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[IRL] MARTYRS FOR OUR TIME: TAKE US TO CHURCH

By Menchu Aquino Sarmiento


Recently, when typhoons and widespread flooding caused a mass exodus in certain parts of Mindanao, many evacuees found shelter inside the chapels of non-Catholic denominations such as the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), the Baptists, Methodists and the Aglipays (Philippine Independent Church), while the larger properties of the Roman Catholic Church were securely padlocked against the wet huddled masses. Asked why there was no room at the inn for God’s people in need, one Catholic priest had explained, “Hindi naman kami Christian.”


In reality, many Catholic nuns, priests and catechists courageously and selflessly act with a “preferential option for the poor.” At the start of the pandemic, the Tayuman Barangay captain repeatedly shut down the SVD’s Arnold Janssen KALINGA (Kain-Ligo ng Ayos) Center. Its street dweller clients were considered embodiments of the virus, not as human beings deserving dignified services. Fortunately, other Catholic entities, i.e., De La Salle University-Taft, St. Scholastica’s Tahanan ni San Benito, and the Espiritu Santo, Paco and Malate Catholic Schools opened their doors to these poorest of the poor.


Whether Christian or Catholic, the mainstream Church allies with the poor. According to the Church People-Workers Solidarity, as of Oct. 2020, the Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) documented 333 cases of killings of peasants, farmworkers and fisherfolk under the Duterte Administration. Workers’ rights are violated with impunity: sugar workers in a plantation run by the billionaire Lorenzo Family-owned Green Future Innovations are paid an inhumane FIFTEEN PESOS a DAY (P15/day).


PRRD was just talking about cancelling the peace talks in November 2017, when Perfecto Hoyle, 60, a peasant leader and lay pastor of the United Churches of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) in Agusan del Norte was gunned down by two masked men. He had been red-tagged as a member of the NPA. The 29th Infantry Batallion was encamped in the vicinity of Hoyle’s murder. The killers stayed by Hoyle’s body through the night, intimidating any of his family from retrieving his body. Since the peace talks were officially cancelled, violence has escalated against peasant and lumad leaders in the countryside, and also against the Church people in solidarity with them.


Two weeks after Pastor Hoyle’s murder, the police regional mobile force killed Rev. Lovelito Quiñones of the Kings Glory Ministry in Mansalay, Oriental Mindoro, for being an active member of the New People’s Army. However, Rev. Quiñones did not die in an encounter, but just five minutes away from his home. His family and friends claimed the police had planted the gun, supposedly found on him. There was no gunpowder residue on his hands.


The very next day, on Dec. 4, 2017, 72 year-old Fr. Marcelito Paez was ambushed and shot 9 times by unidentified assassins. Fr. Tito had just facilitated the release of a peasant organizer. He was retired from his priestly duties but was still the Central Luzon coordinator for the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) which advocates for the peasants and the lumad. Ten bishops and a hundred priests concelebrated Fr. Tito’s funeral mass. The new papal nuncio, Archbishop Gabriele Giordano Caccia, was there to represent Pope Francis’ “silent, loving, and prayerful presence." The casket was set directly on the floor to symbolize Fr. Tito’s closeness to the humblest among his flock. To symbolize martyrdom, the priests wore red stoles over their white soutanes, instead of the traditional purple. The congregation sang Bayan Ko and Pilipinas Kong Mahal.


Meanwhile, the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act (R.A. 10168) has frozen the bank accounts of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines and the United Church of Christ in the Philippines. On the eve of PRRD’s last SONA, the RMP and the UCCP issued statements. The UCCP bore witness to how the State under PRRD “systematically stifled people’s right to health and security, especially when the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the nation since March 2020. Millions of families who live on subsistence wages or lead a hand-to-mouth existence, lost their jobs or means of livelihood. . . In an economically depressed situation, the State impeded people’s right to gainful employment. These are among the abominable acts of the present Duterte government.” The UCCP has documented 226 cases of human rights violations since 2016, including those EJK’d and unjustly imprisoned by this regime, as well as 196 victims of red-tagging and the vilification of church leaders.

The RMP declared that they “will not be silenced as this Government becomes more and more oppressive, as the poor are made prey to a development aggression which only benefits the rich, including those who sit in positions of authority in the country. At this SONA, we lend our voices to all those calling for an end to Duterte’s tyranny. We demand justice, strong in the assurance that ‘the wicked will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb. . . for the Lord loves justice and will never forsake his faithful ones.’” (Ps 37: 1, 28)

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Menchu Aquino Sarmiento is an award-winning writer and a social concerns advocate. IRL (In Real Life) are short verbal pagmumuni-muni, the essay equivalent of fast fiction--but in real life. She really wants more Filipinos to care, and to do something legal and non-violent about it, preferably together, so that we act more like a civilized country, a mature democracy.



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