A Filipino Catholic missionary priest has been honored with the Human Rights Tulip award given by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of The Netherlands in Manila for his work as a human rights defender.
Divine Word missionary priest Flaviano “Flavie” Lopez Villanueva is recognized for setting up a support group for families of victims of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.
Established in 2007, the Human Rights Tulip is given to a human rights defender or organization who promotes and supports human rights in innovative ways.
The candidates for the award are selected because of the courage they demonstrate in their work under difficult circumstances and the positive impact their work has on the community.
“The work is most certainly enormous and even life-threatening at times,” said Father Villanueva when asked for his reaction.
The priest, however, said he is inspired to continue “when I see a homeless person smile and say ‘thank you,’ whenever I see a homeless 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.’”
“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 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,” the priest told LiCAS.news.
In 2015, the priest, with the support of his congregation, opened Kalinga Center that provides “dignified care for the homeless” in Manila.
“It went smoothly until the [administration of President Rodrigo Duterte] came in,” he said.
“That is when I saw the plight of the widows and orphans, victims of the government’s ‘war on drugs,’” said the priest in an interview with the Aid to the Church in Need.
“When I started taking care of the widows and orphans, I noticed that I gradually became unpopular because of my views about drug-related killings,” he said.
“The attacks and the persecution came first on social media and, sadly, even among friends and families,” said Father Villanueva.
He even became a target of physical attacks and there were occasions that people tried to break into his office.
But the threats failed to dampen the spirit of the missionary priest. “I cannot but continue despite the danger,” he said.
Father Villanueva is one of several Catholic Church leaders in the country who were accused of “sedition” for allegedly conspiring to undermine the government.
He has been vocal in his opposition to government-sanctioned extra-judicial killings of drug dealers and drug addicts. He said persecution in the country “takes so many forms,” including attacks and killings of the poor.