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Rise Up founder receives global peace award

A Filipina deaconess has won the 2024 Peace Award given by the World Methodist Council (WMC) for her courageous work on human rights and justice in the Philippines.

United Methodist Church (UMC) deaconess Norma Dollaga, Kapatirang Simbahan Para sa Bayan (Church Brother/Sisterhood for the People) secretary general, has been honored for her decades of heroic peace work in her conflict-ridden homeland, also becoming an outspoken advocate for the victims of drug-related killings.

“She and other courageous faith leaders refused to be intimidated by then President Rodrigo Duterte and other government officials who villainized church leaders and others who spoke for the poor,” the WMC said in its announcement.

The global church council added that Dollaga organized prayer vigils and memorial services for those killed by assassins regarded as working in accordance with Duterte’s order to summarily kill suspected drug dependents and personalities.

“As can be seen in her founding of Rise Up for Life and Rights, Dollaga has developed a knack for empowering others to join the struggle for justice and peace,” the WMC added.

Founded in 1976, the WMC Peace Award honors courage, creativity and consistency and given to recipients who live and work in areas where the concern for peace is of great consequence.

Dollaga is the second Filipina to earn the award, after Joy Balazo who was honored in 2012.

Former recipients of the WMC Peace Award include Nobel Laureate Nelson Mandela, US President Jimmy Carter, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan and other global as well as community leaders.

World Methodist Council 2024 Peace Award recipient deaconess Norma Dolla (center) in a rally in Manila. (From Dollaga’s FB account)

WHO IS DEACONESS NORMA DOLLAGA? READ: War against the poor in the Philippines

‘Nervous recipient’

In a message to well-wishers, Dollaga said she is nervous about the award as it means deeper responsibilities for her.

“On behalf of the people’s struggle and hope, and the name of many martyrs who offered their lives in loving God and neighbor, activists who risked their lives in carrying on the struggle for justice and peace, I accept the recognition,” she nonetheless said.

Dollaga also said she accepts the award in honor of those “who unlearned the ways of giving up and carry on with the Mission so that the world will become a home for everyone.”

Dollaga added she also shares the award with her officemates, fellow deaconess and Rise Up coordinator Rubilyn Litao, Leah Valencia, and missionary Becca Lawson.

“Whenever we sent out feet in communities of farmers and indigenous peoples, in prisons where human rights defenders are incarcerated, in urban poor communities, picket lines, homes of the orphans and widows whose loved ones were killed by the war on drugs and others martyred as they fight for justice, we experience the Great Communion,” the awardee added.

United Methodist Church deaconess Norma Dollaga, World Methodist Council 2024 Peace Award recipient. (Photo from Dollaga’sFacebook account.)

A deaconess since her graduation from Harris Memorial College in 1985, Dollaga was appointed by the Philippines Central Conference of the UMC in 2000 to head Kasimbayan, also known as the Ecumenical Center for Development.

As the organization’s general secretary, she has helped shepherd ecumenical groups and networks focusing on human rights and peace such as Rise Up, humanitarian assistanace program Dambana, and alliance of Catholic and Protestant church leaders advocating for human rights and good governance called One Voice.

Dollaga  is also a member of the UMC Commission On Deaconess Service.

“In her decades of church service, Dollaga has become an inspiring model for younger deaconesses interested in deepening their Wesleyan witness to personal and social holiness within the Philippines. She frequently teaches classes and leads seminars as a member of the faculty at Harris Memorial College,” the WMC citation reads. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Rights defenders ask UN: ‘Probe alarming record of Marcos gov’t’

A group of Filipino human rights advocates are in Geneva, Switzerland to attend the ongoing 54th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and seek an evaluation of the United Nations Joint Program (UNJP) being implemented in the Philippines.

A delegation of the Philippine UPR (Universal Periodic Review) Watch said the UN must conduct a comprehensive, relevant and participatory evaluation of the program as it is failing to improve the human rights situation in the country.

The UNJP is also unable to significantly address continuing human rights violations in the Philippines with the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. presidency virtually indistinguishable from the Rodrigo Duterte regime in terms of red-tagging, weaponization of laws and the people’s worsening poverty.

“PH UPR Watch calls on the UNHRC to seriously look at the alarming human rights record of the Marcos Jr. administration and the harmful policies perpetuating it,” the PH UPR Watch in a statement said.

The delegation said the Marcos government is abusing the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 and the anti-terrorism financing law in persecuting critics even as the UNJP is being implemented by the UN, the Philippine government and private sector stakeholders.

