The following is an excerpt from a United Methodist News Service (UMNS) story published online by Gladys Mangiduyos and Kathy L. Gilbert from MANILA, Philippines (UMNS):
A United Methodist Church compound is giving sanctuary to farmers and indigenous people after a protest for food relief turned deadly on April 1.
Three protesters were killed and more than 100 injured when security forces fired on the crowd blocking a major highway. Protesters poured into the Spottswood Methodist Mission Center for refuge and the compound is now surrounded by police.
Manila Area United Methodist Bishop Rodolfo A. Juan led a candlelight ceremony to pray for the farmers and Lumads, an indigenous people of the Philippines. More than 100 people joined the vigil in front of the Central United Methodist Church on April 3.
“It is never a sin when poor farmers demand food but it is a sin to deny them food,” said Bishop Ciriaco Q. Francisco. He and Juan and Pedro M. Torio Jr. jointly wrote a pastoral letter.
The farmers staged the protest on March 30 to draw attention to their communities and to demand assistance from the government. According to news reports, the police fired on the crowd April 1. In addition to the number killed and injured, at least 89 people, including children, are reported missing.
“In solidarity with the Lumad farmers in Mindanao, this prayer and candle lighting is an expression of our support to them being in the midst of strife and harassment,” said Floyd Castro, a layman from St. Mark United Methodist Church. “I am here to join and help the people who are harassed. They need help. We from Manila episcopal area and Philippines Conference will help in any way we can,” said the Rev. Maximo Gabriel, district superintendent from Southwest Metro Manila.
Frederick Vargas and his wife, Agnes Reganit-Vargas, both United Methodist young adults, were at the candle lighting to pray for the farmers who are asking for rice — “fruits of their labor,” Vargas said. “But what they got in return was violence.”
Police conducted a search of those at the Spottswood Methodist Mission Center on April 2 but no guns were found. “The search warrant the officers did today, the farmers can’t even have rice, why would they be accused of having guns?” asked Castro.