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Our Hearts Weep for Justice! Defend Negros! (Statement in response to attacks on partners in Negros)

Our Hearts weep for justice! Defend Negros!

The UMC California-Pacific Philippines Task Force is gravely alarmed about the illegal raids of community organization offices and the illegal arrest and detention of more than 50 farmers and human rights activists in Bacolod City, Negros, today in the Philippines. We amplify the calls of our beloved brothers and sisters in the Philippines for the immediate and unconditional release and dropping of the fabricated charges of all arrested.

Members of our Task Force visited Negros as part of the World Council of Churches Pilgrimage for Justice and Peace in August. During the Pilgrimage we met leaders and members from the National Federation of Sugar Workers and other people’s organizations.

We witnessed first-hand the courage of farmers and human rights workers who are risking their own lives to farm their land for their families, and to free those who are illegally imprisoned in their efforts to stop the killings of innocent people.

We heard testimony after testimony from family members whose loved ones had been killed across the island of Negros in operations of the Philippine police and armed forces, many who were agricultural workers and poor farmers.

We met with human rights defenders and church leaders who continue to risk their lives to meet the needs of the community, to document their stories, and try to tend to the needs God’s beloved children. They were consistently met with harassment, surveillance, death threats and reports of their friends, community members, and coworkers being arrested or murdered.

The reports of simultaneous raids on the regional offices of progressive organizations BAYAN MUNA, GABRIELA, and the National Federation of Sugar Workers by multiple state forces, including both the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines and arrest of over 50 farmers and human rights defenders, reached us this morning as we woke.

UMC Deaconess Sharon McCart reflected: “This morning we learned that some of the human rights defenders we met were among a group illegally arrested. They have been red-tagged, a common practice by the government to try to justify this kind of arrest we learned while there. People who are helping the poor and oppressed are labelled “communists” while the government fails to serve that segment of their own population.”

The reports of planted weapons in the midst of arrest were not new or surprising. It is a practice we have heard over and over again in our near decade of solidarity work in the Philippines from both human rights defenders, church workers, and lawyers and in meeting with political detainees behind bars in pastoral solidarity visits.

McCart continued: “This is in fact a way of ensuring that a fascist dictatorship can continue. When people who resist a government guilty of egregious human rights violations are arrested en masse, when lawyers like Attorney Ben Ramos are shot and killed for standing up for the rights of the poor, when people live in fear when their only “crime” is trying to feed their families, all so big corporations and the government can profit financially, it is time to speak up! And so, I am!”

Even as the crackdowns and killings have worsened since President Duterte issued Memorandum Order 32, or the order to attack activists in Negros, Samar and Bicol, human rights defenders have continued in their work.

Rev. Janet McKeithen, member of the pilgrim team that visited Negros said “The situation in Negros is unconscionable! The people in poverty are being harassed, imprisoned and killed and those trying to help them (at risk of their own lives) are being removed. The people working for human rights are not terrorists! They are people of compassion and people of courage who are willing to risk their own lives to help someone else! And for this they are imprisoned or killed. And what’s worse is that there is no recourse at all! None! There is no dissension allowed in this dictatorship.”

McKeithen continued: “Our (US) tax dollars are supporting this crackdown and illegal arrests by funding the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police. It has to stop! As people of faith we must support these precious sisters and brothers in the Philippines. They have no recourse. Our voices and actions are needed now!”

As United Methodists, our Social Principles read: “We hold governments responsible for the protection of the rights of the people… to the freedoms of speech, religion, assembly, communications media, and petition for redress of grievances without fear of reprisal; to the right to privacy; and to the guarantee of the rights to adequate food, clothing, shelter, education, and health care…We also strongly reject domestic surveillance and intimidation of political opponents by governments in power and all other misuses of elective or appointive offices. The use of detention and imprisonment for the harassment and elimination of political opponents or other dissidents violates fundamental human rights.” (UMC Social Principles Political Community Basic Freedom and Human Rights)

“As United Methodist here in the United States, who visited Negros this past August, we are growing deeply concerned with the daily reports of human rights violations from our brothers and sisters in Negros while our tax dollars are poured into funding the Philippine government. We are all part of the family of Christ, and as Christians here in the United States, we cannot quietly sit by anymore”, said Joy Prim, chair UMC Cal-Pac Justice and Compassion EMT and member of the Negros team.

Prim lamented: “As we condemn these attacks, we assert the right of organizations and individuals to continue with their organizing and advocacy work. We will continue in our work alongside our partners in Negros and throughout the Philippines to ensure that NOT one US tax dollar is used to fund human rights violations, that all illegally arrested are unconditionally released and to ensure that justice and peace prevail.”