Church Leaders in the Philippines Support Chief Justice Against Impeachment Reports
by Elliott Wright
New York, NY, January 22, 2009--United Methodist and other church leaders in the Philippines are strongly supporting the country's chief justice in the wake of reports that efforts to impeach him are under way, presumably for upholding human rights laws.
Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno, a United Methodist lay preacher, may or may not be threatened with removal. The press in the Philippines has been abuzz with reports that the justice is or is not the target of impeachment proceedings. His backers are not taking any chances and are speaking out.
The three-member College of Bishops of The United Methodist Church in the Philippines issued a manifesto of support for the chief justice, as did the president of the country's National Council of Churches.
"Let us as one Christian family gather, pray and join activities in solidarity with Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno," United Methodist Bishop Lito Cabacungan Tangonan of Manila said in a pastoral letter to church members.
Opposition to the chief justice is hardly a secret in the Philippines. He has been a strong force for justice in dealing with charges that the military is responsible for the "extrajudicial killings" of persons who challenge policies of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Rumors of impeachment proceedings seem to rest in the justice's opposition to a charter change that would allow the current president to become prime minister of the country, a move opposed by human rights supporters.
Prospero Nograles, Speaker of the House of Representatives, has denied any moves to remove the chief justice. Other reports say that Mr. Nograles is the architect of the impeachment plan.
Reynato S. Puno has been a member of The United Methodist Church since birth. His family has close ties with the Puno United Methodist Church in Manila, where he is currently chair of the administrative committee and a lay preacher.
He was named chief justice in 2006 by President Macapagal-Arroyo and has become noted for his strong adherence to the fair application of the rule of law. In 2007, he made international headlines by launching the National Summit on the Extrajudicial Killings and Forced Disappearances in response to years of murders and disappearances of government opponents.
Actions by the chief justice made it possible for families of victims of alleged extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances to open military records to discover facts that may have been withheld.
Father Rex RB Reyes, Jr., general secretary of the National Council of Churches, said that Justice Puno has "demonstrated integrity and dedication to the rule of law especially in the defense of human rights. He is one of the few trustworthy civil servants, a rare breed in these difficult times."
While the chief justice is reported to have opponents on the Supreme Court bench, he has been backed, since the impeachment reports surfaced, by a wide range of associations representing judges and lawyers in the Philippines and other parts of Asia.
The debate around Justice Puno comes at a time of renewed international concern and activism about the human rights situation in the Philippines. The inauguration of President Barack Obama in the United States triggered renewed efforts to limit US military aid to the Philippines unless human rights benchmarks are achieved.
The Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines on January 22 issued an appeal that urges religious organizations to renew pressure on the US to insist that conditions included in military spending bills of 2008 be met by the Macapagal-Arroyo government. The conditions apply to only $2 million of a $30 million appropriation.
The three conditions, which the advocacy group says have not been met, stipulate the implementation of provisions on human rights included in a United Nations report, the prosecution of those in the military and others responsible for extrajudicial killings, and an end to the vilification of civil organizations by the Philippine military.
Date posted: Jan 22, 2009