Launched in 2021, the UNJP is an attempt to help the Philippine government in realizing its responsibilities in recognizing and upholding human rights.

The program conducts trainings and dialogues with the military, police and various government agencies on human rights and international humanitarian law in partnership with the Commission on Human Rights and civil society groups.

The Duterte government agreed to the program in place of a full investigation as recommended by the UNHRC following an Iceland-sponsored resolution in 2019 to probe into thousands of deaths resulting from the so-called drug war in the Philippines.

PH UPR Watch however said that there had been no significant improvement on the human rights situation in the Philippines even after three years of UNJP implementation, evidenced by the worsening weaponization of laws and incessant red-tagging by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict of critics and political dissenters.

The delegation also complains of an ongoing wholesale violation of the Filipino people’s economic rights as shown by uncontrolled rise in the prices of oil products and basic food items.

The PH UPR Watch delegation at the UNHRC’s 54th Session is composed of representatives from Karapatan, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, National Council of Churches in the Philippines, United Church of Christ in the Philippines, Alliance of Concerned Teachers, Rise Up for Life and for Rights, and the KATRIBU – Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas.

The group will engage in dialogues with various UN special rapporteurs and country representatives as well as present their findings before the UNHRC to shed light on widespread human rights violations. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Church worker in UN reveals continuing rights violations in the PH

GENEVA, Switzerland–A protestant church worker revealed continuing human rights violations in the Philippines under the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. government at the ongoing United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC) in this city.

National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) program secretary for Faith, Witness and Service Mervin Sol Toquero reported before the international body that there had been 223 drug-related killings since July 2022, the start of the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. administration.

“There is very minimal accountability for perpetrators since the time of President Rodrigo Duterte,” Toquero said.

Toquero said they are alarmed that human rights defenders, including church people and humanitarian workers, are also targeted under the country’s anti-terrorism and related laws.

He cited the case of United Methodist Church minister Glofie Baluntong who had been “falsely accused” of attempted murder as well as charged under the Anti-Terrorism Act.

He also mentioned the case of NCCP staff member and land and environment defender Peti Enriquez who has been charged for alleged violations of the International Humanitarian Law.

The Philippine government mission was absent at the Council session when Toquero spoke,

Toquero appealed to the UNHRC to call on the Philippine government to enact the Human Rights Defenders Bill pending before the Philippine Congress.

The Human Rights Committee of the House of Representatives has recently approved the measure for the third time in two decades but is yet to be approved by its plenary and the Senate.

Toquero also asked the UN to call on the Philippine government to repeal the Anti-Terrorism Act “as it endangers human rights defenders.” 

“Relatedly, we ask this Council to continue urging the Philippine Government to cooperate with the ICC (International Criminal Court) as this would provide viable accountability mechanisms and combat impunity,” Toquero said.

The Philippine UPR Watch is participating in the ongoing 52nd Regular Session of the UN HRC’s adoptions of the recommendations made during the 4th UPR on the Philippines last November.

The Philippine government is expected to accept 215 of the 289 recommendations by UN member states, choosing however to reject substantial proposals such as rejoining the International Criminal Court, putting a stop to red-tagging and repeal of laws that are “weaponized” against rights defenders, church workers, journalists such as the Anti-Terrorism Act and Libel/Cyber-Libel.

The NCCP is a co-convenor of the Philippine UPR Watch. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Bolinget seeks NBI protection vs PNP shoot-to-kill order

Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA) chairperson Windel Bolinget has sought the protection of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) against a shoot-to-kill order against him by the Philippine National Police (PNP) in the region, his group announced.

“Bolinget has voluntarily submitted to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) earlier today, Jan. 21, for security while proving his innocence from the fabricated case he is charged with,” the CPA said Thursday.

A shoot-to-kill order had been issued against the prominent Igorot activist by PNP Cordillera commander R’win Pagkalinawan last Wednesday.

“Shoot to kill if nanlaban (he fights back),” Pagkalinawan said in a text message to reporters.

The PNP in Kalinga also announced a PhP100,000 bounty for information on the activist’s whereabouts.

The CPA said Bolinget’s decision to submit himself to the NBI was made as it was clear the police and Pagkalinawan “didn’t have any intention to observe due process.”

The CPA said Bolinget is not admitting guilt for the “fabricated charge” but to have full access to all legal services in challenging the charge while under NBI’s protective custody.

“We challenge the state security forces to show the same integrity and adhere to the rule of law,” the CPA said.

Bolinget and 10 others had been charged with murder by the Office of the Provincial prosecutor of Davao del Norte, at the southern part of the country, for their alleged involvement in the killing of Garito Malibato, a member of a local indigenous peoples’ organization called Karadyawan, in March 2018.

