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Philippine human rights concerns registered with State Department, embassy
Jefferts Schori joins church officials in upholding justice, freedom and peace

By ENS Staff

US State Department Officials and Episcopal Church delegation, from left to right: Clarissa Adamson, Southeast Asian Affairs Officer for Human Rights; the Rev. Dr. Fred Vergara, Asian American Missioner of the Episcopal Church; Tamara Crouse, Foreign Affairs Officer for Religious Freedom; the Rev. Canon Brian Grieves, director for Peace and Justice Ministries of The Episcopal Church; and Scot Marciel, director for the Office of Maritime Southeast Asia.  

[Episcopal News Service]  Concerns about the deteriorating human rights situation in the Philippines and the extra-judicial killings which have claimed the lives of journalists, human rights workers and religious activists -- including the recent killing of former Supreme Bishop Alberto Ramento of the Philippine Independent Church -- have been registered, by church officials, with the Philippine Embassy and the State Department in Washington, D.C.

The Rev. Canon Brian Grieves, director of Peace and Justice Ministries, and the Rev. Dr. Fred Vergara, national missioner for Asian American Ministries, represented outgoing Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, and the new Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, while visiting the Philippine Embassy and the State Department November 2-3.

"We told Ambassador Willy Gaa at the Philippine Embassy that we were there as a courtesy to let him know of the deep concern among U.S. denominations over the deplorable number of extra-judicial killings in the Philippines, and that we are supporting our partner churches there as they prepare to document these human rights violations," said Grieves, who will visit partners in Manila in December to coordinate the church's support of their efforts. "The Episcopal Church is fully engaging this issue."

Gaa, who promised to relate the matter to Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, noted that the Philippine Human Rights Report of the ecumenical churches should also be submitted to the Melo Commission of the Philippine Government, which is in charge of investigating the killings.

Jefferts Schori, underlining the church's mission priority framed by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), said that "the advancement of human rights and religious freedom is an integral part of human development. The Episcopal Church will be strongly supportive of the efforts of our ecumenical and concordat partners in the Philippines and Asia in work for human rights, justice, freedom and peace."

Grieves noted that the Episcopal Church (TEC), through the offices of Anglican and Global Relations, Episcopal Asian American Ministries and Peace and Justice Ministries, is jointly funding the Philippine Human Rights project in partnership with the United Methodist Church and other denominations. The documentation and writing of this project will be spearheaded by the National Council of Churches in the Philippines.

During their visit to the State Department, Grieves and Vergara conferred with Scot Marciel, director of Maritime Southeast Asia; Clarissa Adamson, officer for human rights and labor; and Tamara Crouse, foreign affairs officer for Asia.

Grieves and Vergara expressed their anxiety that, in light of  the U.S. war on terrorism and concern for Southern Philippines (Mindanao) as a possible haven for terrorists' training, the Bush Administration would turn a blind eye to human rights violations in the Philippines, especially if some sectors of the Philippine military are involved. They were assured by the State Department that the human rights issue is their top priority in the Philippines and Southeast Asia and that they support the sentiments of the churches.
The U.S. State Department also informed Grieves and Vergara that the U.S. Ambassador in Manila, Hon. Kristie Kenney, is gravely concerned about this issue and very direct in expressing her concern to the Philippine government. "We believe it is to the best interest of the Arroyo administration to safeguard human rights and ensure a strong judicial system to bring to justice the perpetrators of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines as a mark of its democracy," Marciel said. "Prosperity in a democracy cannot happen at the expense of human rights, political and religious freedom."
"The spate of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines that included the outspoken human rights advocate, former Supreme Bishop Alberto Ramento, is unacceptable and despicable and we express our hope that the perpetrators of these killings be brought to justice and the killings stop," Vergara said.

Ramento, who was found stabbed to death at his rectory in the Parish of San Sebastian, Tarlac City, on the morning of October 3, had been an outspoken critic of the Philippine government and a leading advocate for peace and human rights in the country. Within days of Ramento's murder, another clergy member of the Philippine Independent Church received a death threat via SMS (Short Message Service) on his cellular phone, the Asian Human Rights Commission reported.

Ramento was a member of the committee that drafted the renewal of the terms of the concordat of full communion between the Episcopal Church and the Philippine Independent Church (PIC), which was signed by Griswold and incumbent PIC Supreme Bishop Godofredo David during the Episcopal Church's 75th General Convention in Columbus, Ohio, in June 2006.

Deploring Ramento's murder in an October 4 statement, David "denounced in the strongest possible terms this barbaric and dastardly act against a man of the cloth within the premises of his own church," and urged the authorities to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation and bring the perpetrators of Ramento's murder to justice.

Ramento's death was the latest in a string of killings of Christian leaders in the Philippines. According to various human rights reports, there have been more than 700 political or extrajudicial killings in the Philippines since President Arroyo took power in 2001. Arroyo's presidency followed the second "people power" movement that unseated former President Joseph Estrada on charges of corruption.

The first "people power revolution" happened in 1985 following the assassination of Senator Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino that brought an end to the martial law regime of President Ferdinand Marcos and catapulted Aquino's widow, Corazon C. Aquino, to presidency and restored the country to democracy. Arroyo won the second term in the last Philippine presidential election in 2004 amidst protests and charges of election fraud.

ENS coverage on the death of Bishop Ramento is available here and here.