La Salle brother receives human rights award in Philippines

CNA Staff, Jun 2, 2020 / 01:38 pm (CNA).- A La Salle brother and educator has been given an award in recognition of his defense of human rights amid religious repression in the Philippines.

Amnesty International Philippines announced May 28 that the Ignite Award for Most Distinguished Human Rights Defender would go to Brother Armin Luistro, FSC, in the individual category.

AIP describes the award as its top honor for human rights defenders in the country and aims to recognize the impact their work brings in changing peoples’ lives through mobilization, activism, rights-based policy advocacy, and art.

“It is necessary to shine a spotlight on those individuals who continue to pave the way for collective action. It is especially difficult now for human rights prime movers to take action amid the COVID-19 pandemic. We note that we are in extraordinary times but the same human rights defenders are speaking out against repression during this crisis,” the chair of AIP’s selection committee said May 28.

The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism received the same award for organizations.

Luistro professed his final vows as a La Salle brother in 1988.

In June 2010, former Philippine President Benigno Aquino III swore in Luistro as Secretary of Education, a position he would serve in until 2016.

He previously served as president of De La Salle University in Manila from 2006 to 2010, an institution he helped found in 2000. He also is former President of the International Association of the La Salle Universities.

Brother Luistro’s advocacy and commitment to education has not been well-received by everyone, particularly the current presidential administration of the Philippines.

During summer 2019, the Philippine National Police arrested and charged Brother Luistro, another La Salle brother, and some 35 other individuals including several bishops with “sedition and cyber libel.”

The police accused them of conspiring to overthrow President Rodrigo Duterte. The country’s Justice Department later dismissed the case for lack of evidence.

Tensions have increased between Duterte and the bishops as Church leaders have continued to condemn the president’s brutal war on drugs. Since Duterte’s rise to power in 2016, thousands of people have reportedly died in extrajudicial killings.

In a 2018 speech, Duterte said people should “kill and steal” from Catholic bishops, stating “this stupid bunch serve no purpose – all they do is criticize,” according to UCA News.

One of the arrested bishops, Broderick Pabillo, apostolic administrator of Malina, accused Duterte of blasphemy, after he called God “stupid” and a “son of a b-tch” during another 2018 speech. The bishop also publicly condemned the president’s claim that the majority of Philippine priests were homosexual.

Later that month, Duterte said that he was willing to dialogue with the country’s bishops’ conference in an effort to repair relationships, and the president’s spokesperson announced that a committee would be created to better collaborate and communicate with the Catholic hierarchy.

St. John Baptist de La Salle, the patron saint of teachers, was a 17th century French priest who established a lay community to offer a Christian education to the children of the poor that later grew into a new form of consecrated life, the “religious brotherhood,” in which “lay religious” take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience without ordination.

Three centuries later, more than 4,000 Christian Brothers continue La Salle’s mission educational mission with a “preferential option for the poor” in 79 countries in conjunction with the Lasallian Sisters, Signum Fidei Fraternity, and Guandalupana Sisters de La Salle.

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