An update from Cobbie and Dessa Palm, mission co-workers serving in the Philippines
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Let justice roll down like water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Amos 5:21-23
Finally, the wake-up call. Imagine a usual Saturday morning when the governor of our province is entertaining persons in need of government assistance at his home. The line outside the gate of his home is a long line of people who hope to find some relief from emergency medical needs, unexpected farming failure, unpaid tuition for their children, and many more unmet needs that burden the poor in the Philippines. In an instant, two vehicles arrive, and men clad in full military battle gear jump out, break through the line of people, and forced themselves through the gate. Inside, they find the governor sitting in a chair. They shoulder their automatic assault weapons and open fire. In less than 10 seconds they storm away leaving the governor and six other people dead. This tragic event awakened the government to pursue a presidential investigation into the incident.
One would expect this scene only in a movie, but it happened on March 4, in the town of Pamplona, two hours from Dumaguete where we live. It came on the heels of a spate of political killings and the apparent rise of political armies maintained by political families who have dominated politics in the more rural regions of the Philippines for decades. In the years of the previous administration of President Duterte, 10 mayors and 18 vice-mayors were assassinated. Now only after the first nine months of President Marcos, one governor, one vice-mayor, four former mayors and one former vice-mayor have been assassinated with unsuccessful assassination attempts on the lives of an incumbent governor and mayor.
These are violent and emboldened times and the question on everyone’s mind is, “why the escalation? How have assassinations become normalized in the culture today?” As faith communities in the Philippines, we are feeling the burden of failing on our mission to instill a culture of peace and respect for the sanctity of life that is at the core of the Gospel message. As churches, we are meeting and the prevalence of a culture of death is always a centerpiece of our discernment.
The views from church leaders vary in their points of reference but come together on the common assessment that the rise in assassinations has roots in the violence that arose as a result of the war on drugs. A campaign launched in 2016 by the previous administration to stamp out drugs resulted in more than 6,000 deaths of suspected drug users and dealers as estimated by the police themselves. During this time, something happened to the fabric of the culture. There was a growing anesthetizing of the culture to the news of death without due process of the law. As the international community took cognizance of what was happening and the International Criminal Court (ICC) of the United Nations sought to launch an independent investigation on crimes against humanity, the government of the Philippines conveniently rescinded its membership to the ICC in 2017 and, to this very day, has denied the ICC permission to conduct an independent investigation.
The war on drugs took a turn toward a war on persons expressing dissent against the government. Journalists, lawyers, teachers, church workers, and activists of different persuasions speaking out and critiquing the government were conveniently bundled into a category labeled “terrorists.” Under the dangerous Anti-Terror Act signed into law in 2020 the stream of assassinations against dissenting views was launched. This has also led to hundreds of lives lost without the recourse of pursuing justice because they fall under the category of being a “terrorist.”
The country has seen and witnessed impunity through the war on drugs followed by the war on dissent. There is a numbing effect on culture when death is a daily occurrence and, moreover, there is a sense of emboldened entitlement that has now spilled over into the war on politics and the use of private political armies to assassinate political opposition.
In these times we walk a delicate path trying to push back the debris of violence in culture. It is a dangerous ministry when you must express dissent to be true to your faith. But as churches we have stood together awake to the cultural crisis we must address. Now we welcome and celebrate that finally, the wake-up call has rung out even after so many lives have been lost. Let us pray that this will be a bend in the road leading back to law, order and righteousness.
We continue to remain firm in our commitments because of the encouragement we receive from you who continue to believe in us and in our ministries. We thank you for your continued journey with us in building a more just and caring world.
Cobbie and Dessa Palm
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