Church groups decry red-tagging of bishops, priests

Ramento Project for Rights Defenders (RPRD) decries the red-tagging of Iglesia Filipina Independiente bishops and priests.

Church leaders, human rights defenders and legal and media practitioners were accused as “terrorist members of the New People’s Army and Communist Party of the Philippines” in flyers distributed by suspected military agents in Cagayan de Oro City on February 23.

The flyer carries the names of Bishops Felixberto Calang and Antonio Ablon, and Reverends Christopher Ablon, Allan Khen Capuz and Rolando Abejo who belong to the Iglesia Filipina Independiente in Mindanao.

RPRD Chairperson Bishop Ronelio Fabriquer said the red-tagging of Bishops Calang and Ablon and the 3 priests deserves the strongest indignation from all IFI members.

“This vilification doesn’t only affect our bishops and priests in Mindanao. This is an assault against the Iglesia Filipina Independiente and in the way we do our mission to the marginalized,” said the bishop.

IFI Obispo Maximo Rhee Timbang, in a pastoral statement on February 24, demands for an investigation of the red-tagging and for the “military to account for its excesses in (its) war against terrorism.”

The Ecumenical Bishops Forum, to which Bishops Calang and Ablon are members, also issued a statement condemning “this slander and the spreading of lies” against the bishops. It expressed alarm noting that the “red-tagging of church leaders has become incessant and an increasing phenomenon under President Rodrigo Duterte’s government.”

RPRD Executive Director Fr Jonash Joyohoy said the “arbitrary tagging of individuals as terrorists can take a dangerous turn for every faith-based human rights defenders.”

“In the context of martial law Mindanao, accusing our bishops and priests as terrorists places them in great peril. They have now clearly, but wrongly, become targets of the government’s anti-insurgency and anti-terrorism campaigns.”

Fr Joyohoy sees the need for the immediate lifting of martial law in Mindanao as it only led to the red-tagging and targeting of human rights defenders.

Bishop Fabriquer said the accusation and attack against Bishops Calang and Ablon, and the red-tagging and communist scare now prevalent throughout the country, must be strongly opposed.

“We must strongly denounce this malicious attack against the Church and the wrongful incrimination of our bishops as terrorists, when what they only do is to proclaim God’s peace and justice amid violent state repression in Mindanao,” he said.

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