Special Edition on the International Day of Peasants’ Struggles

Focus Web  17 April 2017

To mark the International Day of Peasants’ Struggles, Focus on the Global South releases this special edition that puts together articles on issues that small farmers and peasants continue to face.  These pieces also highlight the different forms of resistance that farmers and peasants put up amidst these challenges.

Mary Ann Manahan of Focus-Philippines remembers the hard work of her grandfather, a small farmer who eked out a living from his small farm of coffee and fruit, and died with hardly anything to pass on to his family but his small plot and his pride for being a farmer. Ms Manahan would realize the bigger context of her grandfather’s hardships as she grows up, studies, and becomes involved in the agrarian reform struggle in the Philippines.

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The Children are the First to Die

Agony: Abdul was pictured cradling the bodies of his dead twins after they were killed | Daily Mail photo

Father Shay Cullen
06 April 2017

The children of Khan Sheikhoun were the first to suffer as the suspected nerve gas sarin, a deadly, fast-killing agent, caused the children to suffocate their damaged lungs caused racking pain.  As they tried to breath with damaged lungs, they started to foam at the mouth. Twenty died horrible deaths at the last count, there may be more. By last Wednesday April 5 at least 72 people had died and over a hundred more people are struggling for life in makeshift clinics. One clinic treating the victims of the sarin attack was targeted and hit by a Syrian rocket.

Such barbaric war crimes are revolting and cry out for justice. But where are the countries with any moral values that will try and investigate and gather the evidence and bring Assad or the Russian military that are propping up his cruel torturing regime to justice? Will any one arm the rebels with weapons to defeat the death-dealing helicopters that are dropping the sarin gas on civilians?

The human suffering as a result of the chemical warfare waged by the brutal regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is indeed a heinous crime against the people of Syria. He has crossed the American red line laid down by President Obama some years ago. In 2013, the Syrian regime used sarin gas and killed more than 1,300 civilians, men, women and children.

Assad and the Russians brokered a deal to avoid the US entering the war against him by surrendering what was supposed to be all his horrible chemical weapons. It is clear that he has used chlorine bombs dropped from helicopters 24 times on civilians for several years and since 2013 has on two occasions dropped sarin gas bombs on the civilians. The last sarin attack in December 2016 killed 93 people in eastern Hama and now this latest attack in Idlib. The world is just accepting this as normal and takes no actions but just condemns the attacks. He will pay no penalty now, no red line, and why is that?

Assad must be brought to justice and not be supported, aided and abetted by Iran and Russia in the crimes of his vicious military. They have denied any responsibility and blamed the rebels in Idlib for having sarin gas on hand. In other words, they gassed themselves, Assad says. Experts say that this is highly unlikely.

Assad has been described as a war criminal and he has once again crossed the US red line against the use of chemical weapons drawn by President Barak Obama in 2013 when more than 1,300 civilians were killed by a sarin gas attack in this hate-filled civil war. The war is now six year old and millions of people have fled the country. There are twenty-thousand or more dead and at least five million displaced. Once developed cities have been reduced to crumbling ruins due to the relentless air strikes by Syrian government warplanes backed by Russian military power. They have wrecked havoc and killed hundreds of civilians.

It was the threat of US intervention by Obama that caused Assad to surrender his chemical weapons, but did he give up all of them? It’s clear he kept back some sarin and had lots of chlorine. President Trump blames Obama for not enforcing the red line so will Trump do so now? Will he challenge what he called a “heinous” crime by Assad and his Russian backers?

Will he make America great again and take a moral stand against the war criminal and order a punitive rocket attack perhaps on Assad’s palace in Damascus? Will he arm the US backed-rebels with ground-to-air shoulder-fired missiles to take out the bomb dropping helicopters? It’s highly unlikely.

That’s what the US did in the rebel war against the occupying Russians in Afghanistan and the rebels shot the war planes and helicopters out of sky and defeated the Russian army. Without air power, the Syrian army and the Russians have no chance of beating the highly motivated Syrian rebels.   Continue reading

​Calvary of the poor

“Uphold democracy, our human rights”

In observance of the Holy Week, 3,000 strong- protesters took to penitence their “sorrows” on the status of human rights in the country.

The urban poor community members of the Community Organizers Multiversity (COM) trooped to Plaza Miranda on Holy Tuesday morning, April 11, and walked all the way to Mendiola bearing seven large crosses.