The CPA and human rights group Front Line Defenders earlier said the murder charge appears to be fabricated as Bolinget has never been to Barangay Gupitan, Kapalong, Davao del Norte where Malibato was murdered.

The group added that local indigenous organizations pointed to the paramilitary group Alamara as the real perpetrators of the murder.

“Further, a relative of the victim also expressed that Malibato had received several death threats from the same paramilitary group before he was killed,” FLD said.

Other groups also denounced Pagkalinawan’s order against Bolinget.

“Again the militarists are operating with trigger happy fingers with this kind of order.  They are now trying to condition the minds of the people that Windel will most likely resist arrest or ‘manlaban.’ Thus, such an order is justified,” the Bayan Muna Party said in a statement.

The National Council of Churches of the Philippines for its part called for the withdrawal of the charges against Bolinget as well as an end to the harassment and red tagging of indigenous activists.

“This most recent manufactured case against Mr Bolinget is part of a long history of harassment and intimidation including red-tagging, that is being conducted by elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and PNP against Mr Bolinget and other indigenous activists and human rights defenders,” NCCP said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Protestants’ Lenten call to Duterte: Care and compassion, not bullets

The country’s biggest group of Protestant churches urged President Rodrigo Duterte to feel care and compassion for the poor affected by his government’s island-wide lockdown due to the corona virus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.

In its Lenten call to the president, the National Council of Churches of the Philippines (NCCP) said that the pandemic is a health crisis and that Duterte’s threat to arrest and shoot the desperate and hungry is uncalled for.

“Callous remarks and threats are not what are needed right now, especially as Holy Week is fast approaching. What is needed is food,” NCCP General Secretary Bishop Reuel Norman O. Marigza said.

The group of the Philippines’ mainline Protestant churches was reacting to Duterte’s surprise televised address Wednesday when he threatened he will order his police to shoot rioters.

Alam mo, we are ready for you. Gulo o barilan o patayan. I will not hesitate [to order] my soldiers to shoot you. I will not hesitate to order the police to arrest and detain you,” Duterte said. (Disorder, gunfight or killings.)

“My orders are, sa pulis pati military, pati mga barangay na pagka ginulo at nagkaroon ng okasyon na lumaban at ang buhay ninyo ay nalagay sa alanganin, shoot them dead,” Duterte added. (To the police, military and the village officials, that if there is disorder and there is resistance and your lives are put in danger, shoot them dead.)

“Naintindihan ninyo? Patay. Eh kaysa mag-gulo kayo diyan, eh ‘di ilibing ko na kayo. Ah ‘yung libing, akin ‘yan. Huwag ninyo subukan ang gobyerno kasi itong gobyerno na ito hindi inutil,” the president also said. (Do you understand? Dead. If there is disorder, I might as well bury you all. The burial is on me. Do not test the government, because this government is not inutile.)

Duterte was reacting to urban poor residents in Quezon City who were asking for food assistance after being put out of work since the government’s Luzon-wide lockdown started in March 15.

Officers of the Philippine National Police swooped down on the gathering and arrested 21 of the residents they allege refused to return to their hovels inside Sitio San Roque.

The residents later told reporters they were waiting for the food aid package they were promised by some local and national officials who were present in the area.

Later reports also clarified that the residents were not conducting a protest rally.

The NCCP said it is saddened and appalled with Duterte’s treatment of the people’s growing unrest brought by hunger amid the lockdown.

“The order of the President to ‘shoot those causing riot’ is sending a message that the government lacks genuine concern for our poor sisters and brothers who are growing desperate every day from hunger,” Marigza said.

Marigza added that it takes extreme conditions like hunger for people to brave the threat of Covid-19 and it was not for lack of discipline or being uncooperative.

“The people of San Roque simply need to survive. Going out in the streets is their desperate measure to call out the government that they are hungry. But instead of listening to their demands, they were met with violence and some were even arrested,” the prelate explained.

“What happened in San Roque is a painful proof that it is the poor who always suffer in any crisis such as now. The incident shows that enhanced community quarantine, without proper economic support to those severely affected, will not work,” Marigza added.

 Marigza said the residents of San Roque, located across NCPP’s headquarters along Epifanio delos Santos Avenue, had long been struggling on a daily basis and deprived of basic social services even before the pandemic.

Originally part of a massive park project when Quezon City was created as the Philippines’ new capital during the American Commonwealth period, the area became a resettlement destination for victims of demolitions in Manila and Pasay cities.

