Suit vs Arroyo called ‘leap of faith’
A large alliance of non-Catholic church organizations in the country on Friday said it was backing the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) in the P5-million lawsuit that the latter had filed against Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for human rights abuses during her presidency.
The National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) praised the UCCP’s action, describing the legal step that the latter was undertaking as “a leap of faith” in a system “that shows partiality to those in positions of wealth and power.”
“The cry of our sisters and brothers unjustly vexed calls on us today to stand firm and persist in demanding justice,” Rev. Rex Reyes Jr., the NCCP secretary general, said in a statement issued to express its support for the UCCP’s “undaunted” move.
The NCCP, a member of the World Council of Churches and the Christian Conference of Asia, is a coalition of Protestant and non-Roman Catholic denominations and service-oriented organizations in the country.
Among its members are the Apostolic Catholic Church, Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches, Lutheran Church in the Philippines, United Methodist Church, Episcopal Church in the Philippines and Iglesia Filipina Independiente.
One of its core advocacies focuses on environmental protection, particularly the ill effects of large-scale mining.
CBCP in favor
The UCCP filed the lawsuit on Thursday in the Quezon City Regional Trial Court. It is seeking damages for the killing of five of its leaders and the illegal detention and torture of another from 2004 to 2007.
It said the victims were killed or abused in their respective provinces under the military’s “Oplan Bantay Laya” counterinsurgency program implemented during Arroyo’s administration.
Bishop Reuel Norman Marigza, the UCCP secretary general and one of the plaintiffs, said in a press conference later on Thursday that the suit was filed in an effort to end the “culture of impunity” in the country.
Reached on Friday for comment, Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez, chair of the public affairs committee of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), said in a text message: “I am in favor of the move to look for truth and justice.”
Likewise contacted, Arroyo spokesperson Elena Bautista-Horn said her boss had yet to receive a copy of the complaint and would withhold comment until then.
Butuan Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos, a staunch supporter of Arroyo and a member of the CBCP, abruptly cut off the phone line even before the Philippine Daily Inquirer could ask a question.
When he heard from the other end that it was the newspaper calling, he said: “Thank you, Inquirer. I’m busy.”
Pueblos drew criticism from Malacañang after the Inquirer reported last week his remarks urging President Aquino to resign for being “not really worthy to be President.”
The bishop also said there were people “seriously working” for Mr. Aquino’s ouster.
Defense of human rights
The NCCP’s Reyes said it was disturbing and “terribly wrong” when pastors and church workers were being killed, arrested and detained while teaching people to realize and defend their rights.
“[T]he defense of human rights is a commitment rooted in our being as churches,” said Reyes, a member of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines.
He said that while the Church was called to the service of discipleship, promoting the rights of people to express their needs and aspirations without restraint, it was also vigilant in defending the people from oppression, unjust structures of society, arbitrary use of power and other threats that “prevent the attainment of abundant life.”
“The NCCP in the Philippines lauds the recourse of the [UCCP] to seek legal redress in the pursuit of justice for her pastors and church workers who have been victims of extrajudicial killings … and other forms of human rights violations,” Reyes said. With a report from Gil C. Cabacungan Jr.
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