Philippine churches offer sanctuary to rights abuse victims

Members of the Ecumenical Bishops’ Forum expressed their opposition to the declaration of martial law in the southern Philippines during a media briefing in Manila on July 19. (Photo by Mark Saludes)

Religious leaders respond to Duterte’s call to extend martial law in southern region

Mark Saludes, UCAN Manila 
Philippines

July 20, 2017

An ecumenical bishops’ group in the Philippines announced that member churches will open its doors as sanctuaries for victims of human rights violations.

The prelates made the announcement after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte urged Congress to extend martial law in Mindanao until December.

The president declared martial law across the southern region of the country on May 23 following a terrorist attack on the city of Marawi.

“The church is always ready to shelter victims of human rights violations,” said Philippine Felixberto Calang of the Philippine Independent Church.

“We never stopped fighting against injustices and violence,” said the Protestant prelate, co-chairman of the Ecumenical Bishops’ Forum.

He said drug-related killings in the country and the declaration of martial law in Mindanao “promote violence rather than peace.”

Bishop Deogracias Iniguez, retired prelate of Kalookan, said that while some Catholic bishops support martial law “generally the church stands for the welfare of its flock.”

The prelate admitted that the response of Catholic Church leaders to “state-sponsored violence” in recent months has been “slower than what is expected.”

“[It is] not because we are afraid or we are silenced, it is because our church leaders take time to look at every situation closely before passing any judgment,” said Bishop Iniguez.

With just a few days left before Duterte’s State of the Nation Address on July 24, the ecumenical church leaders have voiced their “dismay” over what they described as the president’s “unfulfilled promises of peace and order.”

Bishop Calang said the present situation is far from what Duterte promised in his first State of the Nation Address last year.

The prelate said the president’s policies only resulted in the “persecution of the poor, harassment of human rights defenders, killing of indigenous people, and the militarization of communities.”

Human rights group Karapatan has recorded at least 10 summary executions and 335 illegal arrests since the declaration of martial in Mindanao in May.

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