Human rights activists in the Philippines staged what they described as an "alternative" Marian procession on May 26 to dramatize their protest against alleged human rights abuses. Rights groups Karapatan
and Hustisya organized the "May Protest Against Tyranny" depicting human rights violations allegedly committed by President Rodrigo Duterte's administration. Women in dresses symbolizing truth, hope, justice, peace, and martyrdom paraded around the University of the Philippines campus in the Manila suburb of Quezon City. Among the issues raised during the event were Duterte's war on drugs
, attacks on human rights defenders, the curtailment of press freedom, and the communist insurgency. Cristina Palabay of Karapatan said the costumed women represent the problems the Filipino people have to endure under Duterte. Deborah Escudero, sister of 18-year old Ephraim Escudero who was killed in the government's war on drugs, wore a white dress splashed with blood. "Anyone can be a victim of the bloody drug war, even people who are innocent," said Escudero who was wearing a sash that read "Police Line Do Not Cross." The event was also a response to the "I am a Woman" campaign among various women's groups protesting against the Philippine president's tirades against women. In a speech on May 24, Duterte said he believes in the "competence and capability" of women but said it do not apply to all aspects of life. He said women "could not stand threats and intimidation." "The president has been offending women, not just by words but by actions," said Gleezajoy Belandrez, a tribal lady who portrayed the "Queen of Peace" during the procession. "[The president's] declaration of military rule in Mindanao greatly affects women and children, who are the most vulnerable," said Belandrez. Maria Sol Taule, lawyer of Australian nun Patricia Fox
who has been ordered to leave the country by Duterte, designed two of the dresses used during the event called Santacruzan. "Santacruzan
plays a big part in our life as Filipinos," said Taule, adding that Filipinos "relate our battles to how early Christians struggled to find the truth." Religious of the Good Shepherd nun Maria Rosario Battung commended the organizers of the procession. "St. Helena's search of the True Cross was a search for truth. Truth that will give justice and answer all queries," said the nun.
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Sister Battung said the "alternative Santacruzan" is also "a search for truth that would provide justice to victims of tyranny." "People in this country have been hampered by so many hardships. They are carrying the crosses of injustice, the culture of impunity, and oppression," she said. The Promotion of Church People's Response said the event was an "expression of faith" of Christians who are experiencing inequality and prejudice. "Faith and religiosity is deeply embedded in our culture," said Nikki Gamara, spokeswoman of the group. She said the religious procession that carried a political statement "is our way of showing disapproval of government policies that add to our daily struggle." "While Filipinos seek intercession from Mother Mary, it is imperative that we do something to promote justice and long-lasting peace," added Gamara. The Santacruzan is supposed to be a Catholic religious pageant held throughout the Philippines during the month of May in honor or the Blessed Mother. It started after the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854 and after the publication of Mariano Sevilla's translation of the devotional Flores de Maria or Flowers of Mary. The festivity also commemorates what was supposed to be the search for the Holy Cross by Queen Helena and her son, Emperor Constantine.