Mervin Toquero, programme secretary of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, addressed the Human Rights Council on behalf of The Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches on 22 March.
“Drug-related killings continue with impunity under the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos. Jr with 223 victims since July 2022. There is also very minimal accountability for perpetrators since the time of President Rodrigo Duterte,” said Toquero.
Human rights defenders including church people and humanitarian workers are being targeted under the Anti-Terrorism Law and other related laws, noted Toquero. “Rev. Glofie Baluntong, ordained clergy of the United Methodist Church and a humanitarian worker, has been falsely accused of attempted murder and in violation of the Anti-Terrorism Act. Similarly, Ms Peti Enriquez, a staff member of the NCCP and, a land and environment defender, has been falsely charged with violations of the International Humanitarian Law.”
Thus National Council of Churches in the Philippines appealed to the Human Rights Council to call on the Philippine Government to enact the Human Rights Defenders Bill and to repeal the Anti-Terrorism Act as it endangers human rights defenders.
“We ask this Council to continue urging the Philippine Government to cooperate with the International Criminal Court as this would provide viable accountability mechanisms and combat impunity,” appealed the statement.
Co-sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the side-event “Human Rights in the Philippines” at the 52nd session of the Human Rights Council on 23 March highlighted the particularly challenging situation of the human rights defenders in Philippines.
The panelists included also Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan; Edre Olalia, chairperson of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers; and April Dyan Gumanao, abduction survivor and coordinator of Alliance of Concerned Teachers.
Anti-terrorism act and similar laws has been used to target human rights defenders, including pastors and church members, and assets of church-based organizations and programsare being frozen, noted Mervin Toquero during the panel. “This shows how Philippines government uses the laws against its own people.”
“As part of the ecumenical movement, we are asking the international community to intervene, calling on the government of Philippines to address the issue of human rights violations and protect the human rights defenders,” said Toquero.
But even amidst the grim realities for human rights defenders in Philippines, churches keep up the hope. “As a church person I am always hopeful. Together with others who are thinking similarly, we can make our hope a reality,” concluded Toquero.