Freed Pastor

DVC00210 "My day of freedom is very important for me and my family because there is one less spouse torn away from his or her partner in life and love by the government's counterinsurgency operation." So begins a letter to the editor in the electronic version of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

The Rev. Berlin Guerrero, a pastor in the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), was abducted on May 27, 2007 near his church. Soon after that, it was discovered that Berlin was imprisoned on charges of murder that he and the church denied.

His family, his church, and the international community pressed for his release. The Rev. Larry Emery, pastor of Walnut Grove Community Presbyterian Church in Walnut Grove, CA, worked tirelessly for Berlin's release. Larry advocated with elected officials in the United States and in the Philippines and he urged PC(USA) church leaders to join in that advocacy. The picture shows Larry Emery and Berlin's family members visiting Berlin at the jail in Cavite where he was held in February 2008.

The Philippines’ Court of Appeals ordered Berlin's release on September 11, 2008. The Philippine Inquirer quotes Associate Justice Martin Villaram as saying, “We cannot find any probable cause to warrant the issuance of an arrest warrant against Berlin.” Presbyterians have been active in calling for Berlin’s release.

Berlin's release is indeed call for rejoicing. However, the pursuit of justice in the Philippines continues. In late October, Remigio Saladero, the chief legal counsel for the KMU (an independent labor federation in the Philippines) and the union representing Dole Philippines's workers, was arrested by the Philippine government–an arrest that many human rights workers consider problematic and possibly illegal.

Most Americans believe that human rights abuses in the Philippines ended with the fall of the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship in 1986. But, unfortunately, human rights violations have reemerged as a major issue under the presidency of Gloria Arroyo, who took office in 2001. Since that time, hundreds of cases of extrajudicial murder, abduction, illegal detention, and torture have been documented. The National Council of Churches in the Philippines created a report detailing human rights violations (PDF) including the killing of over 800 people since the beginning of 2001.

The victims are members of civil society, such as labor leaders, land reform activists, journalists, judges, lawyers, and church workers, including pastors. Credible evidence compiled by both Filipino and international human rights organizations indicates that elements within the Philippine military are responsible for these abuses. The United Nations special investigator for extra-judicial killings has expressed concern over these abuses and have attributed most of them to the Philippine military.

The 218th General Assembly (2008) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) passed a statement that expressed concern over the human rights violations in the Philippines, affirmed its solidarity with our church partners, and called Presbyterians individually and corporately to involvement in support of our brothers and sisters and on behalf of human rights.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) works in the Philippines through mission personnel and in partnership with the UCCP. These efforts include theological education and leadership development, evangelism and new church development, social service and development, young adult and women ministries, justice and peace, security and reconciliation. 

The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship will sponsor a delegation to the Philippines from January 2-17, 2009.



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