Religious group decries alleged harassment of clergy

By Chito Chavez

A religious group has condemned the alleged harassment and intimidation of the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church, Iglesia Filipina Independiente, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, and other similar spiritual organizations caring for the poor.

The Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR) issued the statement in the “midst of a streak of human rights violations all over the country, but especially in Martial Law-ruled Mindanao and provinces identified by the Duterte government as focal points of its ‘anti-illegal drugs and anti-insurgency campaigns.’”

PCPR recently said that three Roman Catholic priests received threats like those taken by Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of the Diocese of Kalookan.

Promotion of Church People's Response (FACEBOOK / MANILA BULLETIN)
Promotion of Church People’s Response (FACEBOOK / MANILA BULLETIN)

Nardy Sabino, PCPR secretary-general, said the perpetrators claimed the threats are due to the priests’ active participation in efforts to counter drug-related killings and other violations.

On the other hand, Sabino noted IFI Diocese of Cagayan de Oro Bishop Felixberto Calang, Diocese of Pagadian Bishop Antonio Ablon, National Program Coordinator Rev. Christopher Ablon, PCPR Northern Mindanao chapter secretary general Rev. Rolando Abejo, and Rev. Khen Apus were listed in a “malicious propaganda material distributed by suspected elements of the armed forces.”.

The group also said the five church workers, along with the regional office of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines office in Northern Mindanao, were maliciously red-tagged as members or supporters of CPP-NPA.

In the past, Bishop Calang, a well-known peace advocate, and Bishop Ablon, leading a committed ministry for indigenous peoples, have been repeatedly vilified through vandals on their church premises.

Just a month ago, Rev. Ablon and Rev. Marco Sulayao, PCPR Panay-Guimaras chair, also reported separate incidents of tailing, surveillance, and upfront harassment from uniformed personnel of the Philippine National Police and suspected elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

“PCPR raises alarm over these incidents, which have been occurring with increasing frequency and intensity. We fear the likelihood of actual physical attacks. Such a scenario is not remote, given President Duterte’s repeated pronouncements and urging to destroy his perceived enemies and to ‘rob’ and ‘kill’ useless bishops,” the group said in a statement.

The PCPR noted the President’s special propensity to lambast critics from the church must not be ignored, nor can it be dismissed as a supposed joke citing “this is actually part of the Duterte government’s systematic attack against those they perceive as enemies.”

“Just as Duterte vilified people with problems of substance abuse as the ultimate culprit of criminality and then ordered their slaughter, we can anticipate a tokhang-styled attack against people engaged in human rights, peace, and social justice advocacies. Considering the already enormous record of atrocities committed systematically by the Duterte administration, this is a reasonable concern,’’ the group noted.

Sabino claimed, “Duterte has already ordered the creation of a death squad, targeting those they believe to be linked to the CPP-NPA, similar to his death squads involved in the killings of suspected drug personalities.”

Citing as examples, Sabino said three clergy and three other lay ministers and pastors have already been victims of killings under the Duterte administration.

“Incidents of threats and harassment of church people engaged in different ministries for the poor are also piling up. President Duterte’s tirades instructing militarist officials to silence critics are serious,’’ the PCPR said in a statement.

Sabino accused the President of making “every effort to confront any plan to thwart or challenge his rising dictatorship and tyranny.”

“The threats can also be seen in the reported harassment and intimidation under the PNP’s Oplan Bathala, which claims to be aimed at bringing police personnel closer to the church,’’ he said.

Sabino asserted, “This has been observed as little more than an excuse to impose an armed and intimidating presence in places of worship, sanctuary and peace.”

He added even the PCPR secretary general and secretariat staff reported surveillance and threats by men riding motorcycles in tandem who followed them but refused to be questioned by security guards and police in December 2018.

Similarly, Sabino said a Roman Catholic parish in Central Luzon reported to have been furnished a copy of full security audit of their church premises, which was conducted without any permission or coordination with the parish priest.

“The only proximate motive for such police attention is the parish priest’s active involvement in workers’ rights and environmental advocacies. Despite attempts at vilification and intimidation, church people will continue our prophetic task in society,’’ the group said.

“We will continue to stand with our brothers and sisters in the struggle for truth, justice, and peace. With genuine concern for those who had been named or listed by this reckless and ruthless government, we are confident in our collective journey as disciples of Jesus Christ,” it added.