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Philippines: Catholics protest threats to life

Photo by Angie de Silva / UCAN

The Council of the Laity in the Philippines organized its annual “Walk for Life” on February 24 to protest extrajudicial killings and the push to reinstate the death penalty in the country. The following article was published in the March-April 2018 issue of NewsNotes

In the Philippines in February, marches, protests, fasts and a “Walk for Life” marked the 32nd anniversary of the nonviolent overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship, called the EDSA People Power’s Revolution. On February 25, 1986, hundreds of thousands of Filipinos gathered along the 54 kilometers of Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA) to call for the restoration of democracy, culminating months of nonviolent direct action training by the Catholic Church.

It was the power of the people that ended the oppressive Marcos regime. Hence, it came to be known as the EDSA People Power’s Revolution – one of the prime examples in modern history of the power of active nonviolence.

This year’s commemoration of that proud moment in Philippine history took place under a cloud of threats to Philippine democracy: Under the guise of President Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’ over 7,600 Filipinos have been victims of extrajudicial killings – possibly exceeding the number of victims from the martial law years under Marcos. Duterte has stated his support for bringing back the death penalty and he arranged for a hero’s burial for the remains of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Duterte is also trying to change the 1987 Philippine Constitution, which reestablished democracy after the People Power Revolution, to establish a federalist government which critics claim will only consolidate power in the hands of Duterte and a privileged few.

For nine days before the February 25 anniversary, Catholic farmers, fishermen, nuns, and priests staged a fast and protest at the People Power Memorial in Manila to dramatize their opposition to the proposed rewriting of the 31-year-old Constitution. “A shift to federalism,” said one participant, Fr. Robert Reyes, “will only give greater powers to family dynasties and landlords in the provinces.” 

Benedictine nun Mary John Mananzan, one of the organizers of the newly-formed Movement Against Tyranny, agrees but went further, saying the goal of the proposed revision of the Constitution is to “concentrate all power in one man’s hands” and “is a formula for complete tyranny and dictatorial rule…we cannot allow another era of darkness.”

Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president