CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 17 August 2019

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Philippine killing fields still in business

HONG KONG (SE): The killing fields of The Philippines are still very much open for business and on December 3 the military took possession of enough hectares to liquidate eight leaders of indigenous groups near Marbel in the island province of Mindanao.
 
UCAN reported that although a spokesperson for the military was quick to blow a bit of smoke across the issue by claiming that all those dead were members of the Communist New People’s Army, Father Ariel Destora, from the Social Action Centre in Marbel, identified one of the dead as being a datu, Victor Danyan, whom he clarified was the chairperson of a legal organisation, the T’boli-Manabo S’daf Claimant Organisation, a group dedicated to working for the legal rights of the two groups of indigenous peoples.
 
“We mourn what happened to Datu Victor,” Father Destora said, explaining that the group of which he is chairperson had been working for what the military are often paid by private companies to protect them from, a mining ban on ancestral land.
 
Those who work for the protection of the natural environment are people at high risk, as last year in The Philippines alone one was murdered on average every 16 days and across the world some 200 or more died violent deaths, often at the hands of law enforcement authorities.
 
On December 4, seventy-two-year-old Father Marcelito Paez was shot and killed by three unknown gunman on the main island of Luzon, just one day after the police had shot Pastor Lovelito Quinones, whom they had tagged as a member of the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of The Philippines.
 
Father Paez was shot around 8.00pm while driving in San Leonardo in Nueva Ecija, 180 kilometres northeast of Manila. He died almost three hours later at a local hospital.
 
The attack occurred hours after the retired priest from San Jose and a national board member of the Rural Missionaries of The Philippines had facilitated the release of a political prisoner, Rommel Tucay, an organiser from a farmers’ group who had been arrested in March this year by the army.
 
The Rural Missionaries of The Philippines is a national, inter-diocesan and interreligious congregational organisation of priests, sisters and people living and working among peasant farmers and indigenous groups.
 
Father Paez was the Central Luzon coordinator of the organisation and Bishop Roberto Mallari described him as once heading the justice and peace desk of the diocese’s social action commission, which brought him into close contact with poor workers and farmers.
 
The Philippine ambassador to Iraq, Elmer Cato, said he knew Father Paez well from his days as a journalist in Luzon in the dark hours of the 1980s. He said that he always had incisive insights and was lucky enough to survive the purge of martial law, while many of his colleagues did not.
 
However, why he could not survive a simple trip back to his home in what is supposed to be peace time remains a mystery.
 
His murder followed the December 3 murder of Pastor Quinones, from Mansalay in Mindoro Oriental.
 
The police regional mobile force said the pastor was shot in a gunfight and then accused him of being a member of the New People’s Army.
 
Benedictine Sister Mary John Mananzan said he was widely known across the region as a wonderful listener, but fears that his death has heralded an all-out attack on Church personnel.
 
In South Cotabato, eight indigenous leaders from the T’boli and Manobo peoples were murdered by the Armed Forces of The Philippines. Together with their families they had been reoccupying their ancestral lands which had been confiscated illegally from them by the Consunji Farms for a coffee plantation.
 
The Hong Kong Campaign for the Advancement of Human Rights and Peace in The Philippines and the Promotion of Church People’s Response gathered at the office of the Philippine Consulate General to Hong Kong on December 6 to condemn the murders.
 
The two groups say in a statement that they believe that the administration of the current president, Rodrigo Duterte, is fast catching up with the bloody record of previous regimes that had invoked the call of counter-insurgency as a cover for straight out murder.
 
“The spate of killings, disregard for lives and rights, and state of impunity show the heightening fascism of the Duterte government that is fast catching up with human rights violations against activists and ordinary civilians committed by previous administrations in the name of various counterinsurgency plans,” the two groups say.
 
“After Duterte’s declaration of all-out war against critics of his government’s anti-people, pro-oligarch and pro-imperialist policies, political harassment, military operations and forced evacuations have intensified especially among peasants and indigenous peoples,” they point out.
 
However, this situation is not likely to improve, as Duterte’s new-found cronies, Donald Trump, from the United States of America, and Xi Jinping, from China, both seem to share his opinion that human rights and community development are but impediments to progress.
 
Duterte courted them both, first denying that Trump’s forces were on the ground in Marawi, but then thanking him for their help. He told Xi that one of the 100 rifles he donated was used to kill the militant Islamist leader, Isnilon Hapilon, but his military says he was killed by a heavy weapon that pulverised a concrete bunker in which he was hold up.
 
Duterte then courted Vladimir Putin, from Russia, saying that the 20 trucks and 500 rifles he sent were a great help in taking back Marawi, despite the fact that they arrived a week after the city had been declared secured.
 
But locals fear Duterte is offering his country to foreign powers at the expense of his own people, as Inday Espiña-Varona reported for UCAN he is trying to do away with limits on foreign ownership to deliver vast tracts of agricultural land to China.
 
However, currying friendship with his promised benefactor in China, is proving costly for his flagship presidential policy of eliminating drugs.
 
The counsel for the Philippine National Police, José Calida, struggled under cross examination from Supreme Court justice, Antonio Carpio, as to why only small time pushers and users are being targeted and not the big drug lords.
 
The best Calida could do was blame China, saying that the big distributors are on the mainland and cannot be touched. But what he did not say was that because Duterte is desperate for Chinese money, he cannot bring the matter up with the authorities in Beijing.
 
However, as Rappler.com points out, this still does not explain why their agents in The Philippines are not targeted. Calida limped through an explanation implying that since they too are Duterte cronies they have to be treated with kid gloves and simply asked to resign from the trade.
 
Seems you have to be poor to get a bullet.
 
But his military and police are on a killing spree, making no distinction between combatant and non-combatant, simply pointing their guns at human rights, justice and peace advocates, journalists, Church people, peasants and all who stand for law and order.
 
Nevertheless, the Promotion of Church People’s Response says that no amount of persecution will stop the poor in their resistance to the ongoing injustices being perpetrated against them.

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