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Could an Irish priest be set to receive the Nobel Peace Prize?

October 6, 2017 · 

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Fr Shay Cullen has been proposed four times for the Nobel Peace Prize

Fr Shay Cullen has been proposed four times for the Nobel Peace Prize

Pope Francis and a foundation established by an Irish priest to free Filipino children and women from sex traffickers have both been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize which will be awarded in Oslo tomorrow morning.

The Argentinean Pontiff was nominated by the leader of Norway’s Christian Democratic party for standing up to President Donald Trump. This is the third year in a row for the 80-year-old to be proposed for the prestigious prize.

While the People’s Recovery, Empowerment and Development Assistance Foundation (PREDA) organization, founded by the Columban missionary, Fr Shay Cullen is less celebrated around the world, this is the fourth time that he has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

He was proposed by the German Bundestag Committee on Economic Cooperation and Development.

The PREDA Foundation was established by Fr Shay Cullen 40 years ago.

Fr Cullen is a native of the south Dublin suburb of Gleangeary and trained for the priesthood in the 1960s at the former Dalgan Park seminary near Navan, Co Meath.

He was only eight years in Olongapo City, then the world’s largest red-light district after hosting the US Seventh Fleet throughout the Vietnam War, when he founded PREDA.

Despite death threats from vested interests in the Subic Bay US naval base-turned freeport, Fr Cullen and his team persisted in freeing children from jails, brothels, hunger, rough sleeping and poverty.

With a professional staff of 63 today, it also helps battered women, indigenous people and other marginalised groups while promoting the environment, micro-credit and fair trade.

This afternoon, the Independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan published an email just received from Fr Cullen revealing PREDA’s nomination for the Peace Prize in Oslo.

The 74-year-old told the deputy that the prestigious nomination – by such a distinguished parliamentary group – highlights the work of the foundation and hundreds of other Filipino human rights advocates working in seriously deteriorating conditions of human rights violations.

“It is dangerous and risky work by hundreds of courageous Filipinos defending the helpless victims,” he wrote.

Fr Cullen went on to lament the fact that the country’s human rights defenders are experiencing “dark and difficult days” as they stand up for “people targeted by the death squads that seem to operate with official protection”.

Referring to the 16-months of bloodshed that have marked the so-called “war on drugs” by President Rodrigo Duterte, Fr Cullen said that “some researchers” have indicated that some of the assassins are in fact police in civilian clothes.

He quotes from the president’s instruction to his police on 16 August 2017 to “shoot those who are part of (drug activity). If they are (members of human rights organizations) and are obstructing justice shoot them,” he ordered.

Fr Cullen also cited Mr Duterte’s threat that human rights organisations could face criminal investigation for criticizing his anti-drug campaign.

“One of these days, you human rights groups, I will also investigate you, that’s the truth, for conspiracy,” Mr Duterte told the media. In December 2016 he also threatened to kill human rights defenders.

Fr Cullen says that despite these dire warnings, advocates continued standing up, marching, writing and speaking out for the rule of law and human dignity.

“The nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize, while given to one, is for all. It is a signal of solidarity and support for all the human rights advocates,” the Dubliner told Deputy O’Sullivan in his email.

He profiled Anton, a teenager who recently sought refuge and protection in the PREDA home for boys saying he feared that he was tagged as a drug dependent and frightened that he would be killed by a vigilante group or by the police.

“PREDA has sheltered and protected hundreds of youth from violations of their rights by rescuing them from horrid dangerous jail cells and from the streets and dangerous situations,” the priest said.

“More young people are being targeted by the death squads and as many as 54 children have been killed already. The total estimated number dead is at 12,700 since May 2016.”

He says the blatant killing of 17-year-old Kian de los Santos last August ignited an outpouring of anger and rage among Filipinos and that in a recent poll, 60% of respondents said that they believe only the poor are being killed.

“Another 14-year old youth and his 19-year-old companion were found dead, their faces wrapped in plastic tape, the marks of extrajudicial killing,” he explained.

He says 70% of the Filipinos interviewed in a Social Weather Stations poll feared the death squads might target their relatives or neighbousr and that most of the accused are very poor and killed for abusing a few grams of “shabu,” an illegal drug. He laments that others are killed for a bounty payment.

He says this has prompted increased interest in recent Senate investigations on the smuggling into the Philippines of large quantities of “shabu”, chrystal meth drugs, by a Davao-based group to which President Duterte’s son has been linked. The president said that he would resign if the allegations were proven and has threatened publicly to kill his son if he was proven to be using illegal drugs.

“The wave of street protests by thousands of Filipinos against the killings has indicated that the silent majority of Filipinos is finding a voice and is against the killings and the human rights violations,” Fr Cullen says.

“The human rights advocates’ hard work is showing results in greater public awareness of the moral values and rule of law values at stake. Some of the supportive media is also speaking out against the human rights violations.”

He says that the Catholic Church is also “finding its voice” citing outspoken leaders like Archbishop Socrates Villegas and Bishop Pablo David of Caloocan “where many young people have been killed”.

He praised the archbishop for offering protection to police who would confess in public their involvement in the killings and the violations of human rights by the extrajudicial killings of innocent people.

But he notes that the President Duterte remains adamant in his campaign.

“He is quoted to have said recently: ‘I tell you, I will triple it. ‘Pag hindi nasunod ang gusto ko, to get rid of my country (of the drug problem), you can expect 20,000 or 30,000 more (deaths),’ Duterte said in Davao City after his return from an official visit to Japan according to media reports.

“During his campaign for the presidency, he said 100,000 people would die when he would launch his war on crime. Then in response, a police operation that identifies suspects was intensified and as many as 32 suspects were killed in a single night in Bulacan province and in Metro Manila, within the same 48 hours, another 26 people were killed.

“President Duterte said it was a good operation. ‘Thirty-two were killed in a massive raid in Bulacan. That is good. If we could kill 32 every day, then maybe we could reduce what ails this country,’ he told the media in an interview.”

Fr Cullen says this is the atmosphere in which the German Commissioner for Human Rights, Policy and Humanitarian Aid, Dr Bärbel Kofler and his country’s parliamentary committee signed the letter nominating Preda for the Nobel Peace Prize.

“It is important to have international support and encouragement to continue the struggle and defense of the poor and the vulnerable,” the email concludes.

Fr Cullen says the nomination was filed last February but explains that it can only be made public now.

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