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Manila ecumenical service an 'empty gesture,' activists say

President prays while typhoon victims languish

Manila ecumenical service an 'empty gesture,' activists say

Philippine President Benigno Aquino, left, attends the National Day of Prayer service Monday with various faith leaders. (Photo courtesy of Malacañang Photo Bureau) reporter, Manila

January 21, 2014

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Political activists criticized the government's "National Day of Prayer" for victims of disasters yesterday as an empty gesture in the face of thousands of displaced families who continue to wait for aid in the central Philippines.

The youth group Anakbayan called President Benigno Aquino a "hypocrite" for holding an ecumenical prayer service amid reports of "insufficient and corruption-ridden" rehabilitation program of devastated areas.

"Aquino should rename Monday's event 'National Day of Sleeping' because that is what he has been doing for [typhoon] survivors," said Vencer Crisostomo, national chairman of Anakbayan.

Aquino yesterday led representatives of different faiths, government and civil society groups in an interfaith prayer service.

Presidential spokesman Herminio Coloma Jr said the event is “an opportunity for people of different faiths to just be together in unity and solidarity with the Filipino people".

Among those who attended the prayer service, held on the grounds of the presidential palace in Manila, were Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, Zenaida Pawid of the National Commission of Indigenous Peoples, Imam Ebra Moxsir of the Imam Council of the Philippines and representatives from the Iglesia ni Cristo church and the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches.

Aquino earlier said that the disasters that hit the country last year "tell us that, despite all our efforts, we are indeed powerless without God."

Some 8,000 people have perished in the central Philippines from Super Typhoon Haiyan last November.

A group called People Surge, an alliance of typhoon survivors in the Eastern Visayas region, said conditions in the region have not improved.

In the University of the Philippines campus in Tacloban City, some 600 students were expected to return to class today, but most facilities remain unrepaired and damaged equipment has not been replaced.

Activists today launched protests to show their "continued solidarity" with typhoon survivors and to support their demands for justice, relief, and rehabilitation under a "pro-poor framework."

Bishop Ephraim Fajutagana of the Philippine Independent Church told reporters that one of the bishops who attended yesterday's prayer service at the presidential palace said the prayer meeting was "probably a ploy" to improve Aquino's survey ratings.

Fajutagana also said that while the National Day of Prayer focused on natural calamities, it neglected “man-made calamities,” such as the pork barrel scam, illegal mining, and human rights issues.

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