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A matter of time

By Prof. Luis V. Teodoro

The killing of three priests over the last six months — of Fr. Marcelito Paez last December, 2017, Fr. Mark Ventura in April, and Fr. Richmond Nilo this June — has provoked both outrage as well as fears that it is part of the Duterte regime’s campaign to silence its critics.

Priests have been murdered in this country and in the rest of the world for years. Among dozens of others in Latin America, while saying mass in 1980, El Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated by a death squad for his opposition to dictatorship, injustice and torture. In the Philippines, 32 clergymen and church workers, 16 of whom were Catholic priests, have been killed since the Marcos regime (1965-1986).

The online news site MindaNews lists 13 priests killed from 1971, when Marcos was in his second term, to 2011 during the Benigno Aquino III administration.

Fr. Nelson Javellana was ambushed in Maguindanao in 1971, Fr. Godofredo Alingal killed in Bukidnon in 1981, and Fr. Tullio Favali in North Cotabato in 1985.

Anti-illegal logging activist Fr. Mario Estorba was killed in Agusan del Sur in 1988, followed by Fr. Dionisio Malalay who was slain in Zamboanga del Sur in1989, and Fr. Nerylito Satur in 1991. All three killings happened during the Corazon Aquino post-martial law administration.

Bishop Benjamin de Jesus was killed in 1997 during the Fidel Ramos term, and Fr. Rhoel Gallardo of Basilan and Fr. Benjamin Inocencio of Jolo in 2000 during the brief presidency of Joseph Estrada .

Two priests were killed during the nine years that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was president : Fr. Rufus Haley in 2001, and Fr. Reynaldo Roda in 2008. One priest, Fr. Fausto Tentorio, was killed in 2011 during the Benigno Aquino III administration.

These 13 plus the three killed during the present regime add up to 16 priests murdered in the last 47 years. Only the killers of Fr. Favali in 1985 have been punished: together with his men, the leader of the paramilitary group responsible was tried, convicted, and sentenced to life imprisonment, but was pardoned after 23 years in prison.

The Duterte regime can very well argue that the killing of priests is not a phenomenon unique to it, and that rather than part of a policy to intimidate the Church, the killings do not reveal any pattern but are likely to have been due to any number of motives .

But all the priests killed did have something in common: their being political and social activists, and their commitment to the defense of the poor and powerless. All were human rights defenders. Some were fighting for indigenous people’s rights, others for the environment, for a just and lasting peace, for equality and social justice, and against militarization and peasant and worker exploitation.

The killings suggest that they were carried out by those groups and forces hostile to those advocacies. The economic, social and political issues and problems the slain priests were addressing are still with us, and continue to demand the engagement of everyone, including the clergy, who sincerely care for this country and its people.

All post-Marcos administrations up to Benigno Aquino III’s at least paid lip service to the need for justice for the slain priests, and none of them ever suggested that the killings were justifiable. The Philippine National Police as of this writing has announced the arrest of a suspect in the killing of Fr. Nilo. But President Rodrigo Duterte’s most recent statements have laid the blame on the fatalities themselves, thereby suggesting that the killings can be blithely explained away, or even justified. And only Mr. Duterte’s subordinates have issued the usual assurances about going after the killers.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Mr. Duterte blamed the journalists who have been killed in this country for their own murders because they were all supposedly corrupt. He is similarly blaming the slain today by claiming that despite their vows of celibacy, priests are no different from him in that they too have had affairs with women. He followed this up, prior to the murder of Fr. Nilo, with attacks on the Catholic Church and even on God Himself.

Neither corruption nor immorality justifies anyone’s being killed, whether judicially or extrajudicially. If they did, every other government official would deserve a lethal injection, or a bullet in the head from the usual police and motorcycle-riding assassins. But the current President of the Philippines seems to think that these failings, like the use of illegal drugs, are capital offenses.

His tirades and profanities against Catholic priests and the Church itself, just like his justifying the killing of journalists — like Benigno Aquino III’s own verbal attacks on the press and media during his term — are also likely to encourage more killings. But this is to assume that it would be merely incidental and unintentional, and there is no regime policy to do away with its critics in the clergy and other “troublesome” sectors like the independent press.

Such a policy would after all be in direct contradiction with the government responsibility of protecting its citizens. But the context in which the killing of progressive and activist priests is happening nevertheless invites the conclusion that such a policy does exist.

In apparent fear of being ousted from power–he has even announced that China will protect him if there are ever such attempts–Mr. Duterte has attacked independent journalists on the assumption that the truth-telling responsibility of a free press is likely to help remove him from office. He and his police and military bureaucrats may be entertaining the same thoughts about the activist clergy and even the Catholic Church itself.

He may not be entirely mistaken. The institutional Catholic Church has always been conservative. But there are nevertheless individuals within it who believe in seeking justice though the heavens fall– who defend human rights, who fight for social change, peace and independence, and who, in the process, have themselves become the targets of State repression.