The crosses presented issues that heavily affect the urban poor areas: Extra-judicial killings and death penalty; lowering of minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 down to 9; non-movement on the issue of housing and other basic services; spread of wrong and malicious information; climate change issues being used on eviction of informal settlers; the culture of fear and the lack of respect for women’s rights; the oppression and the double-standard observance of democracy, where the poor’s space is diminishing.

The activity is dubbed as Calvary of Urban Poor Communities or Kalbaryo ng mga Maralitang Taga-Lungsod

A short play version of the Passion of Christ featuring the victims of human rights violations and extra-judicial killings was presented where the group reiterated their calls. This was followed by a mass led by Manila Auxiliary Bishop, Most Rev. Broderick Pabillo and running priest, Fr. Robert Reyes.

Calvary Hill of the poor

In a statement shared by COM, the group expressed their distress on the slow investigation on killings perpetrated both by the police force and by vigilante assailants, where the most common victims are the poor accused as drug offender.

“All of them who died, guilty or not, have the right to defend themselves in court. But that may never come. Most of them are rotting in morgues. Where is the justice?” Luz Domingo, COM Community Organizer and rights activist.

She shared that this Holy Week is one of the most painful for the urban poor who lost their families.

“Those who are spreading malicious information that even as accused and not proven, these victims deserved their deaths equally have to answer the law. They are spreading not just wrong information but hatred and discrimination,” Domingo added.

Bishop Pabillo encouraged all to observe what Jesus has done during the Lenten Season.

“We must as we preach practice compassion, love, and mercy. Let’s not be Judas Iscariot who condemned Christ, his brother, to the centurions and the Pharisees, the Sadducees. As we implement the law, let us as well promote justice and uphold human rights of each,” Bishop Pabillo said.

Each community leader and cross-bearer share a piece for the crosses they carried: for EJK to end and to stop the reinstatement of Death Penalty; to provide help and guidance instead of prison for the children in conflict with the law; to prioritize proper housing and relocation for the urban poor and fisherfolks; to uphold the human rights of the poor amid culture of discrimination; to advocate for a pro-poor climate change solutions; to respect the rights of women; and to protect the democracy and equal participation of the poor and the vulnerable.

COM urban poor areas who participated include communities from BASECO Compound, Isla Puting Bato in Tondo, Barangay Tatalon, ULAP-QC & Manila, Montalban Action Group, Montalban Resettlement, Taytay Floodway: Bagong Pagasa HOA, Exodus HOA, Maharlika HOA, Taytay Arenda, APOLA, and Alyansa ng mga Pederasyong Kumikilos sa Lawa ng Laguna.

Assembly of Metro Manila Laiko Leaders Focused on Basic Ecclesial Community

The Regional Assembly of Sangguniang Laiko ng Pilipinas leaders this April discussed the Year of the Parish theme: Forming Basic Ecclesial Communities as Agents sof Communion, Participation and Mission. Held at the Poveda Learning Center Gymnasium on 8 April 2017 from 2:00 to 5:00 pm, the event was attended by around 50 leaders from national lay organizations and diocesan councils of the laity based in Metro Manila. Bp. Broderick Pabillo opened the conference with an introduction to the seven pillars of the Basic Ecclesial Communities. These are:

  1. Kamalayan bilang nagpanibagong Kristiyano (metanoia)
  2. Komunyon o Pagkakaisa (koinonia)
  3. Salita ng Diyos (kerygma, catechesis)
  4. Panalangin at Eukaristiya (leiturgia)
  5. Gawaing Pang kapwa / Lipunan (diakonia)
  6. Pangangalaga sa mga dukha (anawim), and
  7. Pinunong Lingkod at Kasaping Nakikilahok

Bishop Pabillo emphasized that BEC is more than just an activity or a ministry. It is a culture, a way of life, a shared belief, and relationship.

Guest speaker for the occasion is Msgr. Emmanuel Gabriel, who made a presentation on the call to communion. He discussed the context of Basic Ecclesial Community as a call to mission within the church. There are several levels of being called to participate in the mission of Jesus Christ. The BEC is the call-to-mission of families or households, he said, for us to share in the priestly, kingly and prophetic mission of the Church. It is a means for every Christian home to sense its belongingness to the Church.

