Ecumenical Delegates Take Risks to Lobby U.S. Congress on Philippines Killings

Methodist Leaders Help Elevate Philippines Killings Concerns to U.S. Congress

U.S. Methodist leaders have helped a Filipino delegation urge U.S. lawmakers to end the island nation's extrajudicial killings, which have resulted in more than 800 deaths, including clergies and religious leaders, since 2001.

The Ecumenical Voice on Peace and Human Rights in the Philippines – composed of nine religious and human rights members – met last week with the staff of the House Committee on Foreign Relations, chaired by Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), and testified before the Senate Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

Delegate members urged Congress to review military aid and development assistance given to the Philippines to ensure they are not being used in extrajudicial killings. The hearings were organized by the Rev. Bob Edgar, a United Methodist pastor who also heads the U.S. National Council of Churches of Christ.

"The delegation was anxious if not desperate to have a voice and an audience with Sen. Boxer's committee and also Rep. Tom Lantos," Edgar said, according to the United Methodist news service. The delegation knows speaking out will "put them on lists to be threatened or harmed," he said. "They indicated the risks were worth the dangers."

Furthermore, the delegation presented to Congress a new human rights report on the Philippines entitled, "Let the Stones Cry Out: An Ecumenical Report on Human Rights in the Philippines and a Call to Action." The 86-page report was prepared by NCC in the Philippines and details cases of political killings and patterns in which they take place.

Delegate members say that insurgents kill people for expressing their political beliefs and those serving the poor including religious and community workers. Those who are attacked are accused of supporting terrorism or being a part of political groups advocating violent resistance to the Arroyo administration.

Last year, a United Methodist delegation met with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, to press her to stop the killing of clergy, journalists, and human rights workers.

However, Bishop Solito Toquero, leader of the United Methodist Church's Manila Area, said President Arroyo has ignored their pleas to end the killing.

Extra-judicial killings have claimed the lives of 836 people since 2001, including 24 clergy and religious leaders, according to the delegation.