Even prior to the EDSA 1 civilian-military mutiny, progressive clergymen and women were already in the broad resistance against the dictatorship, and helped commit the Catholic Church to the overthrow of the Marcos terror regime. The free press and media were similarly pivotal in that historic enterprise. The crucial roles of the press and the clergy in the political upheaval of 1986 may help explain the Duterte regime’s antipathy for both.

The irony is that Mr. Duterte’s attacks on the Catholic Church and priesthood are fueling the simmering outrage against his regime that he fears can lead to his overthrow, just as his assault on independent journalists and their organizations has convinced responsible practitioners of the need for critical attention to his regime’s acts and policies.

Neither all the clergy and the entire Church, nor all journalists and their organizations, have as yet forged the unity resistance to autocratic rule demands. But thanks to Mr. Duterte’s own doing, among them his enshrinement of killing and police and military impunity as State policy, today as in the months, weeks and days before EDSA 1, it may only be a matter of time before it is achieved together with the workers, farmers, students, academics, urban poor, women, and indigenous and Moro people who believe that an alternative to the reign of assassins is both necessary and possible.

First published in BusinessWorld. Photo from PCOO. / Prof. Teodoro is chairperson of the People’s Alternative Media Network

Pray for the evil spirit in Malacañan – Bishop

By April Burcer

A Roman Catholic bishop urged members of the Church to let their voices be heard against the killings of priests as well as against all other extra-judicial killings in the country.

“Stand up. Speak out. That’s where we are lacking right now,” Pabillo said during his homily at a special Mass celebrated at the Quiapo Basilica Monday evening.

“The people are asking, ‘Why is the Church silent?’ The public does not expect church people to be armed with guns. They expect us to speak out –bishops, priests, nuns and lay groups,” he added.

Pabillo said with the faithfuls’ voices speaking together, they don’t have to shout loudly but still be heard.

“The whole country will hear that killing is evil, that telling lies is bad, that cursing is unacceptable, that quo warranto is illegal, that we don’t want Cha-Cha, and that we should not give the Philippines to China,” the prelate said.

Earlier this month, President Rodrigo Duterte spoke against the Church’s God and the hypocrisy of its leaders and priests.

“So huwag kang maniwala ‘yang Katoliko. Hindi ako naniniwala ng Katoliko. ‘Yang Adam and Eve na ‘yan. Tingnan mo. Pagka hindi… Kung ‘yan ang Diyos ng Katoliko, torpe ‘yan. Mag hanap ka ng Diyos na tama,” Duterte said. (So don’t believe the Catholics. I don’t believe in the Catholics. That Adam and Eve story, you see…If that’s the God of the Catholics, that is stupid. Better that you find a right One)
Duterte was a baptized Roman Catholic.
In his homily, Pabillo urged the public to pray and fast more because “the evil spirit in Malacañan can only be driven away by prayers of faith.”

The Mass was followed by a candle-lighting ceremony at the historic Plaza Miranda led by various church and human rights groups for the three Roman Catholic priests killed under the Duterte government.

Father Richmond Nilo of Nueva Ecija, retired priest Father Tito Paez and Father Mark Ventura of Cagayan have been killed in the past six months.

“There is a culture of killing that is happening now in our country. They are killing our respect for people, they are killing our respect women, and they are killing our respect for the law. The very people who should be upholding the law are the very ones who are breaking them,” activist nun Sr Mary John Mananzan, OSB said.

The event was also participated in by Australian missionary Sister Patricia Fox and faith-based groups such as the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, Iglesia Filipina Independiente, United Church of Christ in the Philippines, Nicodemus, Workers’ Resistance Against Tyranny and for Human Rights, and Kalipunan ng Kristiyanong Kabataan.

The event ended with the announcement of the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) reversal of the Bureau of Immigration’s order deporting Fox. #

Observers hope talks impasse is temporary

NOORDWIJK AAN ZEE, The Netherlands—A nun and a priest who arrived in this city to observe the scheduled fifth round of formal peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) expressed disappointment at the cancellation of the talks.

Invited as observers to the formal negotiations between the GRP and the NDFP, Sr. Ma. Luz Mallo, MA, and Fr. Manuel Vicente Catral however said they are hopeful the stalemate is just temporary.

Sr. Luz, executive secretary of the Sisters Association of Mindanao and convenor of Sowing the Seeds of Peace in Mindanao, was on was on her way to this city from an international religious gathering in Weimar, Germany when she heard of the GRP’s announcement of its non-participation in the round.

“I still came over because I was hopeful there is a remedy to the impasse. I was praying socio-economic reforms would still be discussed,” Sr. Luz said.

