Priest red-tagged anew amid election season

The Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) decried the fresh red-tagging on May 8 of one of its priests in the Diocese of Laoag.

“We are angered by this incidence (which) takes place within the election season,” said IFI Obispo Maximo Rhee Timbang, in a statement on May 9. “It demonstrates the government’s and state security forces’ devious intention to disrespect the sanctity of elections.”

His condemnation referred to the recent red-tagging of Rev. Arvin Mangrubang.

On May 8, a streamer hung along the national highway of Vintar, Ilocos Norte, explicitly naming Rev. Arvin Mangrubang as a supporter of the New People’s Army (NPA), the military arm of the communist movement in the Philippines.

The priest is currently assigned in a parish in Vintar, Ilocos Norte.

“Pakdaar: Rev. Arvin Mangrubang NPA Supporter. Tabako,” the streamer read. (In English, it goes, “Warning: Rev. Arvin Mangrubang is an NPA supporter.”)

A day earlier, on May 7, three unidentified motorcycle-riding individuals reportedly surveilled the rectory in Dipilat, Vintar, where the priest had been staying.

IFI Laoag Bishop Virmilion Tagalog believed the latest red-tagging of Rev. Mangrubang had something to do with his electoral advocacy.

Aside from supporting calls for peasants’ rights and welfare in Ilocos Norte, the priest had also spoken critically against the rampant vote-buying practice in Ilocos Norte in time for the National and Local Elections.

Bishop Tagalog expressed alarm that the relentless red-tagging of Rev. Mangrubang put the priest’s life in great peril.

“Those behind the ongoing threats against Rev. Mangrubang must understand that he is neither a supporter of any rebellion nor a member of any anti-government group, but a priest who prophetically speaks the Church’s voice every time injustice and evil occur. Harassing and red-tagging him for living out his faith is is unacceptable, morally wrong – acts which only the devil’s army of trolls can brazenly do,” Bishop Tagalog said.

Rev. Mangrubang has been repeatedly red-tagged and harassed in what the IFI leadership believes to be the work of state security forces.

Some time in March, an acquaintance with connections with the authorities prodded Rev. Mangrubang to surrender to the military and to clear his name about his perceived association with the communist armed group.

In November 2020, a forum conducted by the government’s National Task Force in Ending Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) in Vintar showed Rev. Mangrubang’s photo and maliciously labelled him as an NPA supporter.

In 2018, Rev. Mangrubang, together with another priest in the IFI Diocese of Laoag, Fr. Randy Manicap Sr., reported incidents of tailing and monitoring by alleged state security agents, as well as receiving death threats.

Rev. Mangrubang was also reportedly included in the Philippine Army’s order of battle in 2018.

Bishop Tagalog believes the recent attack against Rev. Mangrubang is aimed to continuously besmirch his priest’s ministry as one being motivated by an anti-government ideology.

Though anxious for his own safety following the renewed red-tagging, the priest remained unperturbed in his commitment and advocacy for human rights and social justice.

“The threats frighten me but it is my work to minister and serve people at the margins,” Rev. Mangrubang said.

“Let me tell those people in power that they cannot silence us and stop us from doing what is right. We will continue oppose any violent suppression of our rights and go on echoing the poor people’s voices, even as we continue to boldly proclaim the message of the living Christ,” he added.

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