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A Philippine icon recalled as catalyst for democracy

Church leaders and rights activists urged Filipinos to fight corruption and human rights abuses on the 40th death anniversary of democracy icon Benigno Aquino.

Published: August 25, 2023 11:15 AM GMT

Updated: August 25, 2023 11:15 AM GMT

Church leaders and rights activists called on people to fight corruption and human rights abuses in the Philippines on the 40th anniversary of the assassination of opposition leader and democracy icon Benigno Aquino.

The killing of Aquino is credited with sparking the People Power Revolution that ousted Dictator Ferdinand Marcos who ruled for two decades and is accused of massive corruption, rights violations including killings.

Aquino was assassinated on August 21, 1983, on the tarmac of Manila International Airport on his return from self-imposed exile in the United States. He was a staunch critic and political rival of Marcos, the father of the current president. 

Speculation spread that the assassination was the result of a conspiracy by the Marcos administration, which was not proved. Some 16 members of the military were sentenced to life imprisonment in 1990 for his killing. Human rights groups held rallies in the Philippines and abroad to mark Aquino’s death anniversary on Monday.

Benigno 'Ninoy' S. Aquino

Benigno 'Ninoy' S. Aquino. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

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Police in India’s national capital Delhi arrested two people in connection with an attack on a Christian prayer service earlier this week. The arrest came after a mob attacked a prayer service of an independent Protestant Church, Siyyon Prayer House, last Sunday.

The attackers were allegedly members of Hindu hardline outfit affiliated with the right wing federal ruling party. The hardliners accused Christians of religious conversion. Three women and two men were hurt in the assault while the mob also protested on the streets.

Christians, including priests, take part in a candlelight march for peace and harmony at St Paul's Church in Amritsar on Sept 3, 2022, following an incident in which four masked men allegedly vandalized a statue inside the church. (Photo: AFP / UNAN files)

The attack prompted the government to deploy police forces outside the church. Indian Christians have endured increasing persecution since the Hindu-nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.

Some 11 states ruled by them have enacted anti-conversion laws that are exploited to target minority Muslims and Hindus.

The rights group, Human Rights Focus Pakistan, has called for the repeal of a draconian blasphemy law to prevent Islamist attacks against minorities following some of the worst violence targeting Christians in the country.

In a statement last Sunday, the group also urged the nation’s leaders to take action to change the mindset of Islamists and the general public to make Pakistan a true democratic and progressive country.

Christians hold the holy cross and placards during a protest in Karachi on Aug. 22 to condemn the attack on churches in Pakistan. More than 80 Christian homes and 19 churches were vandalized in an hours-long riot in Jaranwala in Punjab province on Aug. 16, after allegations that a Koran had been desecrated spread through the city (Photo: AFP)

The rights group also released a fact-finding report on a blasphemy riot in Jaranwala, a Christian neighborhood in Faisalabad district of Punjab province on Aug. 16. The violence affected some 20,000 Christians, forcing about 10,000 people to flee their homes in fear.

The report said 21 churches and about 400 Christian homes were attacked. Some 19 churches and 89 houses were completely burnt in arson attacks while two churches and some prayer rooms and community halls were damaged.

Malaysia’s leading interfaith council, the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism, has called the implementation of an Islamic module in national schools by the Education Ministry as “unconstitutional.”

The council said the implementation of ‘Imam Al Nawawi’s 40 Hadith’ appreciation module in national schools violates religious freedom as it espouses the complete Islamic system of life. Imam Al Nawawi was a 13th century Syrian cleric, jurist and Islamic scholar who authored books interpreting Hadith — Islamic theology and jurisprudence widely read and practiced in many Muslim countries.

A Hijab-clad Muslim girl shows the order of religious rituals in a booklet after performing an educational simulation of the Hajj pilgrimage in Kuala Lumpur in this July 4, 2019 photo. Malaysia’s leading interfaith council has called the implementation of a module appreciating the teachings of Hadith in national schools by the Education Ministry as 'unconstitutional.' (Photo: AFP)

The council said Malaysia’s federal constitution allows every person to practice their own religion and they can’t be instructed to take part in any religious act or worship other than their own.

Malaysia is a Muslim-majority multi-racial and multi-ethnic nation. In recent years, the country has seen an emergence of hardline groups and Islamist political parties who champion conservative Islam for a strong Islamic identity of the nation. 

Educators in Indonesia have criticized a decision by the Constitutional Court to allow political campaigns in educational institutions. The ruling on Tuesday came as Indonesia prepares to hold national election next year.

Educators alleged the decision would disturb the academic environment in schools, forcing them to shed their neutral tag and participate in political campaigns. Father Vinsensius Darmin Mbula, chairperson of the National Council for Catholic Education, called the move “unhealthy” for schools and warned it “could lead to divisions."