“It does not benefit the Lumad, the Bangsamoro and the poor that finding solutions to the maldistribution of land, destruction of natural resources and other social ills in our country is postponed, even if temporarily,” she added.

Fr. Catral for his part questioned the sincerity of those who cancelled the round.

“How serious are we?  Shouldn’t it be that any attempt for peace be undertaken with utmost sincerity?” the Social Action Commission chairperson of the Archdiocese of Tuguegarao said.

Fr. Catral concelebrated a Holy Mass with Tuguegarao Archbishop Sergio Utleg last May 28 attended by both GRP and NDFP negotiators as well as Royal Norwegian Government officials who are facilitating the talks in this city.

“Be not afraid”

In place of a homily, Archbishop Utleg read the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) statement on the scheduled formal round encouraging the parties to “take bold steps that alone can bring peace.”

“We trust that our negotiators—on both sides—will be anointed by God’s Spirit so that His sons and daughters in this land that has already been drenched by so much blood may at last walk the ways of peace,” the CBCP said.

The CBCP also said both the GRP and the NDFP should “steadfastly stand for social justice and for the renewal of an order that has left too many to wither away in the peripheries.”

It was the first time a Holy Mass was celebrated as part of a formal round of GRP-NDFP talks.

The celebration lightened an obviously tensed atmosphere as the negotiators struggled to find a way around the impasse.

The GRP however eventually said there is no enabling and conducive environment for the fifth round to proceed with the formal round, scuttling the talks a few hours after the Mass.

Reforms over war

“I am personally disappointed that, in an instant, the apparent high hopes displayed by the negotiators after the Mass changed in an instant,” Fr. Catral for his part said.

The priest said he is saddened he failed to observe how the parties would have negotiated for free land distribution, delivery of basic social services and environment protection.

“All the efforts exerted to prepare for this round are wasted,” he added.

Sr. Luz for her part disagreed with the GRP decision, saying those most affected by social inequalities should have the strongest voice in the negotiations.

“The context of the reason given by the GRP Panel is wrong,” the nun said, adding support for the continuation of the formal negotiations is strong among the marginalized sectors.

“I saw how the MARBAI (Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association, Inc.) fought for their land and President Duterte himself supported their struggle.  Why can’t landlessness among the farmers be discussed in the peace negotiations?” she asked.

Both however expressed hope the impasse is temporary.

“I observed that both parties are ready to discuss socio-economic reforms.  Even when the round was officially cancelled, there were still holding meetings to prepare for the resumption of negotiations,” Sr. Luz said.

“I hope the Filipino people show the GRP and the NDFP the depth of their desire for the talks to proceed.  That is the only way the negotiators can take the peace talks more seriously,” Fr. Catral said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

 

 

 

PHOTO ESSAY: Mindanao nuns shed tears for massacre victims

Nighttime at Surigao del Sur’s Sports Center, site of yet another mass evacuation of thousands of Manobos driven from their homes by brutal anti-insurgency campaigns of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.  The province’s Social Hall may be seen in the background (3rd building from the left).

Nighttime at Surigao del Sur’s Sports Center, site of yet another mass evacuation of thousands of Manobos driven from their homes by brutal anti-insurgency campaigns of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The province’s Social Hall may be seen in the background (3rd building from the left).

TANDAG, SURIGAO DEL SUR—For a week, this province’s Social Hall had been a funeral parlor for the victims of the massacre in Sitio Han-Ayan, Barangay Diatogon, Lianga town. Beneath its chandeliers—witnesses to many festive events in the past—laid the three mutilated bodies of Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development (Alcadev) executive director Emerito Samarca, Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang Sa Sumusunod (Mapasu) chairperson Dionel Campos and Datu (Chieftain) Juvello Sinzo. Their joint wake was held here for six days and nights after their brazen murder by paramilitary forces last September 1, incidentally the Global Day of Prayer for All Creation as declared by Pope Francis.

Unusual, yet regular, are the banners over coffins of extra-judicial killing victims in Mindanao, mostly lumads who defend their land from mining plunder, demanding justice.

Unusual, yet regular, are the banners over coffins of extra-judicial killing victims in Mindanao, mostly lumads who defend their land from mining plunder, demanding justice.

Their embalmers obviously tried to conceal the paramilitary Magahat-Bagani Forces’ brutal handiwork to accord the victims a dignified appearance. Samarca’s barong collar was pulled up to his chin to hide his slit throat. Campos’ bullet wound on his forehead was skillfully concealed by cosmetics but his grimace remained. All three had absorbent material bulging from under their shirts to hold what bodily fluids may still seep from their wounds.

Usually a venue for festive events, the province’s Social Hall kept the remains of three massacre victims for almost a week.  It would later also host a four-year-old evacuee who would die mere hours after this tribute concluded.

Usually a venue for festive events, the province’s Social Hall kept the remains of three massacre victims for almost a week. It would later also host a four-year-old evacuee who would die mere hours after this tribute concluded.

