MANILA, THE PHILIPPINES – For the first time in the Philippines' history, the three largest church councils have crossed denominational boundaries to unite around a single issue: combating human trafficking. On September 5, 2013, IJM helped co-host the "Freedom Forum," a kick-off event to commemorate the historic, ecumenical partnership and launch the working group of these Christian leaders dedicated to ending human trafficking in their country.
The Freedom Forum
The three largest church councils in the Philippines sponsored the Freedom Forum—the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC), and the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP).
More than 600 people attended the event held at a large church in Manila. Leaders from each of the church councils were present, along with dozens of notable Christian leaders and human rights advocates from the government and NGO community.
The speakers and experts who led various workshops throughout the day underscored the need to work together to raise awareness and take real action against human trafficking. Speakers included Prosecutor Jedrek Ng of the government's Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT); the Chairman of CBCP's Episcopal Commission on Justice and Peace, Most Reverend Broderick S. Pabillo; IJM National Director and Cebu Field Office Director, Andrey Sawchenko, and IJM National Church Mobilization Consultant Joey Umali. Representatives from the Philippines' Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), and the Philippines Against Child Trafficking (PACT) also helped lead panel discussions.
There was a sense of urgency and unity. Father Emmy Maningo, CssR, a missionary priest from the Archdiocese of Cebu explained why he was eager to take part: "I am passionate [about stopping human trafficking] because these are our brothers and sisters. If my own blood brother or sister is sold because someone is making money off of them, that person is not just violated physically, but emotionally." He added that it’s an imperative responsibility: “Brothers and sisters must protect each other and take care of each other. Because if we don’t, then who will?”
Launching a Lasting Movement
The momentum will continue, as the Freedom Forum launched a longterm movement, the Philippines Interfaith Movement Against Human Trafficking. Leaders from both the Catholic and Protestant church councils stood on stage and invited everyone to sign a "Declaration of Solidarity Against Human Trafficking." Many people signed on behalf of their churches and organizations, eager for Christians of different creeds to speak out with one voice against trafficking.
The movement's mission is ambitious yet clear: to promote "communities of faith championing eradication of human trafficking in the Philippines to realize the fullness of life." As one executive committee member, the Reverenced Rex RB Reyes, Jr., acknowledged: "We cannot do it by ourselves, we have to be together in this fight."
IJM advised leaders from all three church councils over the past several months while the movement was formalizing, and it will continue to participate in the interfaith movement's meetings. Abraham George oversees IJM's partnerships with churches in all of the countries where we work as Director of Field Office Church Mobilization, and he exclaimed that the Freedom Forum was "a truly history-making event."
Abraham added, “What we witnessed at the Freedom Forum was nothing short of miraculous. One does not often see the Church come together, shunning their countless theological differences to achieve a unified purpose. This union was made only sweeter by the fact that they came together to speak against human trafficking in the Philippines.”
The day after the Freedom Forum, the lead bishops and a few other leaders from within the three church councils reconvened to put their vision for a trafficking-free Philippines down on paper as action-oriented goals. IJM staff were also present and will continue to support the growing movement. The next event will promote International Day Against Trafficking (on December 12), and the interfaith movement plans to mobilize prayer support and generate more awareness by working with the Philippines's government Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking.