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    International church leaders/representatives call for release of Morong 43, land and justice to Hacienda Luisita workers

    An international delegation of church leaders/representatives from the World Council of Churches’ “Living Letters” arrived in the country December 1, to look into the human rights situation under the present dispensation. A team visited the Morong 43 and had a dialogue with Sec. Leila de Lima of the Department of Justice while another team visited the workers of Hacienda Luisita. Before that, they had conversations with families of victims of human rights violations under both the Arroyo and Aquino presidencies. They released a statement about their concern on the human rights situation in the country and their solidarity “to the people of the Philippines with gratitude and admiration for your courage and your hope for just and lasting peace”.

    On the issue of the Morong 43, who are currently on hunger strike, they questioned “the legality of their arrest and continued detention, as do some officials of the country including the President”. “We strongly urge their immediate and unconditional release”, they stated.

    They appreciated their dialogue with Sec. De Lima, saying that “we saw, heard and rejoice in the resolve of… (Sec. de Lima) to have the charges against the 43 health workers withdrawn by December 10th, United Nations International Human Rights Day and if not by then, at least before Christmas”. They also appreciated Sec. De Lima’s “recognition of the existence of a culture of impunity that has resulted in extra-judicial killings and massive human rights violations, and her resolve to put an end to it”. They stated that “we affirm her belief that there is no inconsistency between human rights and justice; when you serve one, you serve the other”.

    On the issue of Hacienda Luisita Workers, they called “for the immediate implementation of the decisions of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council to distribute the land to the farmers”. They also noted that they “saw and heard about the presence of local and foreign military personnel in Hacienda Luisita and in other parts of the country, posing a threat to the local communities”.  On this matter, they called upon the Philippine Government “to repeal the Visiting Forces Agreement and withdraw all military presence from civilian communities”.

    The delegation also said that they “saw and heard deep hopes that  the President will keep his electoral promises to put an end to impunity with regard to extrajudicial killings, disappearances and abductions, implement genuine land reform, work toward reconciliation with justice and peace, and live up to his expressed commitment to give top priority to the peace negotiations.”

    Lastly, they called on people of other nations “to express solidarity with the Filipino people and express their concerns to the international bodies, the Philippine President, the Department of Justice and the Department of Foreign Affairs”.

    The World Council of Churches (WCC) is a worldwide fellowship of 349 churches, denominations and church fellowships in more than 110 countries and territories representing 560 million Christians. It is based in Geneva, Switzerland and has a Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations. The “Living Letters” was organized by the WCC, where representatives from other countries make an organized visit to a given host country for a particular compelling reason. It is WCC’s way of expressing solidarity to the sisters and brothers in the host country. They are being hosted by the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP).

    The “Living Letters” process includes listening to the stories of human misery in the host country and providing necessary encouragement. The objectives of their visit are: to listen to the victims or the relatives of human rights violations in the Philippines; to have a first-hand knowledge of the state of human rights in the Philippines; to recommend ways and means for the international ecumenical community to support the active defense of human rights and civil liberties in the Philippines.

    The delegation is composed of Rev. Tara Jewel Curlewis, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches in Australia; Moderator Mardi Anette Tindal of the United Church of Canada; Rev. Dr. Dan Sandu of the Romanian Orthodox Church, Mr. Tony Waworuntu, former staff of the Christian Conference of Asia; Ms. Vijula Aralanantham, Board Chairperson of Prison Fellowship International; Ms. Carmencita Karagdag, member of the WCC Central Committee. They are accompanied by WCC staff, Segmenish Asfaw, Anastasia Dragan and Aneth Lwakatare. ###

    References:
    Rev. Fr. Rex RB. Reyes, Jr., General Secretary, NCCP
    09267048249

    Ms. Biyaya Quizon, Media Liaison, NCCP
    09397751650

    Living Letters Visit to the Philippines
    (Statement of the World Council of Churches Delegation to the Philippines)

    “Living letters” (2 Corinthians 3:3) is a symbol of the living Church which we represent by coming together under the auspices of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and at the kind invitation of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP).

    When asked by the disciples where He lived, Jesus answered, “Come and see” (John 1:39), then He commanded John, “write down what you see and send a letter to the churches” (Revelations 1:12). Every visit is a revelation when the knower and the known become one.

    This visit has been an opportunity for us to come and see: to see a culture, to see a people, to see a church, to see concerns, turmoil and hopes. First we were warmly welcomed by the General Secretary of the NCCP, Rev. Rex Reyes. With hospitality and assistance from him and his colleagues:

    We saw and heard the heart-breaking stories of victims of human rights abuses and their family members. We saw and felt the pain of those who have lost loved ones by extra-judicial killings, arbitrary detentions, torture and enforced disappearances.

    We saw, heard and felt the pain of the farmers in Hacienda Luisita in their struggle for just labour conditions and decent livelihoods, which have been denied to them as a result of land grabbing and unfair labour practices. We call for the immediate implementation of the decisions of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council to distribute the land to the farmers.

    We saw and heard about the presence of local and foreign military personnel in Hacienda Luisita and in other parts of the country, posing a threat to the local communities. We call upon the Philippine Government to repeal the Visiting Forces Agreement and withdraw all military presence from civilian communities.

    We particularly saw and heard the pain, spirit and courage of the 43 health workers and their families. We question the legality of their arrest and continued detention, as do some officials of the country including the President. We strongly urge their immediate and unconditional release.

    We saw, heard and rejoice in the resolve of the Secretary of the Department of Justice to have the charges against the 43 health workers withdrawn by December 10th, United Nations International Human Rights Day and if not by then, at least before Christmas. We also rejoice in her recognition of the existence of a culture of impunity that has resulted in extra-judicial killings and massive human rights violations, and her resolve to put an end to it. We affirm her belief that there is no inconsistency between human rights and justice; when you serve one, you serve the other.

    We saw and heard the desire of all Christian denominations, faith communities, social movements and all people of good will to unite together to recognise and promote the inherent value of life and human dignity.

    We saw and heard deep hopes that the President will keep his electoral promises to put an end to impunity with regard to extrajudicial killings, disappearances and abductions, implement genuine land reform, work toward reconciliation with justice and peace, and live up to his expressed commitment to give top priority to the peace negotiations.

    We write to the people of other nations to express solidarity with the Filipino people and express their concerns to the international bodies, the Philippine President, the Department of Justice and the Department of Foreign Affairs. We write to the people of the Philippines with gratitude and admiration for your courage and your hope for just and lasting peace.

    May the Baby Jesus make us all Living Letters to prepare His Way by committing ourselves to prayer and action.

    Glory to God and Peace on Earth (Luke 2:14).

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