Monday, March 30, 2009

Commission on Human Rights' Public Inquiry on the Summary Killings in Davao (DDS)

The Commission on Human Rights CHR) in here in Davao conducting a public inquiry on the extrajudicial killings carried out by the so-called Davao Death Squad (DDS). I attended the hearing today which was held at the Royal Mandaya Hotel (I came later in the afternoon). I had received an invitation signed by CHR chair Leila de Lima to be present in this inquiry and to submit data or analysis that can be shed light on these killings.

The city mayor, Rodrigo Duterte and several police & government officials were around to share their views and recommendations about the DDS. Most of them denied that summary killings are going on and they also deny the existence of the DDS. During the lunch break, the CHR also had an executive session with some witnesses and families of the victims. Clarita Alia, a mother whose 4 sons were killed by the DDS, on the other hand confirmed the existence of the DDS and the involvement of a policeman.

I wrote an analysis of the summary killings which I submitted to the CHR:

Summary Executions in Davao: An Analysis

For over 10 years, the number of victims of the so-called “Davao Death Squad” (DDS) has reached 890 (from 1998 to March 2009). In other countries this would be considered as serial-mass murder.”

There is a widespread belief among the residents of Davao, the media and the civil society groups that these killings have the support or blessing of the mayor (Rodrigo Duterte) and with the complicity of section of the police personnel.

The police and the mayor deny that there have been any summary executions. They deny the existence of the DDS. They deny involvement in these killings or with the DDS which they claim do not exist.

That there are summary killings carried out by a vigilante group known as DDS is obvious and can be proven. However, witnesses are not willing to testify because they believe that the mayor and members of the police force are coddling the DDS.

So far, there are no evidence or witnesses that would link the mayor to the summary killings and to the DDS.

If we examine the statements of the mayor, these statements are warnings to criminals and justification for the killing of suspected criminals. The least that one can conclude from these statements are that the Mayor tolerate these killings, support these and provide for their justification.

How are these killings justified?

-Those killed are criminals (thieves, drug pushers and addicts, gang members) and they all deserve to die. “They are all fair targets for assassination.” “The death penalty has not been lifted in Davao.”
-It is a means of defending ordinary citizens from criminals (especially from drug menace).
-It is part of the war against crime and a means for cleansing evil from society
-It serves as a deterrent and will bring down the crime rate.
-It keeps the city safe and this is good for business.

These justifications can explain why many residents of Davao support these killings.

Whether these killings are perpetrated by the Davao Death Squad or any other group what is clear is that these murder are perpetrated with the same modus operandi (men in motorcycle, using .45 or knives) and with specific targets (suspected criminals – drug addicts, pushers, thieves, etc.). Most of the victims are on the list or “order of battle” compiled by the PDEA.

These killings have not been condemned by the local authorities. There has been no systematic investigation carried out. Yet they are quick to deny that that there are summary killings and to deny the existence of the DDS. They are either engaged in cover-up or they are incompetent. Thus, the killings continue with impunity.

The summary executions cannot be morally justified. It is murder – an intrinsically evil act. It is gravely immoral. It is a crime and a grave sin. It cannot be considered as a legitimate self-defense. Even if it claims to have a good intention or end, the means used cannot be justified. Those who sponsor and carry out summary executions, in their effort to stamp out criminality, become criminals themselves.

There is a need to address the problem of criminality, especially drug addiction, which is part of the culture of death. Summary execution is not the solution. It contributes to the rise of criminality by being a criminal act and further promotes the culture of death. As part of our prophetic mission, it is our task as clergy and religious to denounce and oppose summary execution and to proclaim the Gospel of life.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Celebrating the end of the school year

Another school year has ended and tonight we came together to celebrate. The mass which was attended by the seminarians, professors and staff was presided by Fr. Brendan, the new director of the St. Alphonsus' Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI). Sr. Miriam, the new dean, was also around. Immediately after the mass we had a feast and a program.

Yesterday we had our faculty meeting and earlier today we had our administrative council meeting. So the summer vacation has begun.

