|As a Young Deaconess Is Mourned, United Methodists Support Human Rights in the Philippines|
by Rebecca C. Asedillo*
Fort Worth, TX, May 1, 2008--Last month, the Rev. Mariesol Villalon of the Philippines received sad news as she prepared to depart from Manila for Fort Worth, Texas. She learned that Elisa Pera, a 26-year-old United Methodist deaconess, had been killed in what appeared to be a military operation at a remote village in Quezon province.
Rev. Villalon spoke at Pera's wake, where she recalled Pera's fervent passion for ministry among the poor. She then left, as planned, for General Conference, the United Methodist quadrennial legislative assembly that is meeting in Fort Worth from April 23-May 2.
Perhaps providentially, General Conference approved on April 30 a resolution calling on the Philippine government to immediately stop the killings and all other forms of human rights violations. It asked the United States to make any military and development assistance to the Philippine government conditional upon strict adherence to international laws and standards of human rights and good governance.
Reports from the Philippines indicated that Pera was killed along with a 13-year-old girl and an unidentified man. A mother and her seven-year-old child were also wounded. Two other persons in Pera's group were reportedly missing.
"I gathered that she was teaching the children and young persons, and I think the military had an operation in that area, and she was caught in that encounter," said Deaconess Chita Framo, executive secretary of the Diakonia in the Philippines, who attended the General Conference as a visitor.
Pera came from a family of pastors and deaconesses. She was student body president at United Methodist-related Harris Memorial College, from which she graduated in 2005. The college was established in 1903 by Methodist missionaries to educate women as deaconesses for service to the church.
"It was Lisa's training as a deaconess that led her to heed Jesus' command to serve the poor and oppressed, which she did in a manner she knew could cost her life," said Pong Javier, director of communication and information for the National Association of Filipino American United Methodists (NAFAUM). "That armed encounter is symptomatic of an unjust order that continues to reign in the Philippines, an order that provokes the poor into taking up arms. Anyone living in countries such as the Philippines will never fail to recognize this fact."
Recent weeks have not been easy for the bishop. Just over a month ago, on March 16, one of his pastors, Melchor Abesamis, was arrested and is still detained at a provincial jail in the province of Mindoro Occidental. Abesamis had just returned to the parsonage from visiting sick parishioners in a hospital.
Abesamis had been active in human rights advocacy and in a political organization called Bayan, which has been very critical of the Philippine government. He was implicated in a case involving an armed encounter that resulted in the death of five police officers and the wounding of others on May 10, 2007. Bishop Toquero has hired a lawyer and has signed a sworn statement saying that Pastor Abesamis was, in fact, running a youth program called the School for Christian Youth Development (SCYD) on the day of the alleged incident.
Becky Louter of the Office of Deaconess, Home Missioner, and Home Missionary, General Board of Global Ministries, said, "While I did not know Lisa myself, I have heard of her passion for following the example of Jesus Christ in serving with the poor and needy. Lisa's life reminds us that God's presence is still found on the edges where deaconesses continue to join the struggle to bring healing and to overcome injustices."
The General Conference resolution on human rights in the Philippines states: "Since human rights thrive under democratic, just, and peaceful conditions, we call for the resumption of peace talks by the government, without preconditions, with all of the Philippine rebel groups, so that through negotiations the civil, political, social, economic, and cultural problems that beset the Philippines may result in just and durable peace."
*Rebecca C. Asedillo is executive secretary for connectional relations, Mission Contexts and Relationships, General Board of Global Ministries, The United Methodist Church .
Date posted: May 01, 2008