Velez: A higher spirit for Mindanao

CHURCH people in Mindanao are questioning the times and calling out to the people to find our sense of community.

Gathered during the Mindanao Human Rights Summit organized last week by the Mindanaoans for Civil Liberties, this sector was among those who raised concern on the state of the country amidst Martial Law in Mindanao.

Bishop Redeemer Yañez, from the Iglesia Filipina Independiente Diocese of Koronadal and convener of Barug Katungod Mindanao, presented the group's documentation of 126 political killings, or the killing of activist farmers and Lumads, in Mindanao under the Duterte administration. Of this figure, 69 happened during Martial Law in Mindanao.

The figures also include the killing of anti-mining farmers, a Lumad student, and an elderly couple supporting the Lumad schools. Testimonies were also heard from Moro, Lumad students and their parent who are defending their ancestral domain from mining and other development projects.

These figures show a "deplorable state in Mindanao," says Episcopalian Bishop Joseph Casimina. "If the bullet comes out of the gun, it doesn't ask if you're Moro, Lumad or Christian. A raging bullet automatically flattens life, and it flattens us all."

These figures also challenge the notion that Martial Law is here to protect democracy, said another Aglipayan Bishop Antonio Ablon from the Diocese of Pagadian.

Ablon also argued against one justification that if one is not involved with terrorism or communism, one should not be guilty. "But the reality is, look at what happened to our fellow Bishop Carlos Morales, he was arrested first, and evidence was planted the next day."

Morales, the diocese bishop in Ozamiz, was arrested while accompanying a consultant of the National Democratic Front to the suspended peace talks. Morales and his companion were charged with illegal possession of firearms, but the IFI finds this case a matter of silencing church workers advocating for peace talks.

This situation is compounded with the government's intimidation of human rights defenders, activists and media, sectors that are critical of government's human rights record.

But amidst these situation, church leaders have assured the spirit of justice will prevail. Such was the message of Fr. Ben Alforque, convener of Kapayapaan, as he called on the participants to be imbibed with the humanity of justice.

"Amidst our terrible situation, IT IS FINE," he said. "Because we are able to celebrate the struggle of life."

Coming from a priest who was arrested and tortured during Marcos' Martial Law times, such words speak of courage and humanity.

"The vocation of the higher form of human species is to love the community and to move towards progress together. Because the lower form of species always wage war, and encroach on peoples' lands," Alforque said.

He challenged participants, comprising of community leaders, lawyers, educators and activists to be peace-builders with eyes that see and sort out right from wrong, ears that truly hear the rumblings for justice and peace, and opportunities for solidarity and mutuality, nose that smell the false scent of power and greed, and tongue that tastes the good in every bitter and sweet situation.

The challenge is also set by Bishop Casimina. "We may be few, we may be poor, we may be limited. But we may do something more important. We may not be able to answer all our problems, but we can do our individual and corporate contributions. We ask ourselves: What do we do once we knew?"

(tyvelez@gmail.com)
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