Highest honors to Bishop Elmer Bolocon

Photo from ArkibongBayan.org

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) renders highest honors to Bishop Elmer Bolocon of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP). Bishop Bolocon served as General Secretary of the UCCP from 1996 to 2006 and Executive Secretary of the Ecumenical Bishops Forum since 2009. He died on May 15 after more than a decade of battling cancer. We convey our deepest condolences to his wife Emelita Gomez Bolocon, his daughter Julien, relatives, colleagues in the UCCP, friends and comrades.

Bishop Bolocon’s name easily comes to mind when we speak of church people who have consistently stood up and fought for human rights, for peace based on justice, and for putting an end to social systems of corruption, oppression and exploitation.

As General Secretary of the UCCP and the Chairperson of KASIMBAYAN (Kapatirang Simbahan Para sa Bayan), a formation of progressive and activist church people taking pro-people and patriotic positions on national issues, he was one of the convenors of Pilgrims for Peace when it was organized in 2002, in the second year of the Arroyo regime. He was among several hundred peace advocates from scores of church and multisectoral organizations across the Philippines who affirmed commitment to peace-building in the light of calls for the resumption of peace negotiations between the GRP and NDFP, and the GRP and MILF. He lent his voice to those of peace workers who knew that advocating for a just and lasting peace is inextricably intertwined with the struggle against poverty, inequality, oppression and exploitation. Pilgrims for Peace was also the first and successful attempt at building a broad alliance to oppose the terrorist listing of Prof. Jose Ma. Sison, the CPP and the NPA.

As the Arroyo regime ran its course, human rights violations, including enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings escalated. Bishop Bolocon rose up to condemn the GRP and its master the Bush government by serving as an expert witness at the Second Session on the Philippines of the Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT) held at The Hague, The Netherlands in March 2007. He particularly raised the issue of at least 17 UCCP ministers, lay leaders and youth killed by Arroyo’s death squads for ministering to the poor. As a result of the testimonies of Bishop Bolocon and others, the PPT found the respondents guilty of crimes against humanity.

Bishop Bolocon’s illness took a turn for the worse soon after the tribunal met, and he had to spend several weeks in hospital. His see-saw battle with cancer failed to deter him from pursuing his solemn commitment to work for peace and justice.

As the Aquino regime was poised to take over the reins of government in 2010, he called for the resumption of the peace negotiations stymied under Arroyo. The peace process miserably failed to make headway under Aquino, however.

Nonetheless, Bishop Bolocon’s voice was heard in every major social issue under Aquino, taking the side of justice. He called for an immediate moratorium on large-scale mining and the scrapping of the Aquino government’s mining policy. He opposed US intervention, saying “If we want to achieve a just and lasting peace in the world, it starts with making the US government accountable for its sins to the world and to humanity.” He demanded truth and accountability from the Aquino government after the death of 44 members of the PNP Special Action Force in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

Because of his consistent patriotic and pro-people standpoint and activities, Bishop Bolocon was made a prime target of vicious Red-baiting, stigmatizing and witch hunt by a mix of conservatives and kontras within the UCCP. By then the UCCP Secretary General, he faced his detractors with dignity and firmness, stood his ground and did not waver in his commitment and resolve to pursue the UCCP’s mission as a Church in the service of the people, especially the poor.

But when prospects for the peace talks became brighter under the Duterte administration and it was time to build even broader and stronger alliances to support the advocacy for a just and lasting peace, Bishop Bolocon did not think twice in welcoming and working hand in hand with some of his erstwhile detractors who had admitted their error and asked to be forgiven, putting the common goal of addressing the roots of the armed conflict above any personal consideration.

Bishop Bolocon led church people in expressing support for the incoming Duterte government’s peace intitiatives, joining the growing clamor for the resumption of formal peace talks between the GRP and the NDFP. He called on both parties to undertake an “honest to goodness discussion to address the root causes of the armed conflict” in order to “resolve our age-long situation of bondage.”

In the middle of the impasse last February, Bishop Bolocon urged a return to the negotiation table. He said “we offer our hand in walking the next mile toward peace….The people’s clamor for peace based on justice should give us the courage to continue to build peace in the Philippines.”

We hail Bishop Bolocon for unflinching dedication to the struggle for social justice and a liberating peace, for a world freed from the chains of oppression and exploitation. Through his hard work and his enduring influence and example, we will continue to feel his presence among us, courageously walking the extra mile to achieve peace based on justice.