United Methodist women joined human rights defenders in a “May Protest Against Tyranny” at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City.
The organizers of the protest on May 26, Karapatan and Hustisya, used the celebration of Flores De Mayo in naming the event. Karapatan is a national human rights alliance and Hustisya is an organization of survivors and families of victims of political killings.
Flores de Mayo is an annual tradition in which a daily offering of flowers to Mary is observed throughout the month of May. The celebration culminates with “Santacruzan,” the discovery of the true cross by Reyna (queen) Elena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine.
Young women, designated as Flores de Mayo queens, look for a hidden cross, with the finder being named as Reyna Elena during the Santacruzan procession. The tradition is part beauty pageant and part a religious education exercise that features costumed queens.
For a human rights protest, finding the cross shows the suffering of people, said Norma P. Dollaga, a United Methodist deaconess.
"We find the cross that symbolizes the suffering of thousands of Filipino people under the tyrannical rule of President Rodrigo Duterte,” she explained.
“There is no glory in the cross until we believe and become part of the resurrection — that is, the rising of the Filipino people against the system and order that execute the poor and the dissenters."
Ofelia A. Cantor, a United Methodist laywoman, explained why she joined the protest parade.
"It is our advocacy as human rights defenders and peace advocates,” she said, adding that life is sacred. “The relentless killings of indigenous peoples, farmers, the displacements of lumads and dumagats are but a result of a tyrannical rule."
Dumagats and Lumads are indigenous groups in the Philippines. The Dumagats are from the North, while the Lumads are from the South.
Many issues were raised through the protest parade, Cantor noted. "The issues are to end martial law in Mindanao, free all political prisoners, defend press freedom, stop the killings (and show) activism is not terrorism."
Activism, she believes, is a commitment that each person takes as a gift and pledge in defense of patrimony and sovereignty as a nation.
Eleonor De Guzman was dubbed as La Reina de la Justicia (Queen of Justice) for the protest parade. She is the wife of detained union organizer Marklen Maojo Maga, who was arrested this year, and the daughter of detained peace consultant Rafael Baylosis. Other women marched as the Queen of Peace and the Queen of Martyrs.
Rubilyn Litao, a United Methodist deaconess and member of the team which manages Rise Up for Life and for Rights, said that Rise Up also had asked Deborah Escudero to join the protest.
Litao decribed how Escudero expressed her message through her gown: "She wore the silken gown spattered with blood and yellow sash, a powerful portrayal of drug related killings happening in our country. She joined the parade as her way of remembering and calling for justice to her brother Ephraim who was found dead, his face covered with packaging tape, last year."
Rise Up, Litao said, "is a network which believes in the capacity of the affected families to speak out and be part of the campaign to stop the killings." United Methodists are part of the network.
Dollaga called the festival a celebration of unwavering resistance of the Filipino people. "Protesta de Mayo celebrates the unbending will of the Filipino people to resist tyranny. It challenges us to pursue justice.”
She compared the blossoming of flowers to the blossoming of justice, with “the pageant of protest and resistance (showing) the beauty and grace there is in the activist fight."