Good News about Pastor Berlin

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Asia » Philippines
September 21st 2008
Published: September 21st 2008
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In work that provides slow results and rare chances for real celebration it was difficult not to cry openly in the office last week when we were informed that Pastor Berlin Guerrero was finally released from prison.

Pastor Berlin was abducted in May of 2007, and was hidden for days in a "safe house" by his captors, soldiers who tortured him and accused him without claim of being a member of the Communist Party of the Philippines. He was surfaced after President Arroyo received intensive questioning about his whereabouts by members of the New Zealand government during a state visit. After being surfaced Pastor Berlin was charged with an unsolved murder from 1991 and has since been held in the Cavite Provincial Jail. Since his incarceration human rights groups have been advocating for his release, because they believe his incarceration to be unfounded, illegal and politically motivated. Pastor Berlin has been counted amongst the numerous political prisoners of the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo regime. The Philippine Court of Appeals declared last week that there was insufficient evidence to have issued a warrant of arrest for the Pastor. (The murder victim's family has been adamant since Pastor Berlin's arrest that he was not the perpetrator. They believe that their family member was killed by state security forces for his actions as a people's advocate.) The Court of Appeals ordered the immediate release of Pastor Berlin, who was able to go home with his family for the first time in a year and a half.

It is rare that courts in the Philippines find in favor of the innocent victims of politically motivated arrests. Frequently they accept the flimsy and/or false evidence presented by the State. As a result the decision to release Pastor Berlin is a real coup for the country's human rights advocates, and for justice in the Philippines.

I met Pastor Berlin in February. and have thought about him frequently since. His strength and his faith were anchors for me at a time when I was coming to grips with the poverty and the oppression I was facing in this internship. I only spent an afternoon with the man, but in those few hours he gave unabashedly to me. In more candor then I myself would have been able to muster he told me about his life before prison, about his abduction and about his effort to keep living, and keep living with God while incarcerated. He taught me more about believing in God, and interpreting the message of Jesus in the context of this very real world, then any other single human being ever has. As I face things in my work here: violence, poverty, oppression, fear; things that have made me feel incapable of talking to God, I have thought about Pastor Berlin. He believed in a God who was fighting the anti-people powers along side us.

Today, as the international attention, which has been heavy in the past couple of years, turns away from the Philippines, there seems to be an increase in violence against activists. Peoples advocates are again being targeted heavily by the State. As the work in my office gets busier, because the human rights of people and whole communities are again at risk, I find myself thinking of Pastor Berlin. He is finally free. He has spent a week outside of prison, with his wife, with his children, with his God. What a wonderful thing. What a wonderful thing to celebrate.


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