In this file photo, an Indonesian woman casts her vote during the gubernatorial elections in capital Jakarta in 2012. (Photo: UCA News)

The court’s ruling revised a 2017 law on elections and stated that educational institutions and government facilities can become campaign venues on condition that political parties obtain permission from the administrators of the institutions.

The court also asked candidates and political parties not to carry campaign materials like flags and posters to schools and institutions. Now, only houses of worship are prohibited from becoming campaign sites in the country.

Catholics in China have donated funds to support communities hit by recent devastating floods that left at least 62 dead and affected millions of people. Shanghai diocese donated funds equivalent of 69,035 US dollars to Hebei province, one of the worst-hit regions.

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The donation was through Jinde Charities, a Catholic social service group based in Hebei province. The money is to be used for the recovery and reconstruction of the houses of affected people. The charity group has altogether sent about 165,000 US dollars of funds to disaster-hit areas thanks to donations collected from various sources.

Rescue personnel evacuate residents from a flooded area following heavy rains in Zhuozhou, in northern China’s Hebei province on Aug 2, 2023. (Photo: AFP)

Besides, many Catholics volunteered to offer aid to flood victims in various provinces. The communist-ruled nation has experienced more intense natural disasters in recent times.

In July, two of three cyclones originating from the Pacific Ocean made landfall in the country, triggering unprecedented heavy rainfall inundating Beijing and surrounding provinces. In one week, the Chinese capital recorded its highest rainfall in 140 years.

This week, Cambodia witnessed the generational transfer of power with the naming of Hun Manet as the prime minister on Tuesday. The 45-year-old is the son of Hun Sen, who has ruled the country for four decades.

Hun Manet’s cabinet line-up, consisting mainly of the children of senior ministers who served his father and like Hun Sen passed their portfolios to their offspring, was also approved. The parliament voted him the new premier after the ruling Cambodian People’s Party won 120 out of 125 seats contested at the July 23 national elections.

Cambodia's Prime Minister-designate Hun Manet (L) speaks with a bodyguard as he attends a parliamentary meeting at the National Assembly building in Phnom Penh on Aug 22, 2023. Cambodia’s parliament on Aug 22 elected long-time ruler Hun Sen’s eldest son as the country’s new prime minister, sealing a dynastic handover of power after last month’s one-sided election. (Photo: AFP)

Western countries and rights groups denounced the election results as the landslide victory was made possible after the National Election Committee disqualified the main opposition Candlelight Party.

The United States and European Union are mulling sanctions amid an erosion of democratic standards, the culmination of a crackdown that resulted in the closure of independent media and NGOs and the jailing of dissidents, opposition politicians and their supporters.

Hong Kong’s security chief Chris Tang has said the government cannot allow acts that undermine the city’s national security under the pretext of “peaceful advocacy” and “artistic creations.” Tang made the remarks in response to a demand from Danish sculptor Jens Galschiøt who called for the return of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown monument.

The eight-meter towering sculpture representing the Tiananmen massacre had stood on the University of Hong Kong campus for 24 years before it was removed by the authorities citing security concerns in December 2021. The statue was reportedly seized by the national security police in May.

A woman and child look at the 'Pillar of Shame,' a statue that commemorates the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing, at the University of Hong Kong on Oct. 10, 2021. (Photo: Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images)

The Tiananmen crackdown on June 4, 1989, saw the Chinese military brutally crush months of student-led pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing. It is estimated that hundreds, perhaps thousands, died in the crackdown.

The statue was the site where tens of thousands paid tributes on Tiananmen anniversary. The Beijing-imposed national security law in 2020 to snuff out a strong pro-democracy movement triggered a crackdown on dissidents including politicians, activists, students and journalists.  

Former Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra returned to the country on Tuesday after 15 years in exile and was immediately jailed. This was just hours before his party's candidate was elected prime minister.

The Supreme Court ordered the 74-year-old billionaire to serve eight years on old graft charges, though it is not clear how much time he will serve behind bars. His Pheu Thai party formed a coalition government with military-backed parties and rumors swirl of a deal that would allow him to escape full sentence.

Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra greets his supporters after landing at Bangkok's Don Mueang airport on Aug. 22. (Photo: AFP)

Thaksin landed in a private jet and was greeted by hundreds of noisy "Red Shirt" supporters waving banners and singing songs. The leader is both loved and loathed in Thailand and was convicted of criminal charges – one linked to his former Shin Corp Company, another linked to a bank loan and a lottery case.

The same day the parliament approved business tycoon Srettha Thavisin as prime minister.

Thaksin is Thailand’s most influential – and controversial – politician of modern times. His career has included two election victories, defeat in a coup, criminal charges, and long years of self-imposed exile.

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