A Catholic bishop in the central Philippines has claimed that the spate of killings in the country in recent years and the increasing cases of human rights violations have shaken the Church to voice alarm.
“The cries for justice and solidarity ring out from those bent-over under heavy burdens,” said Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos in an online forum last week.
“They reverberate through the villages where families lament extrajudicial killings and mourn the loss of their loved ones,” added the prelate.
He said the Church has “seen the tears of the people in sorrow over the rampant killings.”
The bishop noted that in his diocese on the island of Negros in the central Philippines, about a hundred political activists and human rights defenders, including church workers, have been killed in the past two years.
Human rights group Karapatan has earlier reported that at least 328 cases of political killings happened in the country from July 2016 to August 2020.
“The number dramatically rises if we include drug-related killings, summary executions, and armed encounters,” said Bishop Alminaza.
Human rights groups claimed that there were already more than 30,000 people who died in the government’s “war on drugs” since 2016.
Bishop Alminaza cited the murder of Zara Alvarez, a church worker and a human rights activist, who was gunned down by unknown assailants on Aug. 17.
“Zara had been illuminating the real experiences of exploitation endured by the toiling fieldworkers and landless peasants to people around the country and the world,” he said.
“I still cannot fathom the evil it must take to murder such a diligent and compassionate woman as she offered herself without reservation to the ministry of healing the broken,” he added.
The prelate described the deaths of those individuals who worked and fought for the rights and welfare of the people as “a great loss and an earth-shaking pain.”
‘Make the voices louder and be heard’
The bishop lauded the efforts of the international church community to put pressure on the United Nations to urgently act on the deteriorating human rights situation in the country.
“I can think of nothing more important than summoning the presence of precious siblings in Christ from other lands to accompany our people amidst this human rights crisis,” he said.
On Sept. 17, several international church organizations and institutions called on the UN Human Rights Council to conduct a probe into the alleged human rights abuses in the Philippines.
The groups raised the alarm on the “disturbing proliferation of killings, human rights violations, and attacks on civil liberties” in the country.
Bishop Alminaza said Church institutions “are doing what we can to be the body of Christ to our people.”
“Your efforts in various countries can make all the difference in bringing the potency of international mechanisms, like those of the United Nations, to concrete action,” he said.
The prelate urged the Christian faithful to respond to the call of “the growing voice of the Church that amplifies the cries of the struggling farmers, workers, indigenous peoples, migrants, women, and the youth.”
He encouraged the public to “draw lessons and find the strength” in these cries of the common Filipinos and “push back this dark night that threatens to envelop the country.”
“In forging camaraderie and genuine solidarity, God is sure to make miracles and compassion evident in our midst,” he said.