Methodists to investigate human rights in the Philippines
A delegation of United Methodist leaders from the United States is visiting the Philippines this week to learn more about the killing and harassment of church workers, peace and human rights activists, and journalists.
"The situation in the Philippines is deeply disturbing," said the Rev R. Randy Day, chief executive of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries in New York.
He declared: "Church workers, human rights activists and others who are perceived as threats are terrorized and killed."
"We need to hear firsthand the stories of the people who serve God in the midst of this danger, and show them that the international church is with them in their struggle," said Day, who attended college in the Philippines.
The delegation expects to meet with church leaders and US State Department and Philippine government officials during its four-day visit and will report on its work before departing.
Day is one of the nine United Methodist leaders who will gather in Manila. The delegation includes Bishop John Hopkins of Cleveland, who leads the denomination's programme coordinating organization, the Connectional Table, and top staff executives of three of the church's programme agencies.
The United Methodist Church has had a presence in the Philippines since the late 19th century. Its three bishops serve a community of about a million people connected to nearly 1,700 congregations throughout the nation.
The denomination works closely with the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, the largest Protestant denomination in the nation, and the National Council of Churches in the Philippines. Its third denominational partner is Iglesia Evangelica Metodista en Las Islas Filipinas.
Before leaving for Manila, the Rev James Winkler, chief executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society met with a member of the staff of Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to update him on the delegation's visit and share the denomination's concerns about the human rights situation in the Philippines.
A delegation of Protestant bishops and representatives of the World Council of Churches and the Christian Conference of Asia visited the Philippines last July on a fact-finding mission, at the urging of the country's National Council of Churches.
The church leaders said that besides outright killings, human rights violations included intimidation by the military, illegal detention and torture of peasants working on farms for rich landlords, according to Ecumenical News International.
Worldwide, the United Methodist Church has a presence in about 125 countries. Its congregations provide more than 5 billion US dollars in funding for church work and mission.
The denomination has about 181,000 members in the Philippines, among more than 11 million members worldwide.
Ecumenical News International adds: The leader of the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines says his country is "still in deep crisis" and must rouse itself to the need for change. "We might have avoided the worst scenario, but truth to tell, we are still in deep crisis," said Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, in a New Year message for this southeast Asian country of 86 million people, about four-fifths of whom are Catholics.
Observers said Lagdameo was apparently referring to controversy about President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's administration, which faced moves to oust it in 2005 from opposition groups because of allegations that Arroyo had connived with some election officials to ensure her victory in elections in 2004.
Arroyo's husband, Mike, and son, Mikey, also faced allegations of involvement in a gambling bribery scandal. The family denied all the allegations. But moderate and militant opposition groups staged protest actions calling for President Arroyo to resign.
[Also on Ekklesia: Church leaders call for change in the Philippines; Pope urges Philippines to oppose death penalty; Churches call for investigation into Philippines killings; Women help to redefine Christian mission; World cities to declare against death penalty]