Filipino Human Rights Advocate Sister Cresencia Lucero Honored

Above is a collection of drug paraphernalia, including syringes and a cigarette. Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte began a war on drugs in 2016, and Sister Cresencia Lucero, who died May 15, fought against it as a human rights advocate. Matthew Rader. CC0.

Above is a collection of drug paraphernalia, including syringes and a cigarette. Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte began a war on drugs in 2016, and Sister Cresencia Lucero, who died May 15, fought against it as a human rights advocate. Matthew Rader. CC0.

Crescencia Lucero of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, also known as Sister Cres, passed away May 15 from a stroke. She was attending a meeting on human rights in Jakarta, Indonesia with the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum-Asia) at the time, a cause she devoted much of her life to. Lucero was 77.

Lucero was a major figure in the Filipino human rights community. She headed the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines' Justice and Peace and Integrity of Creation ministry (AMRSP). Lucero also worked with several human rights organizations with other religious leaders, such as the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA).

AMRSP includes hundreds of religious congregations, for both men and women. The organization as a whole works with various social issues and coordinates congregations, lay groups, and other organizations’ combined actions on those same social issues, including poverty, human trafficking, and labor rights, among others. In October 2015, it organized an ecological walk for justice. The organization was also able to arrange a justice march for the climate.

Rodrigo Duterte began the 2016 war against drugs with his presidential campaign, in which he urged people to kill drug addicts. After winning the presidency, he launched his drug policy, aiming to neutralize illegal drug personalities. Following his inauguration, Duterte said he would order police to adopt a shoot-to-kill policy. Duterte also released lists of people who were allegedly part of the illegal drug trade, which often included politicians. Since 2016, over 12,000 Filipino people have been killed due to the war on drugs, according to Human Rights Watch. At least 2,500 deaths were due to police. HRW has also shown that police reports show killings to be justified as self-defense. Lucero would stay awake nights to monitor and visit places where drug dealers had been killed. Her organizations referred people to drug rehab centers, though there weren’t very many centers or treatments at the time. Her organizations also opened churches as sanctuaries to victims whose rights were violated, including children who witnessed or were injured during drug-related shootings and raids. The drug war continues to be a major human rights issue, and in November 2018, three police officers were found guilty for the murder of a 17-year-old; the sentence was seen as a rare moment of responsibility.

Lucero spoke of the issue in October 2016, in an interview with Global Sisters Report: “But then when the killings started and those who were targeted were the small people, the poor, especially in the urban poor communities—there's no more distinction between drug pushers and drug users. The drug pushers are also users, but most of those being killed now are the users who are pushed into it because of the situation with poverty. If you look into the families and communities of those who are most victimized, it's the poor ones.

Redemptorist priest Oliver Castor, spokesman of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, said that during the martial law years (1972-1981, specifically), Sister Lucero was one of the people who assisted in providing safe haven for people. AMRSP opened convents and churches as sanctuaries for those who were in need, whether that meant families, extended families, or even grandparents. Even now, there is still a facilitation desk at AMRSP for sanctuaries, though the last case was in 2008.

During that same period, Lucero was the co-chair of the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, which assisted political prisoners with moral, spiritual, material, and legal help when then-President Marcos banned organizations. The task force continued after marital law was lifted because of the vast number of political prisoners who remained. In 2014, Lucero said in an interview with Global Sisters Report that they have helped around 100 detainees a year. She made it clear that their main thought was to be supportive to the families of the victims.

When asked how she continues doing her work in the same interview, Lucero said, “I tell the Lord every night I am ready any time, “Take me. You have blessed me with so many opportunities.” So when I have to travel, I put my things in order, even my bedroom. Anything can happen.”

A number of ecunemical gatherings were held in Lucero’s honor in Manila the week of May 24. Her tireless work with human rights, the poor, and protecting people against martial law mark her as a person who truly felt for and worked with humanity. Father Toledo, a Franciscan, put it well when he said to UCA News that Sister Lucero "faithfully performed the duties of a true Franciscan and a true Christian."\

NOEMI ARELLANO-SUMMER is a journalist and writer living in Boston, MA. She is a voracious reader and has a fondness for history and art. She is currently at work on her first novel and wants to eventually take a trip across Europe.