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)

Methodist pastor tells UN of PH government harassment using anti-terror law

GENEVA, Switzerland—A Filipina clergy spoke before the ongoing 55th regular session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in this city complaining of trumped up charges against her by the Philippine government using the Philippine Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA, Republic Act No. 11479) of 2020.

United Methodist Church (UMC) Pastor Glofie Baluntong said both the Rodrigo Duterte and Ferdinand Marcos governments use the ATA and other repressive laws in the Philippines to harass human rights defenders

At the UNHRC’s discussion of the report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism Ben Saul last Tuesday, March 12, Baluntong narrated that on June 17, 2019, Philippine National Police forces barged into her church compound in Roxas, Oriental Mindoro without a court-issued warrant, demanding she surrender of Karapatan Southern Tagalog members she was hosting. She was then accused of aiding alleged rebels, she added.

“Since then, I have endured harassment, intrusive visits, and questioning by the Armed Forces (of the Philippines),” she revealed.

Rev. Baluntong, also a member of the National Council of Churches of the Philippines, also told the international body that she was subsequently charged by the Philippine government of attempted murder on August 18, 2021.

“[They cited] an armed encounter that allegedly occurred on March 25 of that year—a day on which I was conducting funeral rites for a departed church member,” Baluntong told the UN.

“I was also wrongfully charged with [violation of] the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, and grave threats from state forces have forced me to flee my town,” she added.

Baluntong’s testimony at the UNHRC discussion followed former senator Leila de Lima’s own intervention via video, narrating her seven-year ordeal as a political prisoner for her opposition to Duterte’s bloody drug war.

Baluntong called upon UN member states, including the Philippines, to heed Saul’s recommendations to ensure that counter-terrorism laws and practices, including efforts to combat terrorism financing, respect human rights.

Baluntong said that governments must make sure they do not curtail the legitimate activities of civil society organizations, impede civic space, or hinder humanitarian endeavours.

“Saul’s report testifies to my own lived experience,” Baluntong said.

United Methodist Church Rev. Glofie Baluntong delivering her oral intervention at the 55th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. (Screengrab from UN TV)

Increasing number of cases

Meanwhile, rights group Karapatan, a member of the Philippine UPR (Universal Periodic Review) delegation attending the ongoing UNHRC session here said at least 27 individuals have been charged by the Philippine government of violating the ATA.

These are in addition to several Islamic groups charged as terrorists groups under the ATA and the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012 (Republic Act No. 10168).

“Charges under ATA against three political prisoners had been dismissed, but they remain in jail due to other trumped up criminal charges.  Eight political prisoners who were detained and faced charges under Republic Act No. 11479 had been released,” Karapatan legal counsel Atty. Ma. Sol Taule said.

The constitutionality of the Philippine Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 had been contested by 47 petitions before the Supreme Court that in turn struck down some of its most questionable provisions.

The high court however deferred judgement on other contested points citing lack of actual injury pending it’s the law’s full implementation.

“There has been no reported conviction under both laws strongly indicating the infirmities of the trumped up charges and of the law itself,” Taule said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

[DISCLOSURE] The reporter is a member of the PH UPR Watch delegation as chairperson of the People’s Alternative Media Network that also spoke with UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression and opinion Irene Khan during her visit to the Philippines earlier this year.