Participants at an Interfaith Tea held in the Trendell Lounge at the Synod offices of the Diocese of New Westminster on the afternoon of October 16, 2023, heard from Attorney Neri Colmenares, a Filipino human rights defender. His visit was sponsored by the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines – Canada (ICHRP-Canada). ICHRP has a strong relationship with the Anglican church and sponsored his visit across Canada. The Interfaith Tea was presented in partnership with the diocesan Justice and Peace Unit, the Parish of St. Mary's, South Hill and ICHRP Canada.
ICHRP Canada is a global network of organizations concerned about the human rights situation in the Philippines. It is committed to campaign for just and lasting peace in the country. It aims to inform the international community about the grave human rights situation in the Philippines today.
The Anglican Church of Canada (ACoC) is a strong supporter and partner to the campaigns and advocacy work of ICHRP. Through its global affairs ministry, along with other ecumenical partner-institutions and grassroots organizations, the ACoC has helped develop effective responses through; writing petitions and letters to the government, organizing face to face meetings, sending a representative or representatives to international solidarity missions and devising a proactive strategy to address concerns pertaining to human, political, social and economic rights in the Philippines.
A primary purpose of the October 16 event was to expose the impacts of red-tagging (when a person or community is labeled by the government as dissenters, lives in danger and reputations marred) and the abuse of the law by government decrees against those who raise human rights concerns, putting those lives in danger, many whom are in the faith communities.
Attorney Neri Colmenares is the Presidential Advisor on Human Rights of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), the official organization of Filipino lawyers and Vice President of The Confederation of Lawyers in the Asia Pacific (COLAP). He presently serves as a legal counsel for the families of victims of extrajudicial killings arising from former President Duterte’s drug war in a complaint filed with The International Criminal Court (ICC) against Duterte and his police subordinates. He has received numerous international awards for his work including the 2020 International Bar Association (IBA) Human Rights Awards for ‘Outstanding Contribution by a Legal Practitioner to Human Rights.’ Attorney Neri’s lifelong commitment to human rights began when he became a student leader during Martial Law in the 1970’s under former President Ferdinand Marcos. Neri was arrested in 1978 at the age of 18, imprisoned for four years and tortured.
During his talk, Attorney Neri spoke of the seriousness of human rights violations taking place under the new President Marcos. The extrajudicial killings are continuing. The red tagging is continuing. The red tagging is against individuals standing up for human rights, against organizations and against the churches. He remembers years ago speaking with a church leader who said to him that; ‘every time the people are oppressed, the church is oppressed.’ Now it is ever more so, and with the red tagging he noted; ‘every time the church is oppressed, the people are oppressed.’ All these abuses are to stifle dissent, to silence critics of the government and its policies.
Attorney Neri reflected on what gives him hope and hope for all who are working for human rights. This hope is about faith in the capacity of the people to change society. It is about trusting in the capacity for the people to effect change. “It is the conviction of hope, and because you hope, you trust…our fight is a reasonable fight. We recognize our victories on the side of justice.”
In attendance were approximately 25 from various Filipino Organizations, including, Migrante BC and Sulong UBC – a Filipino Canadian student and youth organization. The Rev. Expedito Farinas, Rector of St. Mary’s South Hill and the Rev. Margaret Marquardt, Chair of the diocesan Justice and Peace Unit of the diocese welcomed the visitors to the Synod office. Offering the Land Acknowledgment was Retired Bishop Alex Wandag, an Honorary Assistant at St. Michael’s, Multicultural in Vancouver. Bishop John Stephens offered the Opening Prayer.
In his role as Bishop of the Diocese of New Westminster, which is in a Companion relationship with Episcopal Diocese of Northern Philippines (EDNP), he visited the Philippines in 2022. In our diocese he has engaged with; the Justice and Peace Unit, Ms. Beth Dollaga, Filipino leaders in our churches, and with the leadership in EDNP regarding human rights. In the question period, Bishop John asked Attorney Neri about support for human rights in a partnership model and in protecting churches and individuals. Attorney Neri responded that the work of partnership is one of continuing to hear the direction of those working in human rights in the Philippines and to work in solidarity.
Ms. Beth Dollaga, Vice Chair of ICHRP was a principal organizer of the Tea introduced Attorney Neri.
The participants were called to action by the Chair of ICHRP-Canada, the Rev. Patricia Lisson, United Church Minister in Toronto whose ministry focuses on ecumenism and Dr. Andrea Mann, the ACoC’s Global Affairs Director.
A National ICHRP- Canada Conference 3rd General Assembly ‘Resist State Terror. Stand for People’s Rights in the Philippines.’ will be held in Montreal May 3 -5, 2024. Information is available here on the organization's website.
At the conclusion of the time together, the Rev. Stuart Lyster, of the United Church of Canada (UCC), a proponent of Legal Defence Fund of the UCC led the Closing Prayers that offered the courage and hope for all to live into justice and peace together in God’s beloved community.
Photos: Randy Murray