Filipino United Methodists strongly condemned violence and killings on Negros Island that have threatened residents.
"State terrorism prevails in Negros Island," the Philippines Board of Church and Society said in a statement.
"Human rights advocates and supporters of local peasant associations previously red-tagged as communist supporters or sympathizers were killed, this time by unidentified assailants or motorcycle-riding assassins. The soldiers and policemen, in carrying out their operations, left a trail of blood and tears and untold miseries to the families of their victims and the people of Negros," the statement said.
According to Human Rights Watch, violence on the island escalated after four police officers were killed in July by the New People’s Army — the armed wing of the Communist Party in the Philippines. More than 300 special action forces of the Philippine National Police were then deployed to the island.
The Board of Church and Society statement said militarization has taken its toll on Negros Island and its people.
“It has reduced it into a howling wilderness, where death squads, human rights violation and extreme poverty reign supreme, and principles like respect for human rights, civil liberties and the dignity of man have become totally unheard of," the statement said.
Much of the violence is between communist insurgents and government forces and both sides have been accused of human rights violations, Human Rights Watch said.
Manila Area Bishop Ciriaco Q. Francisco said that the ongoing militarization in Negros is a proof of disregard for the sanctity of life.
"We expect the government to uphold human rights and to honor those who express their opinion and disagreement to the national policy," Francisco said.
He said even those who “support and help the poor and marginalized are persecuted and liquidated."
Bishops, clergy, priests and nuns, lay people who serve as prophetic voices “are tagged as communists, rebels and enemies of the state and are ordered trump charges to be in jail or killed," he said.
About 20 people have died in recent weeks in the attacks.
"The bloodiest was on July 25, 2019, where seven victims were killed in a span of 24 hours. Among those killed on that day were Marlon Ocampo and his 1-year-old son Marjon. Gunmen barged into their house killing the sleeping, unarmed, and defenseless Marlon; and Marjon, the youngest victim in the spate of killings plaguing Negros, who was sleeping on a makeshift hammock," the Board of Church and Society statement said.
Although Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte ordered deployment of additional soldiers to Negros, he has not declared martial law, according to GMA News Online. In 2017, Duterte imposed martial law in Mindanao when the Maute group seized Marawi City.
Floyd Castro, information officer of the Church and Society board, said that for followers of Christ, silence is never a choice.
"We cannot remain comfortable and silent as other Filipinos suffer in the hands of a cruel government. As a community of faith we must pray for peace and stand to resist all kinds of injustices and violence," Castro said.
Norma P. Dollaga, a United Methodist deaconess in the Philippines, said there is "an urgency to resume peace talks between the National Democratic Front and the Philippine government."
“This way, the root of the armed conflict is addressed," she said. "The unarmed groups — like the lawyers, farmers, religious and human rights defenders, who by their conviction and commitment are exercising their democratic rights — they should not become victims of extrajudicial killings and human rights violations."
The Rev. Aniceto Villalon Jr., vice chairman of the Philippines Board of Church and Society, told United Methodist News that amid the rampant killings, he sees a glimmer of hope that maybe sooner rather than later, the state will bow under the pressure of the people’s cry for justice.
"I know of some United Methodists both lay and clergy, a handful of local churches, and a number of annual conferences, that are not cowed by the onslaught of blatant threats coming from people in government, police and military to silence and paralyze dissent," he said.
Mangiduyos is a communicator from the Philippines. News media contact: Vicki Brown, news editor, [email protected] or 615-742-5470. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.