Demolitions of the residents’ houses started when developments for a new Quezon City Business District in the area commenced. Remaining residents in Sitio San Roque refused relocation sites they described as “danger-prone areas” such as those in Rodriguez, Rizal.

“How do we want them to respond to a government measure that will make their already difficult lives even much harder?” Marigza asked.

The NCCP leader also raised concern over the government’s “fixation on arrests and imprisonment” in a time of a public health crisis.

He pointed out reports that more than 17,000 people arrested while there are around only 3,000 who were tested for COVID 19.

“Mass testing and a systematic distribution of food and other assistance are imperative right now. Again, our Lenten call, test more people and help the poor, do not arrest or shoot them,” Marigza said.

The country’s biggest group of Protestant churches urged President Rodrigo Duterte to feel care and compassion for the poor affected by his government’s island-wide lockdown due to the corona virus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.

In its Lenten call to the president, the National Council of Churches of the Philippines (NCCP) said that the pandemic is a health crisis and that Duterte’s threat to arrest and shoot the desperate and hungry is uncalled for.

“Callous remarks and threats are not what are needed right now, especially as Holy Week is fast approaching. What is needed is food,” NCPP General Secretary said Bishop Reuel Norman O. Marigza.

The group of the Philippines’ mainline Protestant churches was reacting to Duterte’s surprise televised address Wednesday when he threatened he will order his police to shoot rioters.

Alam mo, we are ready for you. Gulo o barilan o patayan. I will not hesitate [to order] my soldiers to shoot you. I will not hesitate to order the police to arrest and detain you,” Duterte said. (Disorder, gunfight or killings.)

“My orders are, sa pulis pati military, pati mga barangay na pagka ginulo at nagkaroon ng okasyon na lumaban at ang buhay ninyo ay nalagay sa alanganin, shoot them dead,” Duterte added. (To the police, military and the village officials, that if there is disorder and there is resistance and your lives are put in danger, shoot them dead.)

“Naintindihan ninyo? Patay. Eh kaysa mag-gulo kayo diyan, eh ‘di ilibing ko na kayo. Ah ‘yung libing, akin ‘yan. Huwag ninyo subukan ang gobyerno kasi itong gobyerno na ito hindi inutil,” the president also said. (Do you understand? Dead. If there is disorder, I might as well bury you all. The burial is on me. Do not test the government, because this government is not inutile.)

Duterte was reacting to urban poor residents in Quezon City who were asking for food assistance after being put out of work since the government’s Luzon-wide lockdown started in March 15.

Officers of the Philippine National Police swooped down on the gathering and arrested 21 of the residents they allege refused to return to their hovels inside Sitio San Roque.

The residents later told reporters they were waiting for the food aid package they were promised by some local and national officials who were present in the area.

Later reports also clarified that the residents were not conducting a protest rally.

The NCCP said it is saddened and appalled with Duterte’s treatment of the people’s growing unrest brought by hunger amid the lockdown.

“The order of the President to ‘shoot those causing riot’ is sending a message that the government lacks genuine concern for our poor sisters and brothers who are growing desperate every day from hunger,” Marigza said.

Marigza added that it takes extreme conditions like hunger for people to brave the threat of Covid-19 and it was not for lack of discipline or being uncooperative.

“The people of San Roque simply need to survive. Going out in the streets is their desperate measure to call out the government that they are hungry. But instead of listening to their demands, they were met with violence and some were even arrested,” the prelate explained.

“What happened in San Roque is a painful proof that it is the poor who always suffer in any crisis such as now. The incident shows that enhanced community quarantine, without proper economic support to those severely affected, will not work,” Marigza added.

 Marigza said the residents of San Roque, located across NCPP’s headquarters along Epifanio delos Santos Avenue, had long been struggling on a daily basis and deprived of basic social services even before the pandemic.

Originally part of a massive park project when Quezon City was created as the Philippines’ new capital during the American Commonwealth period, the area became a resettlement destination for victims of demolitions in Manila and Pasay cities.

Demolitions of the residents’ houses started when developments for a new Quezon City Business District in the area commenced. Remaining residents in Sitio San Roque refused relocation sites they described as “danger-prone areas” such as those in Rodriguez, Rizal.

“How do we want them to respond to a government measure that will make their already difficult lives even much harder?” Marigza asked.

The NCCP leader also raised concern over the government’s “fixation on arrests and imprisonment” in a time of a public health crisis.

He pointed out reports that more than 17,000 people arrested while there are around only 3,000 who were tested for COVID 19.

