June 30, 2015

STOP THE HARASSMENT

The National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) condemns in the strongest terms the recent spate of harassments among unionists and activists perpetrated by elements believed to be agents of the state. There are now more than 20 such cases involving union officers and organizers of COURAGE (Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees) and other progressive organizations since April 2015. They were all harassed by persons claiming to be members of the military and the police. COURAGE has been at the forefront of the struggle of government employees for decent wages and workers’ rights. In particular, they have been calling for a 16,000 pesos across the board salary increase. This campaign has been gaining ground in the last several months.

The latest case of harassment was on June 28, 2015 at around 8:00 in the morning. Mervin H. Toquero, Acting Program Secretary of the NCCP’s Program Unit on Faith, Witness and Service, and his wife, Raquel L. Toquero, National Organizer of COURAGE, were having breakfast with their three children at their home in Cavite and getting ready to attend Sunday church service, when they heard somebody calling from outside. Mervin went to see who was calling and he saw two men at their kitchen door. When he asked who they were and what their purpose was, one of the two persons told him that they were soldiers and that they wanted to talk to Raquel. Mervin asked for their identification and their mission order but they refused to present any. Instead, one of the two men, of medium height and build, around 25-30 years of age, of fair complexion and wearing a green ball cap, green pants  and a yellow polo shirt, said they wanted to talk to Raquel for they know what she has been doing and they want to help her. Mervin insisted that they talk properly in the family’s veranda and that their proper documents be shown.

They took no heed. Instead, they peered inside the house through the windows. When they saw Raquel, the apparent spokesperson of the two, the man with the green ball cap, called her and repeated what he told Mervin earlier. They handed her a paper with the name Delia and the numbers 09261430628 written on it. Then they left hurriedly.

The incident left the family agitated and threatened as it happened inside their family compound where Mervin’s father, Bishop Solito K. Toquero, retired bishop of the United Methodist Church and former vice chairperson of the NCCP also resides. They feel unsafe, following the intrusion by these agents on their residence. They have reason to be afraid as the climate of impunity in the Philippines is such that human rights defenders are killed by state agents even inside their houses.

The NCCP is alarmed over this incident and the other reported cases. We deplore this brazen act of harassment that involved intrusion in the homes of people as an abuse and misuse of power. We denounce this act of harassment that involves state security forces refusing to identify themselves fully. We condemn this act of harassment that is obviously part of the government’s national security policy.

 

We urge the government of Pres. Benigno Aquino III to rein in its state security forces from harassing people. We urge people to keep vigilant that the inviolability of our homes to be kept at all times. Let us keep watch that those who seek to undermine our rights especially from those who claim authority be exposed.

Our Constitution guarantees the freedom to organize and form unions and to air their collective grievances. People who work for human rights contribute a great deal for a country to have a vibrant democracy. We also call on our churches and our partners overseas to write letters of concern to President Aquino, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police and the Commission of Human Rights regarding this issue.

The NCCP will continue to announce and denounce rights violations like these. We are in solidarity with the Toquero family and the officers and organizers of COURAGE and other human rights defenders who are threatened and harassed. “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:6)”.

The Most Rev. Ephraim S. Fajutagana                       Rev. Rex R.B. Reyes, Jr.

Obispo Maximo XII, IFI and NCCP Chair                                      General Secretary