Bishops, priests and members of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) in South Central Luzon gathered in Manila on Tuesday, December 10, in commemoration of the 71st International Human Rights Day.
South Central Luzon Bishops Conference (SCLBC) chairperson Bishop Rowel Arevalo welcomed the around 120 people who joined this year’s human rights forum organized by the Ramento Project for Rights Defenders (RPRD).
“We mark this year’s human rights day commemoration with deeper commitment to overcome the daunting challenges to human rights in the country. As faith-based human rights defenders, we have firmly worked for the protection of human rights, but it is a mission yet to be fulfilled,” Bishop Arevalo said.
No boundaries for human rights defense
Bishop Virmilion Tagalog, chairperson of the North Central Luzon Bishops Conference (NCLBC), also attended the human rights forum.
“Our work for defending human rights knows no boundaries and regional jurisdictions. I stand in solidarity with my fellow human rights advocates and defenders here and elsewhere,” Bishop Tagalog said.
Also joining the human rights day commemoration in Manila were Negros Oriental and Siquijor Bishop Allan Caparro and Tarlac Bishop Dindo Ranojo whose dioceses RPRD has established partnership with through human rights engagements that support indigenous people’s rights and protection of human rights defenders.
Representing the ecumenical community during the forum were members of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCC), United Methodist Church (UMC), students of the Union Theological Seminary (UTS) and personnel of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP).
IFI Central Office staff and National Cathedral leaders, the young people of Teatro Aglipayano of the Diocese of Rizal and Pampanga, and students of the Aglipay Central Theological Seminary (ACTS) rendered special cultural presentations during the forum.
Denounce, resist state reprisal and attacks
UMC Pastor Hazel Joyce Salatan and Atty. Maria Sol Taule of KARAPATAN served as forum speakers.
Pastor Salatan led the forum participants to reflect on the challenges of protecting human rights as part of the church’s mission.
The woman pastor and human rights advocate said that church people must courageously take part in the struggle of the poor and oppressed people and condemn the government’s failure to honor the people’s right to dignity, freedom and life.
“We need to firmly stand for human rights by seeking justice for those who have become victims of state reprisals and political persecution,” Pastor Salatan said.
Atty. Taule shared a presentation about the human rights situation under President Rodrigo Duterte’s government. Stressing the call for justice against victims of human rights violations, she called out state repression and political attacks targeting human rights defenders, peace advocates and political activists in the country.
“We have the duty and power as a people to resist and struggle against state violence and oppression,” Atty. Taule told the forum participants. “It is our right to defend our rights against fascist rulers and power-holders,” she added.
Promotion of Church People’s Response-Southern Tagalog (PCPR-ST) coordinator Bro. Jess Hili also shared a brief situationer highlighting human rights abuses in the region’s rural communities in Oriental Mindoro, Quezon, and the rest of Southern Tagalog.
Church people are human rights defenders
RPRD executive director Fr. Jonash Joyohoy remarked on the growing efforts of South Central Luzon dioceses to place the promotion of human rights at the center of their mission commitment.
“We are seeing an increasing number of the clergy and lay people who are taking a stand and speaking up on the issues of human rights,” Fr. Joyohoy said.
“That church people are human rights defenders is spreading slowly but surely throughout the Church. This is very important in cultivating and sustaining a human rights culture that would stand in opposition to the prevalent structures of violence, injustice and impunity in our country,” the priest added.
After the forum, participants joined other human rights groups, people’s movements and civil society organizations gathered at Liwasang Bonifacio in Manila calling for accountability and justice for the thousands of victims of human rights violations under President Duterte’s government.