Bishop Reuel Norman O. Marigza, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, said that the human rights situation has gotten worse, even after the UN Human Rights Council approved a resolution on technical assistance and capacity building for the promotion of human rights in the Philippines.
There is, he said, “further constricting of civic and democratic spaces and red-tagging is very prevalent.”
Even churches are not exempted, he added. “Killings and arrests based on trumped-up charges have increased,” he said, and what most concerns him are “the worsening climate of impunity and the shrinking of civic space.”
In fact, the increasing number of human rights violations in the Philippines is spreading so rapidly that it can be compared to COVID-19, Marigza said. “Last December, nine Tumanduk indigenous people were massacred during a police raid and several of their companions were arrested,” he said, and went on to cite many other examples of lawyers, judges, union representatives, human rights advocates, and missionaries who have been attacked, detained, or killed.
“Human rights defenders are slapped with trumped-up charges,” said Marigza. In addition, the accounts and properties of the Home and Altar for Renewal, Action and Nurture Center of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines in Davao City have been frozen, he said, after the center served for many years as a “a sanctuary for indigenous people fleeing from rampant militarization in their communities.”
Marigza added: “The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict has been notorious for red-tagging various organizations and personalities including churches and church people.”
Churches are speaking up, he said, as is the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform, which has expressed concern over the increasing culture of violence and death, and has called for resumption of peace negotiations between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.
“We call on churches worldwide to be in solidarity with the Filipino people in the quest for justice and accountability in our country,” said Marigza. “In particular, churches can call on their respective governments to review development assistance to the Philippine government especially when such aid exacerbates rather than stops the prevalent violations of human rights.”
Churches across the world can ask their governments to review security cooperation with the Philippine government, particularly in the fight against terrorism, and ensure that they do not support a national security policy that exacerbates the violations of human rights, Marigza suggested. “They can also lobby the UN Human Rights Council to establish an on-the-ground independent, impartial investigation into human rights violations in the Philippines,” he said.
Along with other faith-based and civic groups, including the World Council of Churches, the National Council of Churches in the Philippines supports the findings of INVESTIGATE PH, an initiative of peoples from all over the world concerned about the state of human rights in the Philippines.
In a report published 15 March 2021, INVESTIGATE PH documents ongoing violations of civil and political rights, including extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearance of human rights defenders. Violations of the freedom of the press are also cited, as are abuses within the COVID-19 pandemic response.
In the foreword of the report, Peter Murphy, chairperson of the INVESTIGATE PH Core Working Group, echoed Marigza’s call for the international community to get involved. “We urge the international community – both civil society and governments – to read these reports when they are published and to draw their own conclusions about the credibility of the claims by the Philippine government that existing mechanisms uphold the human rights of the Filipino people,” writes Murphy. “We urge the international community to engage with the dire situation we have found and to take appropriate action to support the Filipino people in these heavy times.”