I am happy that after over 12 years as the dean of academics I am finally stepping down. I will still be teaching next school year but my load will be lighter (ecclesiology, sacraments, ministry & orders, pastoral leadership & management, theological synthesis). Fr. Brendan and Br. Ramon Coronel will be handling some the courses that I used to teach. Hopefully, by next year Fr. Mario will finish his studies in Louvain and he can teach my other courses. So beginning first semester in 2010, I will be on sabbatical! It will be seven months of "hibernation" (2 months in Rome and 5 months as a hermit in Busay). I will definitely finish all my book projects by then. Meanwhile, I will have to be satisfied with spending a few days in Samal island (camping & scuba diving) and one month in Busay.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Biking and Running for Peace in Mindanao (Davao City)

Early this morning I accompanied Fr. Robert Reyes, Fr. Albert Alejo and other participants of the "International Solidarity Conference on Mindanao" for the Bike and Run for Peace around the downtown area of Davao City. I brought along three seminarians who also joined this activity that called for the resumption of the peace negotiation between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Afterwards, the other participants together with Fr. Reyes proceeded to Cotabato for the Caravan for Peace. Christians and Muslims in Central Mindanao gathered along the highway to express their support for the peace process.

Fr. Robert is now based in Hongkong, working for the Asian Human Rights Commission. He just came to Davao to express his support for the peace process. The last time we met was in Iligan in September last year when we also biked and run for peace from Iligan to Kolambugan.
We were planning to run together in the Philippine International Marathon for the Pasig River this February but the marathon was postponed to November 2009. So we have 8 months of preparation for that. We are planning to "bike-run for the environment" around the Laguna Lake(200 km distance) a week before the marathon. We will invite Senator Pia Cayetano to join us.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Communal Fasting

Today the whole Redemptorist community in Davao fasted. This means no lunch was served. This is part of our communal penance every Friday during the season of lent. We are also setting aside the amount we save on food for the poor. I am glad that we are doing this as a community.

As far me, I do not only skip lunch but I fast for 24 hours. I do this not just during lent but throughout the whole year every Friday. But during the season of lent, I fast twice a week. I also eat one full meal a day the rest of the week. It may sound strange but I do not feel any hunger. I even jogged for 40 minutes this afternoon on an empty stomach.

Fasting has various significance in my life. The first time I fasted was when I was an 18-year old political prisoner during the early years of martial law. Seven days before Christmas (1973), I joined 80 other political prisoners who were on hunger strike to demand bette a stop to the torture and maltreatment of prisoners. We ended our fast on Christmas eve after our demands were granted.

The next time I took up fasting was after the death of my close friend and fellow seminarian, Magno. I was in the third year of theology in Davao (1979). I started to fast every Friday as part of my grieving process and also as an ascetical practice. I continued to do this after ordination. Every time I stayed for a month in my hermitage up in the mountain of Busay every year, I would fast for a week or more. Fasting was part of the contemplative and ascetical dimension of my life.

In 1987, I fasted for nine days, accompanied by two other Redemptorist priests to seek for truth and justice for Fr. Rudy Romano who was abducted by suspected military intelligence and who had disappeared.

When I was sent for higher studies, I stopped fasting regularly. It was only recently that I once again took it up as a regular practice. During the Mindanao Week of Peace I joined other Christian and Muslim Religious leader for the Fast for Peace. I also fasted in solidarity with the Muslims during the month of Ramadan. After the Ramadan, I decided to continue doing it every Friday.

Nowadays, I fast to help me meditate and pray (it enhances contemplation). I also fast in solidarity with those who are poor and hungry. I fast for peace and to promote the value of life.

Beside the spiritual, ascetical and political dimensions, intermittent fasting also has physiological effects. It can cleanse the body of toxins, burn excess fat and bring down blood pressure level. In other words, it is good for the health for a long as it does not lead to starvation. It can even lengthen one's life span.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Another Victim of the Culture of Death in Davao

This morning I said mass at the Assumption Convent and one of the intention was for the safety of Rebelyn Pitau who was abducted yesterday. After the mass, we heard the news that her body has been found. She had been tortured, raped and then stabbed to death. This is horrible.
Rebelyn, a 20 year old school teacher - is the daughter of NPA kumander Parago whom the military has been trying to capture for a long time. Rebelyn's mother blamed the military intelligence group for the dastardly act. I tend to believe her. Who else would try to kill the rebel leader's daughter?
Over 25 years ago, the killing of suspected subversives and criminals were a common occurence. I was hoping that it would be a thing in the past with the fall of the Marcos dictatorial rule. Today it continues in Davao. There is a death squad that assassinates suspected criminals and there is also another group abducts and kills not only suspected rebels but also their relatives. This is another manifestation of the culture of death and the spiral of violence in our land. Life has not value in this land. New People's Army continue their protracted guerilla war and the military still uses the same tactics employed before by the dictator's army. The same method is used by those in authorities in their so-called war against criminals. All these continue to happen under the present government. When will this end?

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Oratio Imperata: Praying for the Davao Death Squads & their Victims

Yesterday, during the Wednesday evening mass, I led the people in praying the "Oratio Imperata" which Archbishop Capalla had ordered to be recited during the masses this Lent. This is the response of the archdiocese to the unabated killings perpetrated by the Davao Death Squads (DDS). There have been over 800 victims of the DDS. This "mass murder" continues with impunity and the local authorities are not doing anything to stop these. In fact, many believe that these killings are being tolerated or supported by the powers-that-be, although this cannot be proven as there are no witnesses who are willing to come out because of fear. What is alarming is that many people support these killings since the victims are suspected criminals and they keep the city safe - even if these killings are against the law of God and society. The rule of law is disregarded and there is lack of respect for the value of life. Meanwhile, the big time criminals remain free and many even occupy high offices in government.

The local newspapers reported yesterday that the mayor is displeased that the "oratio imperata" is being read. He said that the prayer was incomplete since it did not include those who were killed by the victims of the DDS and bombings. He reportedly suggested that people who do not like the prayer can walk out or transfer to other religions. He said that he will pray for the priests whose sins have weakened the Catholic faith.
I am wondering why the mayor is reacting this way. I am concerned that in the coming days, he will continue his attack against clergy and the Catholic Church in Davao. This is the price the Church has to pay for its prophetic stance and for its defense of the sacredness of life.

This is the "Oratio Imperata":

“Heavenly Father, our city is wounded in its soul. Our people’s wounds are deep and wide. These wounds are the hatred and dislike of drug addicts and drug pushers, the senseless disregard of due process of law, the violent killing of mere suspects, the crash taking of the law into one’s hands, the lustful greed in the hooded killers on motor bike, the baseless claim that there are no witnesses, the inhuman disrespect for life of the unborn from womb to tomb, and the unjust socio-political system that tolerates all these to happen.

“Lord, on bended knees, we too confess that our souls and spirit are wounded by our anger and desire for revenge. Yes, we are angry because our loud protests and public outcry have fallen on deaf ears. Our souls are nourishing irresponsible suspicions and rash judgments on the real perpetrators of the crimes. We are wounded by our disunity and hopelessness which imprison our hearts and weaken our willpower. Most of all, Heavenly Father, our souls are wounded by our stark ignorance that we too are responsible for the existence and perpetuation of the systems that promote, condone and abet these social wounds in the soul and spirit of our people. For all these, Lord, we are deeply sorry and beg your mercy and forgiveness.

“God of power and mercy, since our collective efforts at peaceful protests have proven fruitless, we come to you for help. Yes, Lord, we come to ask for healing. Heal our souls and spirits of all the violent animosities that weaken our society and life. Give us light, give us strength, give us courage to believe and to trust in you. Make us realize that in each of us from every walk of life there is an inherent and inborn goodness. You planted this goodness and it is not and cannot be erased by our sin and crime. This is our reason for hope.

“For this reason, Heavenly Father, we beg you to give us your healing touch. Touch the hardened hearts of criminals, drug addicts, drug pushers, drug lords, law enforcers, and the hearts of us all. Open them to the healing power of your love and compassion. Give the grace of courage to the eyewitnesses of crimes. Awaken in us all a collective consciousness and support which are urgently needed by the witnesses and the grieving families of victims. Convert us to you and to one another. Reconcile us to you and to one another through sincere repentance and mutual forgiveness. For without forgiveness, there is no future for our city.

“In this penitential season of Lent – and even beyond – give us courage and strength to make reparation for all our sins and crimes by means of voluntary acts of penance and self-sacrifice symbolized by your cross. We believe that when these are offered together with your own sacrifice on the cross, they can save us, heal us, and restore us to your friendship (“by his wounds we have been healed” 1 Peter 2:24). Make us overcome the evil in the system by the power of goodness in us all who are within the system, the goodness that is rooted in you alone.

“We make this humble prayer together with the Blessed Virgin, our Mother, so that as one united family in the bond of love, we may all experience the soothing joy of your presence and the healing balm of your love, you who live and reign with the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen

We will continue to recite this prayer in the church during this lenten season. I just hope that this can awaken the conscience of those who have been possessed by the Evil One. I also pray that God's justice will visit those responsible for this mass murder.

We are not afraid. We are ready to face the consequences of our prophetic stance.

Here's a link to the latest documentary on the DDS aired on TV by the Al-Jazeera the other day.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

EDSA - The Unfinished Revolution

This morning I presided at the 10:30 mass in our parish church. This was the homily I preached:

A few days ago, we celebrated the 23rd anniversary of the EDSA revolution.
We should never forget that event.
For many us, it was a miracle. A corrupt dictatorial regime was overthrown without bloodshed in four days. We were so happy - democracy was restored. It was the beginning of a new era of peace and progress. We were proud to be Filipinos.
For many of us, EDSA was like our own Exodus.
It was an experience of liberation from tyranny and oppression and the beginning of the journey towards the promised land.

After 23 years the question we need to answer: Where are we now? What have we accomplished as a nation? Are we better off than we were 23 years ago?

If we look at the present situation we can say that nothing much has changed.
Marcos is long gone and dead.
But majority of our people remain poor.
The spiral of violence continues:
there are still summary killings (salvaging),
the armed conflict between the NPA and government forces is again escalating.
Democracy was supposed to be restored. We have free elections. Yet our elections remain dirty. Corruption is like a cancer that has metastasized - that has spread to all level of society - for the highest to the lowest levels of government, including the judiciary, the police and the military.
We have a president who is no better that her corrupt predecessors - Marcos and Estrada.
It’s as if we never left Egypt, there was no Exodus. And we are far from the promised land.

What went wrong?

We only changed the president.
But we have not turned away from sin and evil.
There was no inner transformation in our hearts.

The Gospel relates to us Jesus’ withdrawal in the desert which took 40 days and 40 nights.
This was a time of purification.
He struggled against that satanic temptations - to allow his life to be dominated by the pursuit of self-gratification, of wealth, power, and of glory.
And after this he proclaimed the coming of the God’s kingdom,
the good news of liberation from sin and evil and all its manifestation
and he called people to turn away from sin, to repentance and conversion,
to change, to an inner transformation.

We have just started the seaon of Lent. During these forty days of preparation for the celebration of our Lord's death and resurrection, the Church invites us to spend time in prayer and reflection.
We need to examine our lives and ask ourselves how far have we succumbed to the satanic temptations, how far have we allowed ourselves to be dominated by selfishness and greed.

We, as a people and as individuals are called to go through the "desert-experience" – to go through a process of purification - to overcome the satanic temptations, to exorcise the demons within ourselves and in our society.
There can be no genuine social transformation without overcoming the satanic temptations of the flesh, of power and glory.
There can be no real social transformation without personal conversion.

This is what the season of Lent is all about.
Without the purification in the desert, we as a people will not reach our promise land.

EDSA was an unfinished revolution - what is required is a moral revolution - the struggle against evil within our hearts and in the political, economic and cultural systems