Friday, June 24, 2011

Tribute to Rhea Whitehead

Note: The following text and photo was forwarded to us by Ms. Carmencita Karagdag, Coordinator of Peace for Life a global faith-based movement resisting militarized globalization and creating life-enhancing alternatives.

Peace for Life joins the United Church of Canada and the larger ecumenical community in deeply mourning the demise on June 14, 2011 of an exceptional church and ecumenical leader, Rhea Whitehead. During her
lifetime and committed mission partnership with Asia spanning four decades, Rhea devoted her talent, energies and passion to the Christian ministry of liberating the oppressed, championing the weak, and empowering the defenseless.

During her tenure as UCC's Asia Secretary and earlier as Regional Mission Coordinator for Asia-Pacific of the Anglican Church of Canada, Rhea did pioneering work and made exemplary contributions to the cause
of human rights during the critical decades of the seventies and eighties when Asia, specially the Philippines and South Korea, was reeling under repressive regimes and brutal military dictatorships. The Philippine solidarity movement is specially indebted to Rhea for her major role in helping convene a high-profile ecumenical conference in the US in 1983 to consolidate international support for the Philippine human-rights movement and mobilize opposition to unabashed US support for the murderous Marcos dictatorship.

Rhea is also remembered for introducing ground-breaking initiatives in mission work on women's rights and empowerment. She continued her peerless engagement in international solidarity and ecumenical partnership well into the 1990s when she served as General Secretary of UCC's General Division of World Outreach.

Rhea was among the more than 130 international delegates who gathered in Manila in September 2002 for the historic International Ecumenical Conference on Terrorism in a Globalized World during which the need for a new faith-based movement resisting state terrorism and militarized globalization, Peace for Life, was first articulated. Even after retirement she continued her active involvement in PfL, representing the UCC in the first of a series of planning meetings for the "World without Empire" conference held last year in New York.

We in Peace for Life salute Rhea, our beloved internationalist, ecumenist, activist and feminist.

In these times of sorrow and grave loss, we specially remember in our prayers her life partner and comrade Ray, her children, grandchildren and other loved ones.

On behalf of Peace for Life


21 June 2011

*Carmencita Karagdag*
Coordinator, Peace for Life
Bishop La Verne Mercado Ecumenical Center
NCCP Compound, 879 EDSA
West Triangle, Quezon City
Telefax: +63 2 927 8043

2011 IBON Midyear Birdtalk

IBON is inviting everyone to its 2011 Midyear Birdtalk on July 14, 2011.  The event will be held at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Auditorium.  For more details, click on the poster to enlarge.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Faith Perspective on Reproductive Health and Rights

Jesus in the New Testament was often seen and heard to be proclaiming and granting wholeness to people. This, he did when he healed many women suffering from various kinds of infirmity and diseases. In Luke 8:40-55, we witnessed a “woman in desperation owing to a health issue” (Ball, David). Now, notice that preceding the story of the woman who was bleeding is another story - The one that tells about Jairus’ daughter who was also sick and dying. The girl was 12 years old. “Age twelve is a pivotal age in a young woman’s sexual development, so the fact that the older woman had been bleeding for that time (12 years) can be read as a hint that her bleeding is sexual. Blood meant life in their culture, so her life has been seeping away” (McIntosh)”[1] at the time of her encounter with Jesus.

A major theme in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament is the Hebrew concept of Shalom. Many will ascribe to “peace” as the meaning of Shalom. But our ecumenical understanding of Shalom goes beyond the present meanings that many of us have when we say peace. Shalom to us, in the ecumenical community means wholeness. A state of life where everything that is needed and is due to the people are given and enjoyed by the people.

Isaiah 57:18-19 speaks well of a kind of life that constitutes Shalom: a life of health and well-being. Yahweh’s statement of “I will heal my people” points to the fact of a divine undertaking that freedom from structural oppression also frees people from sickness and enables them to live in a state of wellness and wholeness.

“Shalom involves harmony of economic, social and political life such as in freeing of a people in Exodus. So there is no Shalom where the resources of the community are distributed inequitably so that some eat and others go hungry. . .”[2] (Camba, 2008)

Our understanding of Shalom then poses a big challenge to the different institutions of our society when we speak of sexual and reproductive rights and health.

We can only surmise that when Jesus, proclaimed and affirmed wholeness in each woman whom he encountered, he was in fact acting on the basis of an Old Testament concept and vision of promoting Shalom among people, especially the poorest of the poor. There is a subversion in the story. Notice that in this specific story of the bleeding woman, it was the woman, not Jesus, who reached out and sought for healing and wholeness. Jesus only took notice of the woman when he felt that power came out from him. Needless to say, “kailangan pa syang hawakan ng patalikod ng babae bago pa nya ito gawaran ng kagalingan”. The woman’s health was restored because she asserted and persevered for it. Despite her condition, she walked hard through the crowd so that healing can be hers.

