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1 Ah, you who make iniquitous decrees, who write oppressive statutes, 2 to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be your spoil, and that you may make the orphans your prey! 3 What will you do on the day of punishment, in the calamity that will come from far away? To whom will you flee for help, and where will you leave your wealth, 4 so as not to crouch among the prisoners or fall among the slain? —Isaiah 10:1-4b, NRSV
Shortly after 2 o’clock in the very early morning of Wednesday, 24 February 2016, fire broke out at the Haran Mission Center of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines in Davao City. Media footage of the incident shows that the fire started in the evacuation camp of the Lumads followed in a minute in the two dormitories of the Mission Center. After the fire was put out, Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) investigators found two gallon-sized containers that smelled of gasoline and a 1.5-liter plastic bottle still filled with gasoline near the site of the fire. Five people were injured in the fire and two buildings were destroyed. The initial BFP investigation rules arson.
For more than a year now, the Haran Mission Center has sheltered around 700 Lumad or indigenous people who have sought sanctuary there. They have been displaced from their communities in Talaingod, Davao del Norte, because of heavy militarization. The Lumads live in mineral rich areas coveted by foreign mining companies. There is massive militarization in these areas to protect foreign mining interests. Even as they are sheltered in Haran, a zone of peace, there are still threats to the Lumads’ safety. They continue to be harassed, and just last December, they received threats that their temporary dwellings in Haran will be burned down. The threats have been executed, and once again, the Lumads have been harmed.
But there is nothing particularly new about all these. Then until now, the ruling dispensation actually ‘make iniquitous decrees’ and ‘write oppressive statutes’—take extra measures to ensure that their interests and those of their ilk are protected by the might of the state. Never mind that communities and whole tribes are divested of their land and life. Never mind that the young are deprived of their right to education. Never mind that the elders and wisdom-keepers are killed. Never mind that the environment is despoiled. They will ‘turn aside justice’ and ‘deprive the people of their rights’ just as long as their wanton greed is fed, though not even sated.
5 Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God, 6 who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever; 7 who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free; 8 the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous. 9 The LORD watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. —Psalm 146:5-9, NRSV
God will not allow that the greedy and wicked will have their way in the world. For as long as God’s people continue to stand alongside the oppressed in their fight for justice, for as long as God’s people continue to give food to the hungry and provide refuge to the dispossessed, then God will continue to be our hope. People of God, let us be the hope that we long for and stand with God in setting the prisoners free, lifting up those who are bowed down, watching over the strangers, the orphan and the widow. Let us not be cowed, for surely the way of the wicked will be brought to ruin; we can only wonder what they will do on the day of punishment. Let us ever be watchful and continue in God’s work of bringing Shalom here on earth that includes our Lumad sisters and brothers. Let us continue alongside them in their fight for self-determination and their right to ancestral domain. Let us say no to forced displacements, land-grabbing, school closures, extra-judicial killings, and all kinds of violations of their rights. And we condemn in the strongest possible terms this recent act of abuse and cowardice.
We call on our constituents and partners as we raise funds for the immediate needs of the victims of the fire, and for the rebuilding of the structures gutted by the fire. We are doubling security measures within Haran and even outside of Haran. We call for a thorough investigation of the incident and for the perpetrators to be brought to justice at the soonest possible time.
Let us continue in prayer and service for God and God’s people.
BISHOP REUEL NORMAN O. MARIGZA
BISHOP ELORDE SAMBAT
North Luzon Jurisdictional Area
BISHOP JOEL TENDERO
South Luzon Jurisdictional Area
BISHOP ERMEGENCIO PADILLO
Middle Luzon Jurisdictional Area
BISHOP JAIME MORILES
East Visayas Jurisdictional Area
BISHOP JEZER BERTOLDO
West Visayas Jurisdictional Area
BISHOP MELZAR LABUNTOG
Northwest Mindanao Jurisdictional Area
BISHOP HAMUEL TEQUIS
Southeast Mindanao Jurisdictional Area
25 February 2016
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