“Mass testing and a systematic distribution of food and other assistance are imperative right now. Again, our Lenten call, test more people and help the poor, do not arrest or shoot them,” Marigza said.

The mass arrest and Duterte’s speech made the hashtag #OustDuterte the top trend on Twitter for more than 24 hours since Wednesday. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Public Forum on the BBL

Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal speaks at a public forum on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). The event was organized by the Moro-Christian Peoples Alliance (MCPA), Pilgrim for Peace and the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP).

Mamasapano tragedy: Gabi ng pagluluksa at paghahanap ng katotohanan

Promotion of Church People’s Response condoles with the families of the PNP officers and MILF and BIFF elements whose untimely deaths occurred in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, due to unresolved armed conflict in the country. They offer prayers for nations that will unearth the root cause of this tragedy with prudence and wisdom.

NCCP, Edsa
January 30, 2015

BAYAN MUNA CALLS FOR THOROUGH INVESTIGATION OF PURISIMA, AQUINO AND U.S. HANDS ON THE BLOODY MAMASAPANO POLICE FIASCO

As reports linking US operatives to Mamasapano incident surface

Bayan Muna Reps. Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate today said that as reports linking US operatives on the botched operation in Mamasapano are surfacing left and right thus it is imperative that a thorough investigation be launched by Congress to get to the truth.

President Aquino’s not admitting until now his responsibility, not telling the whole truth and passing the blame of the most bloody police fiasco to the commander of SAF is unacceptable and reprehensible. It is a vain attempt to hide the whole truth, especially his, Purisima’s and the US’ role in the botched operation to escape accountability.

As it is, newspaper reports say that agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and ranking Filipino police officials planned a secret operation aimed at getting a notorious international terrorist, a source who declined to be identified told the Inquirer.

The source said the target was on Washington’s list of priority terrorists: Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” who had a $5-million price then on his head. The bounty was later raised to $6 million.

Based on the reports, a former ranking police official in Central Mindanao, claimed that during the meeting, which he attended, the FBI agents shared an intelligence report on the exact whereabouts of Marwan and another terrorist, Filipino Abdul Basit Usman.

The source said the Americans were certain about their intelligence data because it was provided by a mole from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
“They were paid cash in exchange for the information,” the source said.

The source said the FBI agents validated the information relayed to them by their mole through the use of “drones and global positioning system.“We can even see the hideout of their target,” he said.

During the meeting, it was decided that those involved in the operation would not share information with any other government agencies “to prevent a leak of the plan. They will only coordinate with other government troops—posted along the highway—on their way to their mission,” he added.

“Ito ang nakakalungkot dito ang US ang nagplano at ipinahamak ang mga SAF. Matapos ibala sa kanyon ang mga SAF pa ang may kasalanan sa pagkasawi nila,” said Rep. Colmenares

“This is one of our fears when the Philippines entered the Visiting Forces Agreements (VFA) and now the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) we are dragged into their fights and battle plans under the heading Target of US enemies. Filipinos are the ones dying for the US to get what they want. Worse because we are now seen as part of US military operations against its enemies, we also become a target of attacks by the enemies of the US. This should really be investigated and adds to the numerous reasons why these treaties should be junked,” added Senior Deputy Minority Leader Colmenares.

“Malala pa ay Si Pres. Aquino ay naghuhugas kamay at hindi ipinaliwanag kung bakit di pinaalam ang operasyon sa DILG Secretary at PNP chief. Ito ay patunay na totoo nga na si Gen.Purisima ang nagcommand ng operations.May pananagutan si Pres. Aquino sa ginawa nyang pag utos sa operasyon at pagdefy sa order ng Ombudsman na suspendido si Purisima at sa talumpati pa niya ngayon ay lalo lang nagalit sa kanya ang mga kamag-anak at kaibigan ng mga nasawi maging ang sambayanang Filipino,” he added.

“As for his part Rep. Zarate said that “even as other government agencies will conduct their own probes of the incident, Congress must also conduct a thorough investigation, since it appears that there was breakdown in the established mechanisms agreed upon by the GPH and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as well as to see the veracity of reports that US agents or troops were also in the area after the incident,”

“There are more questions now than when this was exposed. As for example, if SAF commander keep on insisting that Operation Wolverine is very much alike the US operation to get Osama bin Laden then he has already admitted that this botched operation has US backing, support and participation. Another question is how are we certain that the US agents seen in the evacuation of the dead and wounded SAF did not take the supposed body of Marwan or his cut finger for them to test for his DNA? These are just few of the questions that have to be answered for us to get to the truth,” ended Rep. Zarate. ###