With health having just 32.43% share in the national budget, and with an allocation of just .96 for each Filipino everyday, many of our women are bleeding and have bled to death. The comprehensive reproductive health bill should not be subjected to political bickering and religious debates. It should and MUST be handed to women as a rightful recognition of their right to live in dignity and state of well-being. It must be given to women, majority of whom are poor, so that at least, the government can save face in its long standing record of incapacity to serve the interest of its people. Sad to say that the RH debate had been centered on faces and images of middle class women and personalities who can afford health care and who have easy access to medical attention. When you hear of RH, think of women, POOR women who have long been denied access even to the most basic medical services that they need. Today, we are not only dealing with maternal deaths, prenatal and post natal complications, neonatal, infant and child death, and or contraceptives, we are also dealing with breast cancer, cervical cancer, and other diseases that puts additional burden on the already broken shoulders of our poor women.

We have long been witnesses to the desecration of women’s bodies. Such had been a negation to the Divine will of Shalom or wholeness to people’s lives, especially women. Desecration is not only in the form of violence against women – physical, emotional, mental, verbal and sexual. Desecration of women’s bodies happen at different level and degrees: talk about women being forced by multi-national companies to subscribe to their own standards and brands of beauty, talk about women suffering from breast cancer, cervical cancer, skin cancer, talk about women being forced to undergo surgeries so that their breasts, hips, noses, eyebags and others are shaped into what is prescribed by doctors and companies that produce millions out of it, talk about the cosmetics industry that continues to flourish at the expense of women especially the young and professional women. A far graver concern would be the inability of poor women to be checked and treated even if for simple and curable diseases. Much more, die from it.

It becomes totally meaningless and problematic when women’s right to claim, decide and own their bodies is subjected to the dogmas, impositions and manipulation of some sections and institutions of our society. There is also a need that the sacred bodies of women are protected from the impositions and policies of imperialist countries and multi-national companies who have the desire to make billions of profits out of it. We have to be vigilant in our struggle for full legislation of RH bill because we do not want that such policies will further “impose significant costs on women and constrain their options.[3]” (Sen, Gita, and Snow, Rachel, 1994).

Poor women are pushing for the legislation of the bill not because they are hoping that medical access and services shall be theirs in the wink of an eye but because they want to engage the state in pushing it to fulfill its mandate of serving the interest of the greater masses who are now dying because of its failure to fulfill its duty. Such act gives a semblance of the Story of the Woman who had been bleeding for twelve long years. Pushing and persevering even in the midst of profuse bleeding - just so that life abundant may be realized is the image of today’s poor and struggling Filipino women.

Reproductive health and rights have long been recognized internationally. “The right to control one’s own body – whether to protect its integrity or to enjoy its pleasures – is the most basic of all rights. If we lack the possibility to prevent our bodies from being violated by others, and if we are denied the opportunity to protect ourselves from pregnancy or disease, then how can we take part in or claim any of the other benefits of development?[4]” (Cornwall, Andrea and Jolly, Susie, 2006) Such assertion clearly explains the role of recognizing women’s right to control one’s body as essential to any path of development. But such assertion has almost always been put into the sidelines because especially in the Philippine context, the right of women to their own bodies is undeniably not acceptable. But let me also clarify, that when I speak of women’s rights to their own bodies, I do speak of a right that is practiced responsibly.

Unfortunately, today, when we say women’s bodies, it’s not women’s voices that we hear speaking about it. Whom do we hear when we speak of women’s bodies? The capitalist-patriarchal ideology is very much at work in each and every aspect of women’s lives. It permeated every recesses of women’s lives and being making them feel incomplete, imperfect and always lacking of something. It thrives on women’s bodies. Alienating women from their own selves and hating themselves for not being attuned with what capitalist-patriarchal ideology has been promoting as the true measure of beauty - making them feel the need to always need something, crave for something and compete with someone for something. Women’s bodies have become repositories of products that rakes millions and billions of profits for the capitalist master. Women’s beauty has been the stepping stool to which male structures and systems of power continue to dominate and rule. Women have to be beautiful for men and for profit. Women have to compete with and be isolated from one another because of the “divide and rule” tactic of the capitalists which was the same strategy used by imperial powers in colonizing weaker and smaller nations.

For a long time, institutions within the society, like the church, have taught us that our bodies are “sinful” and should only be given honor when the “prince charming” of our lives will finally come to live with us happily ever after. We were not even allowed to touch ourselves. We were denied of our own sexuality and sensuality. We were denied the right to appreciate and be connected with our own body rhythm and cycles. Women are always taught that being beautiful is all that matters. Everyday and every minute of our lives we are bombarded with different messages of the need to engage in diet programs because being fat means ugly and undisciplined, the need to have white and fairer skin so that men will be attracted to us, the need to have long straight hair because only indigenous and uncivilized people have curly hairs, the need to buy and use designer clothes, bags, accessories to be in and fashionable, the need to wear these brand of make ups so as to look radiant and fresh, the need to always feel and look young because aging is a disease, the need to use this detergent bar so that despite truck load of laundry, our hands will remain smooth and our husband will be more than willing to hold our hands, and the list goes on .

