Karapatan wary over harassment of religious leaders a prelude to more killings

By Chito Chavez 

Human rights group Karapatan insisted about being “wary of the series of harassment involving church workers and local leaders” fearing that this may be a prelude to more killings.

“Nobody is safe in this country, not even those in the church sector and communities. We now live at a time when men in motorcycles immediately spark fear and suspicion, as they have been used in numerous killings. In the first few months this 2019, we have received frequent reports of threats and harassment, many involving priests,’’ said Karapatan Secretary-General Cristina Palabay.

Palabay stressed that there is basis for her claims citing several instances of alleged extrajudicial killings (EJK) of Catholic priests in 2018, the incessant vandalisms around the vicinity of churches, and the recent “challenge” given by the President to inflict harm on bishops, among other church workers.

“Thus, harassment and intimidation in all its forms, given this particular context, is a cause for alarm,” she added.

Karapatan claimed that a priest of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) in Western Visayas, Rev. Father Marco Sulayao, was harassed on January 30, 2019. Seven uniformed policemen took a photo of him without permission as he was stepping off the bus in San Carlos City, Negros Occidental. Palabay said this surprised Sulayao as he was unable to question the perpetrators as they left immediately.

On January 31, 2019, two men who were outside the IFI National Cathedral monitored and later tailed four IFI priests. Karapatan noted Rev. Christopher Ablon, Rev. Marciano Carabio, Rev. Jerome Lito, and Rev. Arnold Abuel already noticed the two men observing the church at around 7 p.m.

In another instance, Karapatan said on the morning of February 4, 2019, IFI priest Randy Manicap, Sr. was at the rectory of the IFI parish in Santa Anna, Pidding, Ilocos Norte when he noticed two men onboard a motorcycle loitering around the vicinity. Palabay said the surveillance of Manicap’s movement followed a series of threats via text messages.

Manicap is involved with several human rights organizations in Ilocos Norte, including Amianan Salakniban, Ilocos Human Rights Advocates – Karapatan, Ilocos Norte Ecumenical Group, and the People’s Solidarity Against Large-Scale Mining Ilocos Norte.

Apart from IFI, UCCP, and the church, other progressive organizations are also being surveilled and harassed. In Eastern Visayas, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, People Surge, Anakbayan, and Sinirangan Bisayas reported harassment against the staff and leaders of said organizations.

The group reported that on February 1, Lex Mykha Bustillo, a staff of People Surge, was almost abducted on her way to the People Surge office in Bañezville, Tacloban City. Palabay said the perpetrator attempted to grab her hand and even chased her for four hours as she was trying to escape.

Bayan Eastern Visayas Secretary-General Joshua Sagdullas was also being falsely linked to illegal drugs. Karapatan also said that another staff of the said group reported a previous case of military men attempting to raid their office last year.

“As there is an escalation in the cases of threat, harassment, and intimidation across sectors, the victims become more vulnerable to other forms of rights violations. We have noted that many of those red-tagged by the Duterte government often end up being charged with trumped-up charges, or killed by riding-in-tandem assailants. This pattern reveals a systematic and targeted attack against activists, rights defenders, church workers, and community leaders—all of whom are considered ‘enemies’ by this vindictive and murderous regime,” Palabay explained.

“The human rights situation in this country has rapidly deteriorated under the leadership of a monster whose bloodlust led to the killing of thousands. We take caution at every threat that this government, along with its extensive wing of equally bloodthirsty minions, hurls at its citizens. We have seen how this regime is capable of acting on its threats. Regardless, just as we had with other avowed fascists, we will overcome,” Palabay concluded.