11 April 2009

More than 800 unsolved murders in 'crime-free' Davao City, Philippines

On St Patrick's Day in Ireland my Columban colleague, Fr Shay Cullen, received the Humanitarian Award at the annual Meteor Ireland Music Awards. The award includes €100,000 which Father Shay will be able to use for his work at Preda, in Olongapo City, Philippines.

He also writes a weekly column, Reflections, and I'm posting his latest here.

How I was Saved from the Davao Death Squad

Fr Shay Cullen's columns are published in The Manila Times, in publications in Ireland, the UK, Hong Kong, and online.

There have been many concerned people from around the world who expressed their anguish, shock, and are deeply angry at the injustice committed against the children and youth of Davao City and elsewhere that has been revealed by the Philippine Commission on Human Rights (CHR). The courageous chairperson of the commission, Leila De Lima, who led the public enquiry last week said the majority of victims are very young, mostly youth, terribly poor, semi-illiterate street children. Few if any had been arrested, charged and found guilty of any crime. Their living presence is the embarrassing evidence of gross social inequality and injustice.

The chairperson of the CHR calls this ‘selective vigilantism’. It is not the rich and wealthy drug pushers, traffickers, dealers, and powerful criminals that are assassinated but hundreds of the ‘throwaway children’. ‘I share the view that no big-time criminals, like drug lords or rich drug pushers and drug users, appear among the victims of the so-called "Davao Death Squad"’, De Lima told journalists.

Even when the skulls and bones of women and children we dug up near a police firing-range, as earlier reported in this column, there was little or no civic response or alarm. The community believed wrongly, that they were safer because of the Davao Death Squad and so the atrocities continued. Perhaps they were too frightened to take a stand for human rights, the dignity of the human person and the right to life, our Christian duty.

Fear can be the poison of the human spirit but there are those in Davao City who are brave and courageous and took a stand against the Death Squad. Some have been killed. When I was charged with libel by Mayor De Guzman in 1999 because I had called on good-hearted defenders of human rights around the world to speak out and write to him to end the killings, he claimed that I blamed him for the killings.

When I was to be arraigned before the court, I flew in to Davao City expecting the worst, a shooter on a motor bike could to be waiting for me. As I stepped out of the airport, what a shock awaited me: there was a group of fifty or more street children waiting with banners, home-made drums and welcome placards. They burst into a cheering noisy mob of well wishers and surrounded me with a protective shield of their own bodies. No shooter was going to get me. They expected me to be shot, it is what happened to many of their friends and their courage and dedication brought a lump to my throat. They escorted me, led by the brave Davao Human Rights Workers, to the car park where several hired jeepnies were waiting and I was whisked off to the safety of the Maryknoll Missionaries’ house.

When I stood in the courtroom waiting to be arraigned, the Mayor sent a message to the court to say he was withdrawing the charges and would busy himself caring for the citizens. The case was dropped with much jubilation from the supporters. The Davao Diocesan Social Action directors had listened to the mounting concern of the true Christians and persuaded the Mayor, who was coming up for reelection, to drop the case. That was my dangerous brush with the Davao Death Squad.

Months later, the Department of Justice decided positively on my petition to dismiss the charges. It was too late to be of any help other than to prove I was innocent and that there was no evidence that I had libeled the mayor.

It just shows how important it is for us to take a stand for the most important thing there is - the dignity and rights of every human person no matter how poor and powerless they are. Jesus taught us that. ‘Blessed are the poor, the Kingdom of God is for them’. That's why the politicians arrested Jesus, tortured and executed him like a criminal without a fair trial. That's why he is risen and alive today - to inspire us to take a stand for the downtrodden and lift them up to a new life. END

Visit http://www.preda.org/ for more related articles.
Contact Fr Shay Cullen at the Preda Center, Upper Kalaklan, 2200 Olongapo City, Philippines.
Email: preda@info.com.ph

The photo on the left is that of Mayor Rodrigo Duterte of Davao City who claims that Davao is 'peaceful' despite more than 800 unsolved murders in less than ten years, many of them of children. When you land at Davao Airport you read signs telling you that it's a crime to smoke in the streets of Davao. Apparently it's not a crime to murder children or petty criminals.

I came across two chilling news reports on the blog of Fr Amado Picardel CSsR who is based in Davao City. Father Picx, as he is known, is no stranger to violence himself as a Good Friday reflection on his blog yesterday shows:

Why have you forsaken me? Thirty-six years ago, after I was arrested, tortured and imprisoned for seven months during the early years of martial law, I felt so alone and isolated. I felt abandoned by friends, by my family. God seemed so distant … even absent. It was the first time in my life when I doubted the reality of God’s existence.I got a similar feeling twenty-four years ago, while I was alone on top of a mountain grieving after my mother was brutally killed, by military men.

One report mentioned by Father Picx is from Al Jazeera TV and the other from ITV-CNN. Draw your own conclusions from what Mayor Duterte says. In the latter report the mayor is shown breaking the law by not wearing a crash-helmet while riding his motorcycle.

Archbishop Fernando Capalla of Davao ordered that at every Mass for a year, starting on Ash Wednesday, an Oratio Imperata - 'mandated prayer' - be said. He noted, 'it is to be done after communion because Jesus is still sacramentally present, and on bended knees as a sign of humility.' Here is the text of the prayer:

'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.'
Mayor Duterte isn't too happy with this prayer


Larry said...

Hero's come from the most importanr time,God protected this man for standing for human rights a basic right for children and citizens of this community.Brutality homicides will continue until light is shown upon these evil people.I have read of death squads in South America while living in Kailua Kona,Hawaii Phillippinos wpould tell of the death squads.Where is the catholic church why not they take a stand and face this evil calling for this practice to stop?

Larry said...

This travesty is deplorable another sin just as tragic the flying junkets for pedophiles who travel through out Asia with out impunity looking for little girls and boys to violate.President Bush made it certain these low life's would face the law of our nation American citizens participation in this behaviour I see the flow of traffic to Thailand,Vietnam,Laos and Cambodia through out the Philippines has not slowed down. Where is the justice for these children?