The South Central Luzon Bishops Conference (SCLBC) of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente joined the chorus demanding the immediate release of a faith-based human rights defender arrested by police in Bicol on July 10, 2020.
Law enforcers took Rev. Dan San Andres, 61, from his home in Sipocot, Camarines Sur, after serving an arrest warrant for double murder.
“We are infuriated by the malicious manner in which President Rodrigo Duterte’s government has been red-tagging faith-based human rights defenders and exploiting the country’s judicial system to pursue vindictive attacks against dissenting voices,” the bishops said in a statement released on the same day as the arrest. “We see the arrest and detention of Pastor San Andres as part of the government’s systematic policy to jail well-meaning advocates and critics.”
The elderly pastor of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines was implicated in an ambush conducted by New People’s Army rebels in May 2018, which resulted in the death of two army troopers.
Pastor San Andres is also the current spokesperson in Bicol region of human rights group Karapatan that is regularly red-tagged by government.
Days before the arrest, police arrested human rights defender and barangay kagawad Jenelyn Nagrampa under the same criminal charges. She is the chairperson of Gariela Bicolana.
Both had belied the accusations in counter-affidavits filed in December 2019.
Rev. San Andres and Nagrampa were arrested a week after President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Anti-Terrorism Law of 2020 (ATL), in what
Thus, the SCLBC said, they “fear for the lives, security and safety of many other church people who have taken upon their shoulders the mission of defending the poor and advancing social change, who might suffer persecution for incarnating the mandatum of our Christian faith.”
SCLBC chairperson Bishop Rowel Arevalo expressed apprehension that the ATL would only lead to escalating cases of human rights defenders, peace advocates and social activists arrested for unverified charges.
“Rev. San Andres’ arrest and continued detention are based on unsubstantiated claims. The good pastor has been leading his congregation in a worship service the day the police said he had taken part in an ambush,” the bishop noted, echoing the claims of the UCCP congregation in Sipocot town and Bishop Joel Tendero, who leads the South Luzon Jurisdiction of the UCCP.
The prelates accused the government of “maniacally“ red-tagging and labelling as terrorists human rights defenders among church people.
The efforts are meant “to defame them and discredit their support for the legitimate and legal struggles of the underprivileged and marginalized sectors.”
“We call out President Duterte’s government for witch-hunting critics, and demand that it refrain from its vicious attempts to throttle the people by labelling them communists and terrorists and weaponizing the law against them,” the bishops said, urging the faithful to demand the release of Rev. San Andres and the dismissal of the fabricated charges against him.
“Let us courageously challenge the authoritarian rule taking root on our land. Let us raise our prophetic voices to decry the political persecution of church people and other people working for social justice, peace and democracy. Let us resoundingly reject the normalization of state terror,” the statement read.