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Prayers lifted up across oceans and time zones


UCCP hosts special service of lament and hope for PC(USA) staff

By Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service

Silliman University Divinity School seniors sing “Kapait sa Kahimtang.”

LOUISVILLE — Joining together virtually across oceans and time zones, the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) and Silliman University Divinity School led a special Wednesday chapel service of lament and hope for Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) staff.

Early Presbyterian mission to the Philippines united with several other mission churches in the Philippines to form the UCCP in 1948.

The UCCP is under attack by the government of current Philippine President Rodrigo R. Duterte, against voices of dissent. The UCCP has been among those that have spoken out against state-sanctioned killings and the increasing disregard for human rights.

Even the acts of providing peace sanctuary for displaced Indigenous people and defending the rights of peasants and workers, or the mere distribution of groceries through community food pantries have been considered crimes by the current government. UCCP Bishop Melzar Labuntog, general secretary, said, “To be a Matthew 25 church in the Philippines today is considered a crime by the state.”

UCCP General Secretary Bishop Melzar Labuntog and incumbent bishops provided a pastoral statement about the deteriorating human rights conditions amid the pandemic and after recent typhoons.

The Philippine government passed an Anti-Terrorism Law in 2020, resulting in the practice of “red-tagging” individuals who are considered to be critical or not supportive of the current government and allegedly associated with “terrorist” organizations. The results are arrests and extrajudicial killings of church leaders and those supporting the mission of the church.

The UCCP has declared its properties throughout the Philippines as peace sanctuaries. Among the church’s provision of sanctuary for internally displaced Indigenous people is the UCCP’s Haran compound in Davao City. It has been a refuge to thousands of internally displaced Indigenous people through the decades. Recently, false fabricated charges have been filed against the UCCP Haran ministry that have resulted in the freezing of bank accounts and the serving of warrants of arrest for staff, UCCP pastors and bishops associated with the ministry.

The Rev. Dr. Neal Presa, Moderator of the 220th General Assembly (2012), brought greetings from Southern California and expressed hope and solidarity for siblings in Christ in the Philippines.

Mission co-worker Dessa Palm and professor Magnolia Mendoza perform “Dali Kamo” at the service.

“We lament at the tragic situation in the Philippines our siblings and our friends who are on the ground living out faith and sharing the love of God in the midst of the widespread corruption and the governmentally sanctioned extra-judicial killings, harassment, kidnappings, bullying and oppression pertaining to freedoms and liberties of faith workers, ecumenical partners, journalists and freedom-loving people of the Philippines who seek justice, who seek peace, who seek life. We join our prayers, our life and our love in solidarity.”

Presa said he looks forward to “further amplifying our collective voice” when the 225th General Assembly (2022) will consider overture 02089, a resolution from the Presbytery of San Diego, with concurrences from De Cristo, Lake Huron, San Gabriel and San Jose presbyteries, referred from the 224th General Assembly. When updated, the overture will draw the PC(USA)’s attention to the crisis in the Philippines and call for the human rights violations against its own people to end.

UCCP Bishops, pastors and staff, including students of Silliman University Divinity School, led worship with Scriptures, prayers, videos and music.

The Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, Moderator of the 218th General Assembly (2008), closed the liturgy with a prayer and benediction calling for courage to overcome despair as we walk together toward justice for all people and nations.

Sara Lisherness, interim director of Presbyterian World Mission, read a statement of solidarity for the UCCP and the people of the Philippines.

Statement of Solidarity

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), a religious denomination in the United States of America, joins the voices of religious groups from around the world in condemning the vilification of integral ministries and personalities of our partner church in the Philippines, the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP).

It has come to the attention of the PC(USA) that the UCCP Haran, a legal and legitimate ministry of the UCCP in Davao City, serving as a sanctuary and evacuation center for Indigenous people caught in the crossfire of violence upon their homelands, has been falsely accused of holding the evacuees against their will. These accusations have been denied by both the leaders of the UCCP and the evacuees themselves.

The PC(USA) stands in solidarity with the leaders of the UCCP and calls upon the authorities responsible for these false accusations to refrain from criminalizing church leaders, including Bishop Hamuel G. Tequis and the Rev. Daniel R. Palicte, serving the marginalized victims of violence. The PC(USA) supports the ministries of the UCCP and denounces the abusive act of freezing the bank accounts of the UCCP Haran ministry and threatening members of the staff.

Mission co-workers the Rev. Cathy Chang and Juan Lopez, and Cobbie and Dessa Palm, all serving in the Philippines, worked with the staff of UCCP to plan the program.

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