The night of September 7 was the last time that Samarca was to stay at his beloved Surigao del Sur, as his remains was to be brought back to his home province of Agusan del Norte the next day. As the city around them prepared for its annual fiesta, hundreds gave the three victims a funeral tribute. As it drizzled outside the hall tears were being shed inside it.

An Alcadev student portrays how they found their school director Samarca in one of the institution’s rooms after he had been taken by the paramilitary.

An Alcadev student portrays how they found their school director Samarca in one of the institution’s rooms after he had been taken by the paramilitary.

Church people led the tribute that started with an ecumenical prayer. Tandag’s Roman Catholic choir sang beautifully, immediately misting the eyes of many in the crowd. Bishops, priests and pastors were seated nearer the white coffins and participated in the program as speakers. Roman Catholic priest and Alcadev board member Fortunato Estillore talked about how the tribal schools must continue. Iglesia Filipina Independiente Bishop Mervin Elimanco passionately condemned the massacre. United Church of Christ in the Philippines Bishop Modesto Villasanta talked about how the elementary Trifps (Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur) and the secondary Alcadev schools upheld the Manobo’s dignity through literacy and defense of their ancestral domain.

The children Mapasu chairperson Dionel Campos orphaned.

The children Mapasu chairperson Dionel Campos orphaned.

The nuns, on the other hand, seated themselves behind the grieving families and with the crowd. They wore different-colored and styled wimples, as they belong to different congregations. In Mindanao they also firmly belong to the people, especially the poor. They were either members of the Sisters’ Association of Mindanao (Samin), the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, or both.

The nuns from different congregations expressing their solidarity to the Lumad.

The nuns from different congregations expressing their solidarity to the Lumad.

They approached grieving families and softly consoled them, even as they themselves were crying. They close their eyes in horror as they listen to witnesses of how Campos, brave lumad organization leader, was shot on his forehead, his brain splattered on land he fiercely defended. They bow their heads in prayer as they listen to Sinzo’s daughter narrate how his chieftain-father had been steadfast against corporate mining despite repeated harassments from both military and paramilitary forces.

A nun comforts the family of one of the victims.

A nun comforts the family of one of the victims.

An elderly nun wipes away her tears as she watches a dramatisation of Samarca's brutal killing.

An elderly nun wipes away her tears as she watches a dramatiZation of Samarca’s brutal killing.

Among the nuns Sr Stella Matutina, OSB appeared to have felt the pain the most. Barely two months before the massacre she attended the International Peoples’ Conference on Mining held in Metro Manila as secretary general of Panalipdan-Mindanao, an island-wide environment group, with Samarca. As Karlgen Samarca narrated how tender and loving his father was to his family and the indigenous peoples and how dedicated he was as Alcadev director she peeled herself away from their group and tried to hide behind a concrete column to weep. Samarca must have been very happy for her when it was announced she would be the recipient of the Wiemar Human Rights Award of Germany in December. He must have offered her support when the Philippine Police harassed her with false serious illegal detention charges earlier this year. They had been close friends and comrades for the environment and indigenous peoples’ rights for decades. “A very good man, very kind and soft-spoken,” Sr. Stella said of her friend.

Sr Estella Matutina, OSB, comrade and friend of the victims.

Sr Stella Matutina, OSB, comrade and friend of the victims.

Sr Stella related how the Manobos of Surigao del Sur were harassed last August 9, International Indigenous Peoples’ Day. She also narrated that the three victims were killed by the Magahat-Bagani Forces and how the thousands were forcibly evacuated on the day that Pope Francis called for a day for prayer for planet Earth. “It was a very nice celebration when the whole world prays. But in the Philippines, we are killing an educator for lumads (indigenous peoples of Mindanao), a lumad leader and a datu (chieftain). What are we telling the world when we are killing educators and defenders of creation?” she asked.

As Karlgen Samarca describes his father’s life and work, Sr Estella weeps for her martyred colleague.

As Karlgen Samarca describes his father’s life and work, Sr Stella weeps for her martyred colleague.

The activist nun called on the faithful to study deeper the root causes of poverty in the predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines. “In the (Church-declared) Year of the Poor this is what happening. We believe in a God of equality and justice. We will not have peace if things like this (the massacre) keep on happening. We must respect indigenous peoples’ rights. We have to be Christians,” Sr Stella said.

Sr Estella being consoled by a Protestant Bishop.

Sr Stella being consoled by a Protestant Bishop.

The tribute ended at half past midnight. As the evacuees stood up to go back to their tents at the nearby evacuation center an elderly nun approached the coffins. She lingered on each, clutching a prayer book. When she turned to leave with the others, her eyes were as wet as the grass blades outside, then already being caressed by the night mist that rolled from the nearby forests. #

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(Text and photos by Raymund B. Villanueva)