Faith-based defenders oppose attacks, threats

The Ramento Project for Rights Defenders (RPRD) expressed alarm over the upwards curve in the violent attacks against the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI. This comes after reports of renewed threats and harassment against its bishops, priests, and church workers, and as a number of its lay members are killed within the span of 7 months.

In the Visayas, the Diocese of Negros Oriental is one of the most affected by extrajudicial killings among IFI local churches. Four (4) lay members of Guihulngan parish were killed in a military operation called Oplan Sauron against suspected communist rebels, criminals, and those involved in illegal drugs on December 27, 2018. They were farmers, though. In Manjuyod parish, Salvador Romano was shot dead by riding-in-tandem assailants on July 7, 2019. Romano was an adviser of the Church’s youth organization and a volunteer of the rights organization Karapatan.

In the Diocese of Negros Occidental, 2 lay members of Himamaylan parish were among those unlawfully arrested with a United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) pastor and his members on June 26, on accusations of multiple counts of murder and frustrated murder in relation to an encounter between government soldiers and NPA rebels. Fr. Marco Sulayao of the Diocese of Iloilo complained about a series of harassment from military and police elements in February.

In several local churches in the northern part of Luzon, a number of priests, including Fr. Ferdinand Lacanaria, Fr. Randy Manicap and Fr. Aldrin Acoba, reported undergoing surveillance by suspected state intelligence agents following their human rights and social justice works in the region. On July 1, Fr. Wilfredo Ruazol, RPRD staff and National Priests Organization (NPO) volunteer staff, was included in a perjury case filed by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon against Karapatan national officers.

Fr. Jonash Joyohoy, RPRD executive director, believes these threats are meant to push away the clergy from solidarity with the victims of multiple forms of rights violations across the country. “The perpetrators of injustice, suspected to be operating under the government’s anti-insurgency war, want us to stop standing for justice, peace and human rights, to stop preaching for truth,” the priest said.

Aldeem Yañez, a church worker in the Diocese of Cagayan de Oro, Mindanao, has been subjected to surveillance and harassment by suspected government security agents in February. A number of Minadaoan clergy have been the target of heightened red-tagging since December 2018. The most recent incident of red-tagging happened on July 24, which named Obispo Maximo Rhee Timbang, along with Bishops Felixberto Calang and Antonio Ablon, Reverend Rolando Abejo and Deacon Allan Apus, as terrorists and NPA supporters.

“(These attacks) are desperate attempts to stop us from delivering the Gospel mandate of serving God by serving and taking care of His people,” Bishop Rowel Arevalo, South Central Luzon Bishops Conference chairperson, said.

Outside the IFI, four (4) Catholic Bishops and three (3) priests were named in sedition charges filed by the police on July 29, which include 35 members from the political opposition. Two (2) Catholic religious sisters of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) were also included among human rights defenders sued by Esperon and charged with perjury.

“We hold the government responsible for these attacks against faith-based human rights defenders and for the escalating violence targeting all human rights activists,” Bishop Ronelio Fabriquer, RPRD board chairman, said. Fr. Joyohoy believes that the vicious attacks against human rights defenders are happening because of President Rodrigo Duterte’s refusal to honor human rights and the principles of democracy in the country. #

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