The LAIKO leaders’ assembly is held every month to tackle current issues that impact on the moral and spiritual welfare of the Catholic laity.

Philippine church program offers hope to drug addicts

Church and community leaders in the village of Pansol in Quezon City sign an agreement of cooperation in the fight against illegal drugs on March 25. (Photo by Angie de Silva)

Manila district serves as pilot project in which families are seen as pivotal in recovery of users

Buena Bernal, Manila Philippines UCAN
March 30, 2017

Shirtless men engage in casual chatter in street corners, mothers cradle their infants in the alleys, while children run around the narrow streets of a village in the Philippine capital Manila.

Boredom is a common enemy in the village of Pansol, one of the districts in the capital with the highest numbers of drug offenders who surrendered to authorities.

For Father Orqueta of Santa Maria della Strada Parish, the challenge offers an opportunity for the church to show that it is doing its part in the government’s war against drugs.

The priest said at the forefront of the church’s concern is creating a “loving community” that will provide support for those who want to get out of addiction.

More than a million drug users and dealers have surrendered to authorities since President Rodrigo Duterte launched his campaign against narcotics.

But in the village of Pansol, out of the 331 who admitted that they were drug users only 18 have undergone rehabilitation since the campaign started in July last year.

Two psychiatric doctors sent by the Health Department to the village were only able to look into the cases of 20 of the 127 drug dependents who were set for assessment.

Various human rights groups have repeatedly condemned the drug-related killings in recent months instead of a more focused rehabilitation program for drug users.

Almost 8,000 suspected drug users and dealers have died in the past eight months either during police operations or at the hands of self-styled anti-illegal drugs vigilantes.   Continue reading

Charity shops fund education of 5,000 poor Filipinos

Caritas project in Manila says buying is the best way of giving

Joe Torres  UCAN

A priest in Manila is urging Catholics not only to give and help the poor during the Lenten season, but also to shop and buy.

“Our dictum is buying is the new way of giving,” said Father Anton Pascual, executive director of Caritas Manila, the social action arm of Manila Archdiocese.

The priest said the Lenten season is the “best time” to practice alms giving “not only in cash but also in kind.”

“The more you give the more that you will receive,” said Father Pascual joked.

He is encouraging Catholics to donate items like clothes, accessories, appliances, and school supplies that can still be recycled and reused.

“Let others inherit your second-hand items,” said the priest.

Father Pascual is literally getting his hands dirty collecting donations that are later sold in Caritas Manila’s charity shops dubbed “Segunda Mana.”

The donations-in-kind project, which started eight years ago, is doing “good business,” he said.

The social enterprise project collects in-kind donations from Catholics that are converted to cash after being sold in more than two dozen Segunda Mana charity shops around the national capital.

The income from the sale of the donated items is used for the education of poor students and to finance livelihood projects in poor communities.

In 2016, Caritas Manila was able to finance the college education of at least 5,000 students under the church’s Youth Servant Leadership and Education Program.

Father Pascual said from an estimated US$1.4 million worth of goods donated last year, Caritas Manila was able to raise about US$500,000 in profit.

This year the priest targets US$2 million worth of donations which he expects to bring in about a million dollars in income for the project.

“All the money goes to finance our education program,” Father Pascual told ucanews.com.

He said the project was conceptualized “to challenge the culture of generosity and stewardship among Filipinos.”

“We want to tell Filipino Catholics that they can also share things that they do not use or want with others,” said the priest.

Most of the donations Caritas Manila receives are inventories and old stock from factories and shopping centers, and used items from individuals.

“We clean, repair, recycle, and sell it,” said the priest, adding that they are planning to replicate the project in the provinces.

“It’s part of our response to the call of Pope Francis to address the culture of consumption,” said Father Pascual.

He said consumption can be “balanced” with generosity and the “spirit of stewardship,” which is being promoted by the archdiocese.

Shopping while helping the poor should be a way for those who want to make the Lenten season meaningful, said the priest.

Segunda Mana stores offer inexpensive items, including clothes, shoes, bags, furniture, appliances, toys, books, and even grocery items that offer discounts of up to 50 percent.

Merchandise includes brand new items donated by manufacturers.

The first Segunda Mana store opened at Caritas Manila’s headquarters in 2009. Today, there are 25 outlets and several ambulant stores near churches.