In September 1973, two weeks before Fr. Amado Picardal’s 18th birthday, he was arrested and had the barrel of a .45 automatic handgun forced into his mouth – hammer pulled back. He survived, but was imprisoned and tortured. Two weeks later, he spent this birthday in a cellblock with 70 prisoners.
Picardal was one of many Filipinos kidnapped or murdered under former Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos’ administration. Picardal has spent many years in Mindanao, Philippines and around the world as a human rights advocate and educator.
The School of Diplomacy and International Relations invited Picardal to Seton Hall on Feb. 5 for a discussion with students, faculty and administrators.
The event titled, “Extrajudicial Killings in the Philippines and the Church’s Response,” focused on the resurgence of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte as well as his war on drugs in the country. According to Picardal, the rate of murders under the Duterte administration may reach 70,000 by 2022.
“The killings have multiplied in less than two years,” Picardal said. “They have made a killing out of the killings and the church is trying to play a vital role to stop the killings.”
Picardal is no stranger to these atrocities, having documented nearly 1,500 killings committed by the Davao Death Squad, a vigilante group responsible for the executions of individuals alleged drug addicts. It has been Duterte’s strategic component on the “war against the poor” to rely on Philippines police office and vigilante groups to “kill them all,” according to Picardal.
“The only institution that can stand up against the killings is the Church,” Picardal said during his talk. “The church can’t be bullied and will continue to provide drug rehab programs for local governments.”
Elizabeth V. Halpin, associate dean of external affairs of the School of Diplomacy and International Relations, said that even though she was aware of daily killings in the Philippines, she was still startled by Picardal’s “intense presentation.”
Her hope is that this discussion and others like it can bring more awareness to the church’s duty against Duterte.
“Having Fr. Picardal here having this discussion is central to the catholic mission to show how the church is affecting change all over the world,” Halpin said. “His story shows that students in all fields can serve the church through student leadership.”
Also at the discussion was Ruthie Arroyo, chairperson for Anakbayan New Jersey (ABNJ), a youth and student organization working to educate the Filipino community and to address important issues that affect Filipinos both in the U.S. and the Philippines.
“I’m surprised that something like this is happening,” said Arroyo who found out the event was taking place on campus. “This is something that needs to be talked about; it can’t just be a one time discussion. It’s important to involve the students so they can be part of the change to stop the killings.”
Fr. Picardal is heading back to the Philippines on Feb. 7 and will hope to continue his work with the church to end the violent murders.
“It is time to stop the killings,” said Picardal, “and start the healing.”
Nicholas Mariano can be reached at email@example.com.