Church sues Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on slays
The red and white ribbons tied to a tree in front of the Quezon City Hall of Justice made for a pretty sight, but what they carried was grim: the names of people killed, wounded or have disappeared in the course of human rights violations purportedly committed by the past administration.
The ribbons were left by representatives of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) after filing a lawsuit on Thursday against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo at the Quezon City Regional Trial Court.
The UCCP is asking Arroyo, now a representative of her home province of Pampanga, to pay at least P5 million for human-rights abuses allegedly committed against six leaders of the group during her administration.
The plaintiffs are Bishop Reuel Norman Marigza, the UCCP secretary general, Pastor Berlin Guerrero, and the kin of the late Joel Baclao Jr., Rev. Edison Lapuz, Andy Pawican, Rev. Raul Domingo and Noel “Noli” Capulong.
The victims were killed in their respective provinces by supposed military operatives from 2004 to 2007.
Guerrero, a licentiate pastor of northeast Southern Tagalog, was the only plaintiff who could personally complain of abuse. He said he was illegally detained and tortured, also by the military, on May 27, 2007, in Laguna province.
Speaking in a press conference at the UCCP chapel in Quezon City, Marigza said the UCCP filed the suit in an effort to end the “culture of impunity” in the country.
“[W]e take action against the relentless persecution and brutalization of the Church, especially being labeled ‘enemy of the state’ through various counterinsurgency operations of the military establishment. This false and malicious tagging has unjustly permitted UCCP persons to be ‘neutralized’ in the name of so-called national security,” Marigza said. (See In the Know on this channel.)
In their 18-page complaint, the plaintiffs said that while Arroyo was the President and Commander in Chief of the military, “numerous church pastors and leaders were either liquidated, harassed, unlawfully detained or tortured with impunity by military agents and operatives, who, by law, were then all under her ultimate control and command responsibility.”
They said the victims were killed or abused under the “Oplan Bantay Laya” counterinsurgency program during the Arroyo administration.
As though to remind the courts to act on their appeal, the UCCP and the families of the murder victims also left a cardboard sign bearing a biblical passage on the tree fronting Quezon City’s Hall of Justice: “Let justice roll down like waters; and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24)
Baclao was a lay preacher of the UCCP and coordinator of the “Andurog-Bicol” disaster relief program.
He was shot dead in front of his house in Lacag, Daraga, Albay province on Nov. 10, 2004, leaving behind two young children. His mother, Rosa, represents him in the complaint.
Lapuz, of the Bethany Hospital Compound on Real Street, Tacloban City, was UCCP church minister and also chair of the local chapter of the human rights group Karapatan.
He was shot dead by alleged military agents on May 12, 2005, rendering two small children orphans. His wife, Emma, represents him in the complaint.
Pawican, of San Jose, Nueva Ecija province, was also shot dead on May 21, 2006.
He was an outreach pastor of the UCCP Pantabangan congregation. His wife, Dominga, represents him in the complaint.
Domingo, of San Jose, Puerto Princesa, Palawan province, was shot on Aug. 20, 2005, but died in hospital on Sept. 2.
He was a UCCP pastor and chair of Karapatan-Palawan. His wife, Evelyn, survived him.
Capulong, of Elepano I Subdivision, Calamba, Laguna province, was killed by a burst of gunfire on May 27, 2007, as he made his way to visit community volunteers in Barangay Parian, Calamba.
Aside from heading the UCCP Christian Witness and Service Program in Calamba, he was a local leader of the Bayan Muna party-list group and a father of two.
His wife, Teodora Montealto, represents him in the case.
Guerrero said he was abducted in front of his family while he was on his way from the local church at Malaban, Santa Rosa, Laguna, on May 27, 2007.
He said he was detained for 16 months and tortured by military operatives.
Living in fear
Through their counsel Emilio Capulong Jr., the plaintiffs asked Arroyo to pay at least P1 million in damages to the
UCCP; at least P500,000 each to the plaintiff kin of the victims; at least P300,000 in moral damages to Guerrero; P500,000 in exemplary damages; P300,000 in lawyers’ fees; and P300,000 in litigation expenses.
In the complaint, the UCCP named more than 20 other church members who were victims of human rights violations under the Arroyo administration, but did not include them as plaintiffs “on account of their kin being unsettled and living in fear.”
“Not only has [Arroyo] not been prosecuted for the staggering number of extrajudicial killings and human rights violations under her command, neither has any of the actual military perpetrators been brought to justice,” Marigza said.