In light of the upcoming International Human Rights Day, bishops, priests, seminarians and lay of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente held a symbolic action in front of the office of the Department of Justice to call for the release of detained Bishop Carlo Morales of Ozamiz City.
In an open letter addressed to the President, the South Central Luzon Bishops’ Conference insist that “[Morales] suffers unjust imprisonment for incarnating his Christian faith and living-out his ministry as Bishop ad shepherd of God’s people.”
Morales, 48, is the bishop of the IFI Diocese of Ozamiz arrested last May 11 while aboard the church vehicle along with his wife, driver and Rommel Salinas, a peace consultant of NDFP. Despite presenting proper identification, they were brought to jail and were later charged with illegal possession of explosives. A hand grenade was allegedly found inside the vehicle after it was halted and checked by authorities.
“Our brother Bishop is innocent. He does not deserve to suffer for a crime he did not commit,” the statement said.
The bishops and priests brought their appeal to President Duterte through the Office of the Secretary of Justice after a forum on human rights and peace with Atty. Edre Olalia of the National Union of People’s Lawyers as resource person.
The program also saw the investiture and oath-taking of National Prists Organization (NPO) Paralegal Team composed of clergy from the 10 dioceses in the South Central Luzon Conference.
Crackdown, terrorist tagging signal more violations
The NPO expressed alarm over the recent spate of killings even among rights and peace advocates within the church and crackdown on legal activists following the termination of the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations, a virtual “shoot-to- kill” order and tagging of CPP-NPA as terrorists. In just 48 hours, 10 human rights defenders and indigenous people were killed, including Fr. Tito Paez of the Roman Catholic church.
“These threat of crackdown and recent pronouncements seem to know no boundaries. Advocates from the church are not an exemption as proven in these recent killings and in the continued incarceration of a young and good bishop. Outright suppression of dissent, even of legitimate human rights work, figures that of tyrannical rule and as people of God, we ought to withstand it,” said Jonash Joyohoy, Governor General of NPO.
The group held the short symbolic program to call as well for justice for the victims and for an end to the policies that paves extrajudicial killings and illegal arrests. They also pledged to partake in documenting human rights violations and campaigns for the resumption of peace talks to find just and lasting peace in the land.
“Fear, indeed, is being sowed among us. But it is also during these times that our faith calls for our firmest resolve and commitment to stand by our brothers and sisters in defending human rights and preserving the sanctity of lives,” Joyohoy said.