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Filipino priest nominated for Dutch rights award

Divine Word priest Flaviano Villanueva has been supporting families of drug war victims despite threats and physical attacks

Filipino priest nominated for Dutch rights award

Ambassador Saskia de Lang of the Netherlands honoring Father Flaviano ‘Flavie’ Villanueva SVD after he was nominated for the Dutch government's Human Rights Tulip Award. (Photo supplied)

Society of Divine Word Father Flaviano “Flavie” Villanueva, a staunch critic of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, has been nominated for the prestigious Human Rights Tulip Award by the Dutch government.

Father Villanueva is among 12 nominees from around the world. One of them will be bestowed with the prestigious award this year.

The nomination recognizes the priest's work for supporting families of slain suspects in Duterte’s drug war.

It also considers the priest’s relief efforts in feeding Manila’s street dwellers by providing them with legitimate sources of income like soap making and carpentry.

Each year since 2008, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs has given awards to an outstanding rights defender. The award includes a cash prize of 100,000 Euros and a certificate.

“The Human Rights Tulip is an annual award of the Dutch government to support human rights defenders in their work advancing and protecting human rights around the world while highlighting related issues,” said Ambassador Saskia de Land of the Netherlands during a local ceremony on Nov. 24 in Manila that honoured the priest.

The Netherlands supports human rights defenders so that they can work effectively and safely, she said.

The work is most certainly enormous and even life-threatening at times

“Human rights defenders stand up for vulnerable groups, expose human rights violations and demand justice. Human rights defenders often work under difficult circumstances, receive death threats and are jailed, tortured and sometimes even killed,” she underlined.

At the local ceremony, Father Villanueva received a trophy and a certificate that said he “has been working as a human rights defender for the past 35 years. He is the founder of the Paghilom program, a church-based support group that works with families of victims of extrajudicial killings."

Paghilom is Father Villanueva’s foundation that sought to lend a healing touch to drug war victims’ families including giving them a final resting place in Catholic cemeteries.
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Defending human rights, especially the right to have food and a home, was never easy, especially for a clergyman, Father Villanueva said.

 “The work is most certainly enormous and even life-threatening at times. But when I see a homeless person smile and say ‘thank you’; whenever I see a homeless person sharing the meals we offer to those who failed to receive … whenever I see and listen to homeless people saying 'I have never felt so valued as a person until I came to Kalinga Center [that cares for the homeless] and thus I will begin to value my life',” he told UCA News.

Father Villanueva said he was inspired by homeless orphans and widows.

“When I learn about an orphan under my care persevering to study amidst the harsh environment and struggling internet connection; when a widow decides to arise from her slumber and works laboriously to become the father and mother her brood needs; when the victims equate justice with the desire to heal their lives, yet courageously and non-violently stand for what is just and true, these stories are my pockets of hope; they are my inspirations,” he said.

*This story has been edited since publication for factual correctness.


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