UCCP Bishop Reuel Norman Marigza: Keep up the pressure vs Duterte

Community News & Features Nov 24, 2017 at 4:03 pm


By Ysh Cabana

A mainline Protestant church’s top executive said that there are ways the international community could put pressure on President Rodrigo Duterte’s “growing authoritarian and militarist” rule in the Philippines.

“When we try to mass up with other organizations, in a people-to-people context…Eventually this will mount up into a pressure. We should keep up,” Bishop Reuel Norman Marigza, vice chair of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines and general secretary of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), said.

Marigza spoke in a forum with more than 50 people at Mary Ward Centre on Thursday November 16.

A theologian and ecclesiastical leader, he was back in Toronto as a global partner of the United Church of Canada (UCC). The Canadian and Philippine churches have a long history of joint projects, exchanges, study exposures, and internship programs.

UCC has worked with the UCCP and other partners for an end to human rights violations, including political killings through international political advocacy, formal reports and petitions, and personal accompaniment with pastoral visits, overseas personnel, and fact-finding missions.

In his talk regarding the assessment of Duterte’s first year in power, Marigza likened the Filipino politician’s approach to that of “playing with the people’s hopes and fears.”

“There has been this bright promise and possibilities in the beginning, there were signs that he was going to deliver some of them, but he left his people off. The acts he lived are becoming more apparent,” he said.

Bishop Marigza said that the Philippine government should be made accountable to the tangible changes he gave his word on, such as the end of contractual work schemes, labour export policy, and the resumption of peace talks.

In defense of human rights and civil liberties, Marigza invoked everyone to continue to demand for the national democratic interests of the public amid the threats to crack down people’s organizations.

Canadian citizens can help by sending letters to both the Philippine and Canadian governments seeking the release of all political prisoners and urging to return to the negotiating table, he said. Other ways to possibly influence the president’s actions include state-to-state negotiations.

“One of the more effective pressure, I think, on the state-to-state level would be withdrawing support especially on the economic terms. For instance, when there was this movement to reimpose death penalty and to lower the age of criminal responsibility, the international community, especially the EU, reminded the government that it’s a signatory to one of the protocols. Of course, in a very cavalier manner, Duterte says “well, I was not the one who signed it” But that’s not the way how protocols are made whether you or the previous government signed it or not, that becomes binding to states that are there,” he explained.

Undergoing state-driven peer-review process like the Universal Periodic Review is also workable over a span of time, he explained.

The UPR is a process within the United Nations, where member countries have their human rights records reviewed by the UN Human Rights Council every four years. The Philippines last participated in the UPR in 2012. That’s when the UCCP Bishop was also part of the group who went to Canada’s House of Commons and Geneva to testify.

“There were about 49 countries who raised this concern about the killings. President Duterte usually just dismisses all of these. He says this is an internal matter, we are a sovereign nation. At one point, he even threatened that the EU diplomats should go home within 24 hours,” said Marigza.

“But again, sometimes he talks too much before he can think. When the implications happen, then he backs out. There’s that room for pressuring him,” he added.

Asked what can be done at the moment, Marigza reminded: “We should maximize the space while we can interact with Duterte. But that space is getting narrower and narrower. But let me put it this way, he is still part of the ruling class. Most likely in the end he will side with the people he represents.”