Mindanao church worker sustains peacemaking amid state security attacks

As Philippine Churches battle against the red-tagging of their leaders and workers, church groups expressed apprehension for the safety of a church volunteer worker in Mindanao.

Aldeem Yanez, volunteer staff of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente-Visayas Mindanao Regional office for Development (VIMROD) and Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) for Mindanao, has been subjected to surveillance and harassment by suspected government security agents.

On February 14, upon returning home to Iponan, Cagayan de Oro City from a preparatory meeting for an upcoming humanitarian visit to political detainees, concerned relatives and neighbors informed his family about agents belonging to the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) and Military Intelligence Brigade (Mib) agents asking around for Yanez’ personal information and whereabouts.

For the next two days, February 15 to 16, Yanez’ neighbors observed state agents conducting round the clock monitoring around his family’s residence.

Two motorcycle-riding men were also seen waiting for Yanez to come out.

State agents were seen attempting to enter the Yanez’ compound. They took photos in the neighborhood.

Yanez believes state agents were about to abduct him. He managed to leave home on February 15 with the help of several support groups.

But Yanez is not daunted by these ominous attacks and threats to his life. “The government is coming after church people to silence their prophetic voice. But our faith sustains us in our work for peacemaking,” Yanez said.

On February 27, two suspected state agents were again seen surveilling the Yanez’ residence. One even approached Yanez’ relative and asked if he is around.

Various church organizations condemned the attack against Yanez and his family.

“Aldeem is a church worker who ministers to the poor. State agents should stop from threatening and attacking church people who work on behalf of the poor,” Ramento Project for Rights Defenders (RPRD) executive director Fr. Jonash Joyohoy said.

Several leaders of people’s organizations in Mindanao have already been illegally arrested, detained, and filed with trumped-up charges by the police and military.

“There’s a war against peace advocates and rights defenders who oppose the violence and attacks on human rights in President Duterte’s martial-ruled Mindanao,” said Yanez.

“Church people, like the rest of the Mindanaoans, are being victimized by this war, and abused by the government’s military and police institutions themselves,” he added.

Ofelia Cantor, Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) program secretary, said the incident is plain political persecution. “There is no denying that Aldeem has been harassed and threatened by government security agents,” she said.

“This puts his life in grave danger. With Mindanao under martial law, church people can easily get accused as “communist supporters” for living out the Church’s mission of serving the oppressed,” Cantor said.

“We cannot allow Aldeem to add to the increasing statistics of victims of state violence. The government must uphold human rights and stop from tagging as its enemies those who cry out for justice and peace in martial law Mindanao,” Fr Joyohoy said. #

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