges presented and to continue their analyses within their own churches and organizations. They acknowledged that understanding the human rights situation in the country is very much required in order to enable the churches to strengthen their witnessing and solidarity. They affirmed that education, both in churches' leadership bodies and to the grassroots membership should be done. They also saw the need for continuing advocacy and lobbying and the need for networking. They all committed to following the example of the “Good Samaritan” to be human rights defenders and they will work hard so that they can open up their churches and organizations to be sanctuaries for victims and families of human rights violations.
The activity ended through a symbolic closing worship headed by Dr. Rommel Linatoc, Program Secretary of the Christian Unity and Ecumenical Relations, also of the NCCP.
Article and photos by Mervin Toquero, Assistant Program Secretary of the Program Unit on Faith Witness and Service of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines