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  • Writer's pictureMelo Acuna

Bishop calls for freedom, peace and democracy

My Statement for Zara’s 1st Death Anniversary and Stop The Killings week culmination program (Aug 9-17, 2021)

More than two years since we started, we continue to ring the church bells, since even until today, the killings have not stopped. The Diocese of San Carlos closes the August 9-17 “Days of Action to Stop the Killings” by ringing the church bells.

Tonight, we rang the bells for Zara Alvarez, to mark one-year since the brutal slay of a brave human rights defender, community health worker, and peace and justice advocate of the Negros island. The list of those extrajudicially killed on our island is filled with the selfless, generous, compassionate, hard-working and courageous.

Among them are Dr. Mary Rose and Edwin Sancelan, Atty. Ben Ramos, Atty. Anthony Trinidad, church worker/sugarworkers’ leader Toto Patigas, and Iglesia Filipina Independiente lay ministers Briccio Nuevo and Salvador Romano.

In 2018, two years after President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office, nine sugarcane workers were killed in Sagay, Negros Occidental, including four women and two children. 17-year-old Jomarie Ughayon, Jr. and 17-year-old Marchtel Sumicad were among those killed in the massacre. In March 2019, 14 farmers who were suspected members of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army were killed during the implementation of different search warrants in Negros Oriental.

The operations were carried out mostly during wee hours. The farmers were shot as they were said to have fought it out, “nanlaban”. Under President Duterte’s Oplan Sauron, there are 106 cases of unsolved extrajudicial killings recorded in the Negros island as of 2020 and since then 17 more were added between January to May 2021.

Karapatan and 11 human rights formations recently demanded that the Duterte government account for some 40 cases of extrajudicial killings of human rights defenders in the country, carried out from January 2020 to June 2021. These assassinations of social activists and environment defenders include both the rural and the urban poor. Each life taken was a precious gift from God, leaving parents, children, siblings, and communities to grieve their deaths.

When we ring the bells to Stop The Killings, we ring them to remember the dead and console their loved ones. We also ring the bells to prick the conscience of those who kill, those who plot these sinister crimes against their kababayan (fellow Filipinos).

We ring out the truth that these killings are instigated by state policies such as the Oplan Sauron, E.O. 70, and the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020. We sound a warning to hitmen and militarists alike to resist evil and stop the killings.

Finally, as the bells toll, they ring out our hope. We are a hopeful people. We must reflect on these despotic killings and become the defenders of human rights. We must not be afraid to continue doing what is right. We must grow and expand our ministries to build peace. We must stand in solidarity with the poor and exploited to address the structural and historic injustices that have caused great economic disparity in the Philippines.

We must ring-out the Good News, that God’s desire for our people is the fullness of life, where peace and social justice prevail. We must continue to speak because SILENCE KILLS!

We remember Zara and the hundreds and thousands, whose most basic and God-given right, the Right to Life, were violated. We denounce the Duterte administration’s state-sanctioned killings!

Ring out freedom, justice, democracy! Ring out peace! Stop the Killings in the Philippines!

Bp Gerardo A. Alminaza Diocese of San Carlos

San Carlos Bishop Gerardo A. Alminaza (Melo M. Acuna/File Photo)

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