O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek; you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed, so that those from earth may strike terror no more

Psalm 10:17-18

On 28 November 2022, Rev. Edwin Egar, ordained clergy of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines and a human rights worker in Southern Tagalog, together with his wife, Rev. Julieta Egar, filed a petition for a remedy to ensure their fundamental rights, due to relentless ‘red-tagging’ against them by elements of the Philippine Army. Their petition was denied by the Court of Appeals.

‘Red-tagging’ is the labelling of individuals or organisations as either communist or terrorist, or both, by the security forces or public servants. ’Red-tagging’ occurs regardless of their actual political beliefs or affiliations, and is an incitement to repression and persecution against those who are critical of the actions of the government.

The Egar couple is among the many victims of ‘red-tagging’ in the Philippines. Civil society organizations, including churches, that are working for human rights have experienced various violations and threats after being ‘red-tagged’ by state authorities – or being accused of serving as fronts for ‘local communist terrorist groups’. Laws like the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 (ATA) and the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012 compound the threat of ‘red-tagging’. The National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) and its member churches such as the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) and the United Methodist Church in the Philippines (UMC) have been targets of such accusations. Among others, Bishop Carlos Morales of the IFI, Rev. Glofie Baluntong of the UMC, and NCCP staff Ms Peti Enriquez have been victims of such false accusations and charges. Meanwhile the assets of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), the UCCP Haran Centre in Southern Philippines, and UCCP Fatima Worshipping Congregation in Central Philippines have been frozen under the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act.

This ‘red-tagging’ and weaponization of laws by the Philippine government is in the context of a nationwide militarized counterinsurgency campaign that is aimed at crushing the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP/NPA/NDFP) which have been engaged in an armed conflict with the government for more than 50 years. In 2017, former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte terminated the peace negotiations with the NDFP and issued  Executive Order 70 (EO 70) creating the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). EO 70, NTF-ELCAC and various laws like the ATA are being continued under the administration of Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. The result is intensified militarization in rural areas, and increasing constriction of civic and democratic spaces, as ‘red-tagging’ and ‘lawfare’ is used against activists and progressives to silence dissent.

Human rights and environmental defenders, as well as the communities and people that they serve, are also targets. Those who defend the land, often the ancestral domains of Indigenous Peoples, from the development of mines and dams, are confronted by the Philippine military that use their power to protect the interests of international companies. Farmers who seek just, dignified and sustainable livelihoods for their families and communities are often imprisoned or killed, while the lawyers who seek to represent them are attacked.

Meanwhile, extra-judicial killings in connection with the ‘war on drugs’ continue under the present administration and particularly affect the poor. The family members of the thousands killed under the previous Duterte administration are still working for justice and accountability but have few legal options in local and national courts. Very few members of law enforcement and the Philippine National Police (PNP) have been investigated and brought to justice for their roles in these killings and violations.

Meeting on 21-27 June 2023 in Geneva, Switzerland, the central committee of the World Council of Churches therefore:

Condemns in the strongest possible terms the extrajudicial killings and other grave human rights violations being committed in the Philippines, and calls upon the government of the Philippines to take all necessary measures to stop these violations, to uphold human rights, to ensure that impartial investigations are carried out to hold perpetrators accountable, and to engage seriously and constructively with the three-year United Nations Joint Programme on Human Rights in the Philippines (established under UN Human Rights Council Resolution 45/33).

Expresses its condolences to the families of the victims, especially to the families of church workers, pastors and priests who have been among the victims of extrajudicial killings.

Affirms the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), member churches and ecumenical partners of the WCC , and other faith-based organizations and religious workers, for their courageous work with and for the poor in the face of violent opposition, and supports their call for the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) to resume the formal peace negotiations and to address the root causes of the armed conflict.

Commitsthrough all appropriate and relevant programmes, offices, and instrumentalities of the WCC, to support all efforts in cooperation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights for the implementation of Human Rights Council Resolution 45/33 on technical cooperation and capacity building for the promotion and protection of human rights in the Philippines.

Calls for compliance with the Anti-Torture Law of 2009 and the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012, for repeal of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, and for enactment of the Human Rights Defenders’ Bill.

Commits, through all appropriate and relevant programmes, offices, and instrumentalities of the WCC, to collaborate with the NCCP, WCC member churches in the Philippines and in the Asian region, and other ecumenical, interreligious, and faith-based groups to promote international ecumenical accompaniment and consultation on this matter.

Calls the member churches of the WCC to be in prayer for the people of and churches in the Philippines as they struggle with human rights violations, and to find and discern ways WCC member churches can accompany and support churches and ecumenical partners in the Philippines.