Amid the upswing of violence against the background of extrajudicial killings and summary executions in Central Visayas, the clergy of the Diocese of Cebu gathered for a two-day basic human rights orientation and introduction to paralegal work.
Jointly facilitated by the Ramento Project for Rights Defenders (RPRD) and Karapatan Central Visayas, the human rights study and workshop was convened by Cebu Bishop Alger Loyao at the Cathedral of the Holy Child in Cebu City on October 21-22, 2019.
In his welcome remarks, Bishop Loyao impressed upon his priests the expediency of expressing solidarity and providing support to communities where there are human rights violations.
Priests as human rights defenders
Bishop Loyao believes that as shepherds, priests should enhance their capacity corresponding to the assistance needed in rights-challenged communities in the province of Cebu and elsewhere in Central Visayas as the country faces an unprecedented increase in human rights violations.
“As priests, we have the essential obligation to work for the protection of human rights. It is our vocation and participation in the Iglesia Filipina Independiente’s (IFI) mission of upholding the sanctity of human life and the integrity of God’s creation,” Bishop Loyao told his priests.
RPRD executive director Fr. Jonash Joyohoy expressed appreciation for Bishop Loyao’s initiative. “Enhancing the clergy’s capacity as human rights defenders is a pressing concern for RPRD most especially at a time when many of our clergy and lay people are being subjected to political attacks,” Joyohoy said.
Joyohoy referred to the scores of clergy and lay people in a number of IFI dioceses who are experiencing threats, harassment and intimidation allegedly from the hands of state security agents. He also recounted the killing of 3 lay people in the Diocese of Negros Oriental and Siquijor in July and the renewed red-tagging of a woman church leader in the Diocese of Cagayan de Oro in September.
RPRD and Diocese of Negros Oriental and Siquijor Bishop Allan Caparro agreed to conduct a diocesan probe into the killings of the 3 IFI members.
Breakdown in the rule of law
National Priests Organization (NPO) Cebu deputy governor Fr. Abel Echual has noted the worsening human rights situation in Cebu.
“Drug-related killings has been on the rise in Cebu over the past two years which have also affected a number of our members,” Echual lamented.
In what is now known as the “one-time, big-time” anti-drug operations in October 4, 2018, which yielded 16 suspected drug personalities dead in simultaneous police operations in different parts of Metro Cebu, Echual said that among those killed in Talisay City were 4 IFI members.
Human rights organizations have condemned the “massacre” and said that drug-related summary killings is the same as the extrajudicial killings of political activists.
RPRD has teamed-up with Rise Up for Rights and Life (RiseUp) Cebu in giving support to several families of tokhang victims in their clamor for justice for their lost loved ones.
Karapatan Central Visayas (CV) coordinator Connie Regalado said that there is now a breakdown in the rule of law in Central Visayas which has heavily affected people’s organizations and church communities in Cebu and Negros.
Stepping-up human rights engagement
The Diocese of Cebu is actively involved in the promotion of the rights and welfare of underprivileged communities and sectors in Cebu province. It also serves as host to the IFI community development program Visayas-Mindanao Regional Office for Development (VIMROD) which is responsible for providing assistance to rural poor communities.
As part of stepping-up its human rights advocacy and engagement, the Diocese of Cebu hopes to develop ministries that will give support to the victim families of drug-related killings, urban poor families facing threats of demolition and displacement, and fisher-folks communities losing access to marine resources due to tourism-related fish sanctuaries.
Under a shared vision where people’s rights and welfare are upheld, the Diocese of Cebu, RPRD and Karapatan CV will work together in pursuing these initiatives.