United Methodists in the Philippines joined thousands of protesters in Rizal Park, Manila, to mark the 45th anniversary of when the late President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law.
The protesters called for an end to what they believe are extra-judicial killings linked to the war on drugs of President Rodrigo Duterte and called for the martial law now enforced in Mindanao to be lifted.
Duterte declared Sept. 21 a “National Day of Protest” and suspended classes in all levels in public schools as well as work in government offices to mark the anniversary. Martial law under the late President Marcos was not lifted until 1981.
Before joining the march, an ecumenical liturgical gathering for “Justice, Peace and the Sanctity of Life” was jointly celebrated by The United Methodist Church, United Church of Christ in the Philippines, and the Philippine Independent Church at the Central United Methodist Church in Manila.
In his homily, the Rev. Eleazar Fernandez, president of Union Theological Seminary, strongly challenged the people as they commemorated martial law: "Never again to tyranny. Never again to dictatorship.
"To remember is not just to recall the past, but to remember for the sake of healing and liberation,” he said. "The only antidote to the power of tyranny is the power of organized people."
Fernandez reminded the gathering that only empowered people can make and participate in the making of a just and humane society.
He said he sees seeds of hope in "the socially conscious, the empowered people who join the multitude in raising their highest voices to decry tyranny."
Fernandez read from Ezekiel 45:9: "That is enough tyranny! Stop your abuses and persecutions, O princes of Israel! Put away violence and oppression, and execute justice and righteousness. Cease your evictions of my people, declares the Lord GOD!"
Manila Area Bishop Ciriaco Francisco read the statement prepared by the Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church in the Philippines.
"What is happening around us is frightening — an unending body count of victims of extrajudicial killing of the victims of drug use, instead of their rehabilitation, by police and vigilantes agitated by President Duterte himself,” read Francisco.
"Such evil is destructive of the humanity, not only of the slain but also of the perpetrators, promotes impunity, and shall therefore never be tolerated by the church. We require the investigation of all suspicious deaths and deaths in custody."
A call was made for the churches to respond.
Norma P. Dollaga, a United Methodist deaconess and a co-convenor for Rise Up for Rights and Life, said that the ecumenical prophetic witness is joined by Protestants and Roman Catholics to remind the faithful community "to guard democratic rights, respect human rights, and defend dignity and rise against tyranny.
"Sept. 21 is not an ordinary day to Filipino people as it became a mark of declaration of martial law, a decree that spells human rights violations, tyranny and fascism,” Dollaga said.
Darlene Marquez-Caramanzana of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines said, "as a (United Methodist) deaconess and an ecumenical worker, my participation in the gathering is a way of honoring the memory of United Methodist Bishop La Verne D. Mercado, former and well-loved general secretary of NCCP. He lived out his faith prophetically in the dark era of Marcos' martial law.”
Caramanzana explained that Mercado was arrested for standing his ground in opposing the evils of Marcos dictatorship and tyranny. She said that after his release, he never wavered and continued with his ministry.
"Like him, I firmly believe in the sanctity of life and human dignity. We must add our voice to the darkness of martial law and tyranny that hovers over us. We must oppose such moves and never again allow our nation to suffer from this evil."
The Davao area joined the Day of Protest with a prayer rally for peace.
The Rev. Jeric Cortado, acting dean of the College of Theology in the Southern Philippines Methodist Colleges in Kidapawan, said that a prayer rally for peace was organized by Bishop Rodolfo A. Juan in partnership with the colleges. It was attended by 115 United Methodists and Roman Catholic friends.
"We do have a regular prayer for peace,” Juan said, “but today we had a big one with the Roman Catholic Church and other United Methodist local churches here to pray for lasting peace."
Cortado said that the prayer was “that the government may design measures to end the extra judicial killings and eliminate crimes with respect for the human rights of an individual and collective community; that our civil and military leaders will be mindful to their calling to serve the people."
The prayer was also for the people called United Methodist, he added, to continue to commit themselves in the peace-building ministry "that they may be one in Christ, one with each other and one in a collective redeeming ministry."
President Fernandez of Union Theological Seminary urged the people to "let us go as a movement to challenge tyranny, and promote democracy, wherever we can, whenever we can, and while we can. Until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream. Amen."
Mangiduyos is a United Methodist News Service correspondent based in the Philippines.