Obituary: John Miller, a passionate advocate for Philippines justice

John Miller wearing a “Free All Political Prisoners” T shirt bearing the names of human rights groups that challenged the Marcos martial law dictatorship. Image: Miller family

OBITUARY: By Murray Horton

John Miller (1929-2016) died in Christchurch in November, aged 87. John and Leonida (Leony) have been members of the Philippines Solidarity Network of Aotearoa (PSNA) since 1994 (PSNA hasn’t published a newsletter since 2009, so we count anyone who was a member in 2009 as being a current member).

As Jim Consedine explained in his obituary for the Catholic Worker publication The Common Good, John Miller visited the Philippines in 1983, when it was being ground under the heel of the Marcos martial law dictatorship.

He married Leony, returned to New Zealand, and their daughter Cory was named after Cory Aquino, who became President when the world famous People Power movement swept the Marcos regime out of power and out of the country in 1986.

John remained passionately interested in the Philippines for the rest of his life and he always attended Christchurch public meetings addressed by Filipino speakers that PSNA toured through NZ on a regular basis.

The photo of John that accompanies this obituary was on his funeral programme. He was wearing a “Free All Political Prisoners” T shirt and it bore the names of the major human rights group Karapatan, and of SELDA, the group representing the victims and families of the Marcos martial law dictatorship.

I suspect he probably got it during PSNA’s 2004 NZ speaking tour by Marie Hilao-Enriquez, a leader of both Karapatan and SELDA and herself a martial law detainee.

Political prisoners
Unfortunately, neither political prisoners nor the vile Marcos family are consigned to the past in today’s Philippines.

They are both very much front and centre under the new President, Rodrigo Duterte.

The shirtless young Filipino has names written on his back - victims of the Marcos dictatorship. Image: Becky Horton
The shirtless young Filipino has names written on his back – victims of the Marcos dictatorship. Image: Becky Horton

This other photo was taken just last weekend by my wife Becky, who is currently in Manila on her annual Christmas visit to her family. It was taken at a rally to protest against this month’s burial of Ferdinand Marcos (who has been dead since 1989) in the National Heroes Cemetery in Manila.

The shirtless young man (a stranger to Becky, who took the photo) has names written on his back. They are of victims of the Marcos martial law dictatorship.

The top one says “Liliosa” – Liliosa Hilao, who was the most high profile female murder victim of that regime (in the early 1970s).

Liliosa was Becky’s maternal aunt and Marie Hilao-Enriquez’s sister. This stuff is still very current in the Philippines – it has never been resolved.

Anti-Bases Campaign
I also knew John in another capacity. Although he was never a member of the Anti-Bases Campaign, he came on ABC’s Waihopai spy base protests more than once.

He came with the Christchurch Catholic Worker contingent. ABC, although an avowedly secular group, has had a long and productive working relationship with Catholic Worker.

Three of its North Island members – Adrian Leason, Peter Murnane and Sam Land – were the famous Domebusters, who deflated one of the spy base’s domes in 2008 and were acquitted of all charges by a jury.

They are the stars of the excellent current documentary The 5th Eye. (If you haven’t seen it yet, join us at the upcoming Waihopai spy base protest. We’re showing it in Blenheim on January 28).

John was already an old man when he came on the Waihopai protests but he burned with youthful passion whenever he spoke there and even more so when he recited one of his own poems (Jim Consedine, who co-presided at John’s ecumenical funeral, jokingly said: “John had 400,000 poems”).

His whole demeanour and tone of voice changed when he launched forth – he became an orator, with a declamatory tone.

To mention John without mentioning religion is like mentioning Christchurch without mentioning earthquakes. It was central to his being.

Evangelical enthusiasm
His funeral was a Catholic/Methodist joint production (definitely a first for Becky and me and, I suspect, for a lot of the others attending). In her eulogy, Cory said she asked him once: “Dad, what do you do for fun? Dad replied “I go to church”.

“But what do you for fun, Dad?” Dad replied: “I pray”. At that point, Cory said, she gave up.

John was a passionate Christian pacifist and a man with great evangelical enthusiasm.

He was a neighbour of ours, living in the next street, and would regularly turn up unannounced (his record was five times in one day) to tell me about something he’d just read in the radical Christian press or to generally share the Good News.

As a friend said: “John doesn’t do small talk”. He regularly tried, and failed, to get me along to one of the various churches he regularly attended. (I’m a long lapsed Anglican and Presbyterian, married to a long lapsed Catholic).

At times he could be a nuisance (it is not an easy road being an unapologetically public religious practitioner in a heavily secular society), but his motives and commitment to peace and a truly radical Christianity could never be doubted.

I’ve met plenty of other Biblebashers, too many of them on my own doorstep, but John was one with a difference, he was a progressive Biblebasher, albeit one with a striking resemblance to an Old Testament prophet.

He and I were on the same side.

Rest in peace, you zealot for peace. My deepest condolences to Leony and Cory (whom I’ve known since she was a child).

Murray Horton is a social justice campaigner, organiser of the Anti-Bases Coalition (ABC) and Campaign Against Foreign Control (CAFCA), and a stalwart of the Philippines Solidarity Network of Aotearoa.

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