Photo: Protesters ask for the release of Dr. Alexis Montes and 42 other medical caregivers who were arrested while attending a Community Medicine Development Foundation training seminar. A court in the Philippines has refused to release them from detention. They were seized on Feb. 6 on charges of being communist insurgents. A UMNS Photo by Juliet Solis-Aguilar courtesy of Global Ministries.
A UMNS Report
By Rich Peck
United Methodists continue to express concern about human rights abuses in the Philippines.
During their April 18-23 meeting in Manila, members of the United Methodist Connectional Table issued a resolution condemning “past, recent, and ongoing extrajudicial killings” and implications of abuses by the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Army.
The Connectional Table, a 60-member international body that includes representatives from the 200,000 members of United Methodist churches in the Philippines, named a six-person delegation to visit a White House official for Asia, a U.S. State Department official and a representative of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to express concern over violations of human rights in the Philippines.
They will ask the officials to ensure that no U.S. policy supports the Philippine “policy that exacerbates the violations of human rights including the killing of church people and human rights activists.” The text of the Connectional Table statement is available here.
Earlier in the meeting, Ohio East Area Bishop John Hopkins, chair of the Connectional Table, and retired Bishop David Arichea led a five-person delegation to meet with the Honorable Leila M. De Lima, chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines.
Her commission is responding to charges of extrajudicial killing vigilantism, disappearances, torture and arbitrary arrest and detention. De Lima said the commission is seeking an enabling act that empowers the commission to implement its decisions.
In a panel presentation, Edita Burgos, chairperson of The Filipino Desaparecidos (Philippines–Remembering the Disappeared), told the group about the 2007 abduction of her son, Jonas, inside a mall in Quezon City. She links the military to his disappearance, but attempts to resolve the matter legally were denied by a Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. The lower court clarified that its decision did not mean that Jonas is not in the hands of the military.
Another panelist, Jigs Clamor, an executive with KARPATAN (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights), said his wife is one of 43 health-care workers currently held in detention. On Feb. 6, she was engaged in a medical training course in Morong when the Philippine Army detained them as alleged members of a secret bomb-making group.
The Philippines Commission on Human Rights called on the Army to justify the arrests and answer allegations that the detainees were tortured. The Army denies the accusation, and it presented awards to two soldiers involved in the abduction.
Worship in churches.
Prior to their meeting, members of the Connectional Table and the Committee to Study the Worldwide Nature of The United Methodist Church worshipped in seven different United Methodist churches on April 25.
On Monday, the group visited four different mission sites in the Manila area. Some members visited Smokey Mountain United Methodist Church, one of the five poorest places in the world.
The name is derived from a mountain of rotting garbage that often ignites underground and emits toxic clouds of smoke. Some 1,000 people make their living by scavenging through garbage looking for items that can be recycled for money. The average return on a day of ripping through bags of trash is the equivalent of about $2.
Others visited Baseco, an urban poor community where families of street children are assisted by social agencies, including the UMCOR Philippines, and the Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation, a social service agency sheltering street children and providing vocational skills training. A fourth group visited Mary Johnston Hospital, a104-year-old hospital founded by Methodist missionaries.
The site visits were examples of Four Areas of Focus ministry taking place in the Philippines. Later in the meeting, Erin Hawkins, top staff executive of the United Methodist Committee on Religion and Race, presented a report summarizing the work of general agencies in the Four Areas of Focus.
Meeting with study group
Six members of the Connectional Table serve on the Study Committee on the Worldwide Nature of The United Methodist Church, a 20-member international team, chaired by Kansas Area Bishop Scott Jones.
The study committee met at the same time in the same location, and the two groups spent an entire day together. Jones said his group will collaborate with other study groups, and it will sponsor additional listening posts following their meeting with Filipino laity, clergy and bishops.
The committee is also monitoring the voting on the 23 constitutional amendments related to the worldwide church put before the denomination by the 2008 General Conference. The Council of Bishops will announce the results of annual conference balloting in May.
The Connectional Table received a report on the work of the Call to Action Committee, which is engaged in comprehensive studies to determine ways in which the denomination can increase the number and vitality of local churches.
In other business, the group approved a subcommittee report, “Planting the Seeds – Celebrating the Harvest” that calls local churches and annual conferences to bring a commitment to the 2012 General Conference for making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world through five goals.
Gil Hanke, president of the General Commission on United Methodist Men, is a member of the Connectional Table, and he was part of the team that visited Mary Johnston Hospital.
"I think it was an excellent trip and served the UMC well," said Hanke. "It was important for the Connectional Table and the study committee to see, experience, and hear from our brothers and sisters living in the Philippines. The kind of information we were given could only have come from a first hand experience in their churches and mission sites, and in frank two-way conversations."
Hanke said he was certain the visit meant a great deal to the 200,000 United Methodists in the Philippines. "Like a visit to a family member who struggles in ways we cannot imagine, our presence demonstrated that they are an important and valued member of the UMC family."