Cardinal Zen, Reaching Beyond Borders for Human Rights and Democracy

“I am a witness to the suffering of my struggling people, and I join them in their fight for liberation.”

Asian Students Association
Contributed to Bulatlat
Vol. VII, No. 16 May 27-June 2, 2007

A warm smile, a calm countenance, strong, unyielding conviction…

These words best describe , recently-elevated cardinal of Hong Kong and Macau SAR.

Having been active in various political and social concerns in Hong Kong, Cardinal Zen is now visible and vocal on the issue of human rights in the Philippines. But does he not only speak up, he speaks out loud.

Last year, Cardinal Zen, 75, wrote a letter addressed to the Philippine Consul General in Hong Kong expressing his grave concern on the spate of extra-judicial killings in the Philippines. He followed this up with another letter which he sent to Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo urging her to act swiftly on the matter.

He has likewise expressed support, together with various eminent HK-based individuals, to the second session of the Permanent People’s Tribunal on the Philippines and described the latter’s verdict as “substantial”.

What got him to support the cause? What made him look into a country like ours and get involved?

Here is a peek into the life, beliefs and struggles of the newest friend and supporter of the Filipino people in the campaign to uphold, defend and protect human rights.

A global concern

“Human rights have no boundaries. People must be concerned with what’s happening in the world.”

Thus declared Cardinal Zen in an interview when asked how and why he became involved in the campaign against extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances in the Philippines.

“The question of human life is very serious. Everyone should be concerned,” he averred, “Even with only a few cases (of extra-judicial killings), it should be immediately stopped.”

Presently, the Philippine human rights organization Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights) has documented 843 victims of political killings since 2001. It attributed most of the cases to the Philippine government and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

“While it is not clear who is responsible for the killings, the government and military should take full responsibility,” said the cardinal. It is contradictory, he said, that as they (the government) have declared to the world the abolition of the death penalty as a capital punishment, extrajudicial killings rage on in every part of the country.

He went on to add that even Papal Nuncio Archbishop Fernando Filoni, the Vatican representative in Manila, has spoken about the killings shortly after arriving there.

Filoni, Cardinal Zen noted, was in Iraq during the U.S. “terrorist war”. He witnessed how chaos has pervaded in the besieged country when the American soldiers arrived. Filoni was, he added, a very reliable, discreet and quiet man. If such a person can be sure and expresses his position, he said he would definitely concur.

His social involvement

The cardinal is neither alien nor new to the advocacy for human rights and democracy. He may appear very calm, but he has seen, experienced and joined many struggles.

In 2003, he voiced objections to the proposed anti-subversion law in Hong Kong. Once approved, Cardinal Zen said, the provisions packaged under the Article 23 of HK’s Basic Law would lead to a blanket violation of civil and democratic rights in the now Chinese territory. He led Catholics in prayer services and masses during the 500,000-strong demonstrations occurring that time. The bill was shelved shortly thereafter.

A few years back, in 1999, he led and joined the campaign to grant Mainland China-born children of Hong Kong residents the natural right to reunite and be with their families. The right to abode, or the right to be a permanent resident in Hong Kong, is allowed in the Basic Law but the Hong Kong government refused to accord such right to the said children. Even with HK parents, children born in Mainland China are not considered Hong Kong residents and henceforth denied a permanent resident visa.

This refusal led to protests and demonstrations mounted both by the appellants and their supporters.

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