As Philippine president Benigno Aquino led recent celebrations of the 26th anniversary of the “People Power Revolution” against former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, church leaders raised concerns over what they see as threats to religious freedom and human rights.
“Church lay leaders, pastors, priests and nuns have been harassed or killed for doing their ministries especially [when] standing with the poor, oppressed, and marginalized,” Fr. David Tabo-oy, evangelism and Christian education program national coordinator of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines (ECP), told ENInews.
Under Marcos ― who ruled the country for 20 years, 14 years of which was under martial law ― there were 1,500 extrajudicial killings and 800 abductions, said Karapatan, a human rights watch group.
Military historian Alfred McCoy in his book, Closer than Brothers: Manhood at the Philippine Military Academy, noted more than 3,000 political killings, 35,000 torture victims and 70,000 incarcerated during the Marcos years. The victims included church people, according to historical records.
Church leaders said even after Marcos’ ouster, the political killings have continued. Catholic Bishop Deogracias Iniguez said that under President Gloria Arroyo, whose term ended in 2010, there were 778 extrajudicial killings and 502 tortured and illegally arrested.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch last January recorded at least seven extrajudicial killings and three “enforced disappearances” implicating the military since Aquino took office. Three of these were church people, who included Fr. Fausto Tentorio, an Italian priest in North Cotabato province who was killed last October.
Aquino had promised that the courts would act on these cases. But his government has “largely failed” to prosecute military personnel suspected in the killings of journalists, activists and outspoken clergy “even though evidence exists in many cases,” Human Rights Watch said.
Not all clergy are unhappy with the status quo. United Methodist Church Bishop Benjamin Justo told ENInews that he was “satisfied” by the religious freedom Filipinos now enjoy.
But, Tabo-oy said, “religious freedom is not only about freedom to practice our belief through worship but also about working and expressing what we believe and living out those beliefs in societal realities today.”
As it was during Marcos’ rule, many church leaders from the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) have become “as prophetic as ever because of widespread poverty, misery, human rights violations, and environmental destruction,” general secretary Fr. Rex Reyes told ENInews.