24 February 2009

Benedictine Sister, environmentalists, harassed by Philippine soldiers

Benedictine Sister Stella Matutina (right) in a press conference on Feb. 19 in Davao City, Southern Philippines. She said armed soldiers wearing camouflaged uniforms harrassed her and two environmentalists after they organized a village forum on mining-related issues.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have a miserable record in the area of human rights. Most officers sold their souls to the dictatorship of President Marcos when he declared Martial Law in September 1972, the year after I arrived here. Many thousands died at the hands of soldiers, the excuse being that the victims were ‘Communists’, ‘leftists’ and ‘subversives’. No doubt, some victims were but it was never a capital crime to be such. Some of these too had blood on their hands, especially members of the New People’s Army (NPA).

The military redeemed themselves to some degree after the ‘People Power’ revolt in Metro Manila in 1986 that toppled the Marcos regime after the rigged counting of votes in the election where the people voted for Cory Aquino to be president.

The AFP has far too many generals and quite a few of them get high-paying government jobs for which they’ve no qualifications, eg, ambassadorships, when they retire from the military.

About two years a general linked by a government report with many killings was singled out for praise by President Arroyo in her state-of-the-nation address. In an article about that same general in a widely read newspaper he was quoted as saying ‘I have no conscience’. Just last night in an article on conscience by Fr Vincent Twomey SVD, a former student of Pope Benedict, in the October issue of Inside the Vatican Hermann Goering is quoted as saying ‘I have no conscience, Hitler is my conscience’.

A story from UCANews shows the military, or at least some members of it, in bad light. A quote from the regional military spokesman shows an utterly idiotic understanding of the mission of the Church and of that of Sisters. The Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing – Tutzing is near Munich – aren’t nuns, despite the headline, but religious sisters. Nuns are contemplatives, living in monasteries and aren’t involved in pastoral work. The Tutzing Benedictines, among other things, run schools. They live in community, wear habits and pray the Liturgy of the Hours as part of their daily life. So they do have aspects of the life of nuns.

The AFP spokesman prefers ‘Hollywood nuns’, totally removed from the mission of the Church and from reality.

Many parts of the Philippines have been destroyed by mining companies and by loggers. Members of the military have been involved in illegal logging, as I know from the parish in Mindanao where I served in the early 1990s. Visiting students from Sweden discovered illegally-cut logs in the watershed in the mountains in the area. I met with some soldiers in the house of a parishioner involved with a group trying to protect the forests and to observe the laws of the Philippines. The soldiers wanted the group to take down a banner. The military men were polite with me but they were engaged in a form of harassment against ordinary people trying to have the laws of the land implemented.

On one occasion I celebrated Mass in the military camp where the soldiers, officers and men, lived in fairly primitive conditions. Before the Mass I read a statement condemning the illegal cutting of trees issued by the head of the AFP. The officer whom I knew to be involved in illegal logging in the area was present before I read the statement but not when Mass ended.

In the last couple of weeks the first reading in the weekday Masses was from the Book of Genesis and included both accounts of creation. God’s own Word demands that we respect what He has created and that we take good care of it, including all of God’s creatures, most of all man, made in God’s image and likeness.

Sister Stella and her companions are engaged in a mission of life. God hasn’t called her to be in the convent 24/7 but to engage in active ministry in the Church.

Below is the report.

PHILIPPINES Nun, environmentalists complain of harassment after forum

By Frinston Lim February 20, 2009

DAVAO CITY, Philippines (UCAN) -- A Benedictine nun and two environmental activists said soldiers harassed them after they held a forum on mining and sustainable agriculture in a southern Mindanao village.

"Armed men barged in and roused all of us at gunpoint," Sister Stella Matutina, 40, said in a press conference in the southern Davao City on Feb. 19. "They demanded to see the documents and materials used during the forum."

The group, invited by local officials, had finished an "anti-mining forum" and talk on sustainable agriculture in Taytayan village on Feb. 15. They were sleeping in a village hall when the incident allegedly took place.

The Sisters' Association in Mindanao condemned the incident. "The Armed Forces of the Philippines is sending out the chilling message that no Religious can disrupt their plans of protecting the interests of logging, mining and big businesses," read their statement presented at the press conference.

Sister Matutina, together with Panalipdan, a broad alliance of environmentalists and peoples' organizations, has helped in documenting mining activities in Mindanao's Davao Oriental province, including those of the world's largest mining company BHP Billiton.

Panalipdan's Davao Oriental chairman Wenceslao Mapa and Councilor Maria Fe Matibo from the provincial capital of Mati joined Sister Matutina to conduct the forum.

However, masked gunmen wearing camouflaged military uniforms woke them up before 4 a.m. the next day.

Sister Matutina said the men introduced themselves as soldiers and told her she was not supposed to be there. The nun and the environmentalists were held for hours, until Mati diocese sent Father Edmundo Escobal to negotiate for their release.

Major Randolph Cabangbang, regional military spokesperson contacted by telephone, denied any harassment had taken place and described the incident as propaganda by groups linked to Maoist rebels.

He said soldiers went to the area "to check reports of suspicious-looking and armed men."

"Our soldiers did not know the nun was there," he said. "What was she doing there? She was supposed to stay in the convent. What she did there wasn't related to her Church work." (Comment: What an idiotic statement.)

At the news conference, Mapa told reporters that the gunmen had pointed two rifles at him and he felt "traumatized." Matibo said she felt embarrassed about the way the nun and Mapa were treated.

Sister Matutina said the incident infuriated her, but she was most concerned about how soldiers would treat "ordinary people who cannot defend their rights."

Panalipdan reported it documented more than 100 applications for mining exploration permits submitted to the provincial government as of December 2008.


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