GENEVA, JUNE 7 – In a clear signal of continuing solidarity with the churches and human rights defenders in the Philippines, the World Council of Churches through its Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA-WCC) invited the delegation of the Ecumenical Voice for Peace and Human Rights in the Philippines (EVPHRP) to speak before an audience at the WCC headquarters here.
In welcoming the delegation, Dr. Mathews George Chunakara, Director of CCIA-WCC said the WCC has supported the human rights work in the Philippines “for as long as I can remember” and will continue to do so for as long as human rights violations go on. He said the WCC, through its General Secretary, is one of the international organizations that issued statements in support of the call for the release of forty three health workers who were arrested on February 6. He noted the strong partnership between the churches in the Philippines and non-government organizations that take a principled stand on human rights protection. Also, lending support was Ms. Christina Papazoglou, WCC’s Programe Executive for Human Rights.
A highlight of the presentation of the EVPHRP was the case of the illegal arrest, torture and continuing detention of the 43 health workers, more popularly known as the Morong 43. Mr. Jigs Clamor, a member of the delegation and husband of one of the medical doctors of the Morong 43, narrated how his family suffered and continues to suffer while his wife is under detention. He said his wife was told by the military officers of reprisals to her family unless she admits that she and the others are members of the New People’s Army. “This is the same story with the families of the other detainees,” Clamor said. For six days following their arrest, the Philippine Army denied them visitorial rights by their families and legal counsel. He thanked the WCC for calling for the release of the health workers.
Ms. Marie Hilao-Enriquez, Chairperson of the Philippine human rights watchdog, KARAPATAN, and a victim of torture during the Martial Law years, said that international pressure is important for human rights work in the Philippines. The number of victims shoots up, each time nobody is watching, she said. Atty. Edre Olalia, acting Secretary General of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) and a legal counsel of the Morong 43 discussed briefly the legal twist and turns they are confronted with amidst the impunity. All kinds of human rights violations at every juncture were heaped on the Morong 43 , he said as he enumerated the extensive grounds for citing the arrest and detention as illegal.
For his part, Fr. Rex Reyes, Jr., General Secretary of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, underscored the necessity of living out the words of Jesus Christ who said “I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly”. He said the defense of human rights goes beyond political boundaries as, in the process, one speaks and declares hope where it seems not to exist. He underscored the need to affirm the church’s self-understanding as being for and with people. “We do our best to preserve human dignity in that part of the world, conscious of the fact that we are your representatives there. It is an ecumenical task”, Reyes said as he reiterated the WCC’s definition of ecumenism. He thanked the WCC for its unwavering accompaniment to the churches in the Philippines.
Following the session, the delegation paid a call on WCC General Secretary Dr. Olav Fykes Tveit. In welcoming the delegation, Dr. Tveit expressed the WCC’s support to the work of the churches for the defense of human dignity and assured the delegation of his continuing interest on the case of the Morong 43. The delegation is in Geneva to attend the 14th Session of the UN Human Rights Council. ###
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