There is so much to celebrate about women’s bodies and sexuality. Affirming one’s uniqueness: color, height, weight, hair, nose, eyes, even our unique curves, will lead to appreciation and development of one’s full potential and genuine humanness. We are gathered here today because of our collective affirmation that a comprehensive reproductive health bill would contribute to the upholding of women’s rights.

It’s a long way to freedom, so they say. But a step has been taken already, it is our sacred duty as members of the faith community to render our unwavering support in upholding the rights and welfare of women.

The journey to Shalom is long and arduous. Shalom for poor, Filipino women will remain elusive even if we are able to pass the bill on Reproductive Health. We are not saying that the passage of the bill will already be “heaven” to Filipino women. This is only one part of the many on-going struggles of women in defending their life and dignity. Nevertheless, it will be another victory for the women’s movement in the Philippines if the bill will be legislated.

Like the bleeding woman, Filipino women are not just sitting and waiting for their rights to be realized. They are standing, with clenched fists and ever militant spirits, actively fighting and claiming their rightful space until such time that Shalom will be realized not just for them but for all.

[2] Camba, Erme. A BIBLE STUDY ON JUSTICE AND PEACE. Micah’s Call 2008
[3] Sen, Gita and Snow, Rachel POWER AND DECISION The Social Control of Reproduction, March 1994
[4] Cornwall, Andrea and Jolly, Susie INTRODUCTIONS: SEXUALITY MATTERS, 2006
The above reflection is an abridged version of the one presented by Ms. Darlene Marquez-Caramanzana during the Forum on the Reproductive Health Bill sposored by the Board of Women’s Work, the Board of Church and Society of the Philippines Central Conference and the Board of Church and Society of the Philippines Annual Conference, together with the organizations of United Methodist youth and young adults.  The Forum was held last June 4, 2011 at the Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation, Inc. (KKFI) Multi-Purpose Hall in Sampaloc, Manila, Philippines.  Ms Marquez-Caramanzana is the Program Secretary of the Program Unit on Ecumenical Education and Nurture of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines .  Posted with permission from the author.

Drop the Trumped-up Charges Against Pastor Edwin Egar and the Rest of the ST 72

The National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) is extremely alarmed over the revival of charges against the “Southern Tagalog 72” or “ST 72”.  The ST 72 is the collective name for church people, lawyers, human rights workers and leaders of people’s organizations who were charged by the military with fabricated cases of multiple murders and frustrated multiple murders.  This is the third time that charges were filed against the 72.  The two previous cases were dismissed.  This new case is clearly a form of harassment.  It further reflects the gnawing thought that when it comes to human rights, there seems to be no difference between the old and new dispensations. 

What makes this very alarming for the NCCP is that two church people are on the list:  Pastor Mel Abesamis of the United Methodist Church (UMC) and Pastor Edwin Egar of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP).  The UMC and UCCP are member churches of the NCCP.  Moreover, this issue strikes home because Pastor Egar is responsible for the Advocacy and Campaign component of the NCCP’s Human Rights Program – “Defending the Defenders”, aimed at strengthening human rights defenders and bettering the situation of victims and families of human rights violations, which is also funded by the European Union under the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR). He had previous stints with NCCP, as Human Rights Program Regional Coordinator for South Luzon from 2003-2004 and later on was a volunteer staff of our Relief and Rehabilitation services.

In February 11, 2009, Pastor Egar was abducted by armed men in Macalamcam, Rosario, Batangas.  It was only through the quick response of his church as well as friends in the human rights community that he was released a few hours later.  Since then he and his family had to relocate.  When the cases against him were dismissed, the NCCP took him in again as staff member to help him rebuild his life and enable him to continue in his ministry for peace and human rights.  This new case against him and the 71 others, one of who has since died, is reliving a nightmare.

We condemn in the strongest terms this latest attempt to harass human rights defenders and leaders of people’s organizations critical of government policies and the continuing climate of impunity.  Would that the government focus on ensuring that justice be accorded to victims of human rights violations by prosecuting violators and not going after those who are working for human rights like Pastor Egar.  In the name of justice, we urge that these charges be withdrawn immediately. END

For more information, please contact:
REV. FR. REX REYES, JR., NCCP General Secretary
Ms. Biyaya Quizon, NCCP Media Liaison Officer

The above NCCP statement was forwarded to the Databank and Library by Ms. Quizon.  The ecumenical community continuously appeal to all partners (local and abroad) and freedom-loving fellows to concretely support this campaign in solidarity to the victims and their families in ending the climate of impunity in the country - the library staff