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Church-based groups line up activities for anti-EJK advocacy

The Catholic Church,  church-based organization and lay groups are lining up activities for their anti-extrajudicial killings (EJKs) advocacy, even as the vowed to amp up their call  for the "nation's healing."

At a forum in Quezon City on Saturday, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and various sectoral and church groups announced  their plan of a holding a 33-day period of religious activities meant to amplify their call to stop EJKs in the country.

Photo by Nicole Lagrimas
Photo by Nicole Lagrimas.

Organizations represented at the forum include the CBCP, multi-sectoral organizations Tindig Pilipinas, Layko, Kaya Natin Youth, and Youth Resist.

They said that the 33-day series of religious activities will kick off with Mass at EDSA Shrine on November 5, Sunday.

CBCP president and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas with lead the Mass at EDSA.

CBCP encouraged Catholics and non-Catholics alike "from all walks of life" to join the Mass dubbed "Lord Heal Our Land Sunday," which will be held at 3 p.m. and will be followed by a procession to the People Power Monument and a candle-lighting ceremony at the same venue.

This 33-day period follows an earlier 40-day "mourning period" that culminated on November 2, All Souls' Day, with a symbolic tolling of bells for the victims of alleged extrajudicial killings.

Participants at the forum said that the event is not political as it is not aligned to any partisan group or with the opposition.

"In keeping with the solemnity of the Mass, there will be no political speeches," said Tindig Pilipinas' Karina Constantino David at a press conference.

Instead, the two-hour program that will follow the Mass will be composed of cultural performances, she said.

Former Education Secretary Armin Luistro, for his part, said that the point of the activity is to call for "healing" and unity, because actions against the killings, which are widely linked to the government's war on drugs, are immediately branded according to political "color."

“This is definitely why we wanted a call to healing, because if you notice the past year, there is no space where people can express what they feel... and anyone who in fact attempts to do that is ‘colored,’ diba, ‘dilawan,’ ‘destabilizer,’” he said.

On the other hand, David said they are "not destabilizers," and that their advocacy calling for the nation's healing stems from "concern" and not "anger."

She said dialogue between and among people was not the same as destabilization, because, “kapag hindi na nag-uusap ang mga tao, diktadurya na po ang tawag doon.”

The administration of President Rodrigo Duterte has constantly branded its critics as “destabilizers” and he earlier announced he would declare a revolutionary government should “destabilization” attempts against his rule continue.

The President also claimed that the alleged offshore bank funds of Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, also a vocal opposition figure, were being used for a destabilization plot against the government.

Shamah Bulangis, a youth leader, said she wondered why the Duterte administration seemed “insecure" about a possible destabilization, when Congress is already dominated by the President’s allies, with lawmakers at the House of Representatives even calling themselves the "supermajority."

“We’re outside of the government. It’s very insecure to say that we are trying to destabilize them. But if calling for healing and caring for everyone’s life is opposition work then maybe yes, this is opposition work,” she said, also warning of the “populist tactic” of dividing people into certain political blocks or colors.

“What we’re trying to do is invite people who are very frustrated with what is happening with the killings, who want to start the healing happen. Whether you’re pro-Duterte or anti-Duterte, as long as you’re anti-killings, you are very much welcome to join us,” she added.

The series of religious events under the 33-day period comes on the heels of the creation of a broad alliance of lawyers and law student groups also calling for accountability and an end to EJKs.

Process of healing

Asked what their call for “national healing” would entail, the organizers of Sunday’s Mass and program said the first step was discovering the truth, followed by understanding it.

Luistro called out the common popular culture-derived catchphrase of “moving on,” saying healing cannot be achieved through a refusal to talk about the violence that has resulted in thousands of deaths.

The death toll varies, depending on the source of the count. Latest data from the Philippine National Police say there have been 6,625 people who died under the government’s anti-illegal drugs campaign from July 1, 2016, to September 16, 2017—3,850 of whom perished in police operations.

"The inconvenient truth of our nation is for the past one and a half years, 13,000* have been killed violently. Whatever you call it, they have been killed violently. And the nation---I’m not saying only the government---the nation has forgotten those. First step is to embrace that truth,” he said, which would be followed by actions to care for the families left behind by the casualties.

Duterte has transferred the leadership of the drug war to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency following a public outcry sparked by a series of deaths of minors at the hands of policemen.

Meanwhile, David said calling for justice was just as important and essential as understanding the truth.

“Sino ang pumatay? Who should be held accountable for these deaths? If we talk about healing in general, the healing is a process, the healing is understanding, the healing is actually doing work on the ground while at the same time using actions like mobilizations tomorrow to bring out more truths and to give flesh and blood to the support we want to show the victims,” she said.

Bulangis slammed the lack of national government support on local reintegration and rehabilitation programs for former drug abusers, which she said were better alternatives to the drug war.

“If the government is really serious in terms of starting the healing with us, then they have to also understand that the alternatives to the drug war is most important rather than just stopping the killings,” she said. —LBG/MDM, GMA News