Religious leaders alarmed at violence ‘fast spreading like COVID-19’; tells security forces to respect human rights | Inquirer News
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Religious leaders alarmed at violence ‘fast spreading like COVID-19’; tells security forces to respect human rights

/ 11:57 AM March 11, 2021

ILIGAN CITY –– A group of religious leaders from various denominations in the country has expressed alarm over the recent spate of killings of activists, calling on state security forces to respect human rights.

In a statement, the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) said it is “very concerned about the growing state of violence in the country that is fast spreading like the deadly COVID-19 virus.”

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“Rights violations and attacks on members of civil society organizations have increased these past few days and weeks,” the PEPP noted.

The statement was signed by Cagayan de Oro Bishop Emeritus Antonio J. Ledesma, Right Rev. Rex B. Reyes of the Ecumenical Bishops Forum, Bishop Reuel Norman O. Marigza of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, Bishop Noel A. Pantoja of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches, Sr. Mary John D. Mananzan of the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines, and Caloocan Bishop Emeritus Deogracias S. Iñiguez.

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“As church people, we are seriously alarmed that human rights, which protects God’s gift of human dignity and an important cornerstone of peace, is sadly being ignored and desecrated,” the group said.

The religious leaders highlighted the March 7 raids in the Calabarzon region that resulted in the deaths of nine activists and the arrest of six others.

“Most were killed in their homes, but the police claimed that there was an ‘armed encounter’ and the alleged members of ‘communist terrorist groups’ fought back (nanlaban),” the PEPP said.

The religious leaders also cited as “disheartening” the recent string of human rights violations, such as the arrest on March 4 of union leaders in Laguna; the stabbing on March 3 of lawyer Angelo Karlo Guillen, who is defending the survivors of the alleged massacres in Panay and Sagay City, Negros Occidental; the killing of Julie Catamin, a village leader, who countered the claims of state security forces about the alleged massacre of Tumandok tribal leaders in Panay; and the arrest of lumad students and their teachers in Cebu City.

“It is very alarming that these human rights violations are in the context of the government’s all-out war against the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and its allies,” the PEPP said.

“However, the victims of these killings and other recent human rights violations were mostly unarmed activists working for the interests of the marginalized – peasants, fisherfolk, indigenous people and the urban poor,” it added.

The group earlier noted that the breakdown of the peace process with communist rebels in 2017 “has contributed significantly to an increase in human rights violations and the worsening climate of impunity in the country.”

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PEPP has called on the parties to resume negotiations and hammer an interim peace agreement that could hopefully lead to a final political settlement.

The rebellion led by the Communist Party of the Philippines is one of the world’s longest-running communist insurgency.

“Such a complex conflict cannot be solved by an all-out war, not even a counter-insurgency program with billions of pesos for a budget,” the PEPP stressed.

“Like the vaccine, which is a crucial solution to the COVID-19 pandemic, principled negotiations that address the roots of the armed conflict in our country are likewise the best option for a people-centered peace settlement,” the group explained.

LZB

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TAGS: Activists, Human rights, Killings, PEPP, Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform, religious leaders
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