DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Several church leaders here have voiced out their concern over the possibility of extending the declaration of Martial law in Mindanao following President Rodrigo Durterte’s order to augment military troops in Visayas.
Church leaders from Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI), the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) and the Episcopal Church of the Philippines (ECP), warned of the possible escalation of human rights abuses if martial law will be extended in Mindanao.
“We decided to make this demand as we listened to the testimonies of our Indigenous People (Lumad) and Moro brothers and sisters, peasants, labor leaders who are the direct victims of human rights violations and abuses of the state forces,” reads the IFI statement during its 3rd National Clergy Convention held on November 19-23 in Davao City.
IFI added: “Martial Law and militarist policy have violated the basic human and people’s rights not only in Mindanao but of the whole people of the country. It has been proven that Martial Law during the time of Ferdinand Marcos had resulted to gross human rights violations.”
Extrajudicial killings in Mindanao have claimed more than 150 victims, most of them activists and community leaders. IFI along with other churches said some of their clergy also experienced harassments, death threats and intimidations.
Last September, IFI Bishop Antonio Ablon, was the subject of vilification campaign, as malicious vandals,like “Ablon=NPA” as well as “UCCP=NPA” was painted on walls and bridges along the highway in Ozamiz. These vandals appeared again last October.
On May 2017, Bishop Carlo Morales, IFI Diocesan Bishop of Ozamiz, was arrested and imprisoned along with NDFP peace consultant Rommel Salinas. Morales was released on bail on March 14 this year, but still facing with trumped-up charges.
“This terror and harassments seem to now become a system not only against the minister, but also to the members of the church. Still, we insist that what we are doing is a work for peace, work for the Lord…that we are offering ourselves for the purpose of building up God’s community where peace, love, and justice will reign,” Morales said.
ECP Bishop Jonathan Casimina expressed alarm that impunity still remains today, if not, worse. Casimina said the government needs to address the root cause of poverty in the nation,”instead of killing or neutralizing the messengers of peace.”
Meanwhile, Bishop Hamuel Tequis of UCCP Southeast Mindanao called on the lifting of Martial Law, saying it brought great poverty to the people especially to IPs.
Tequis lamented that more than 300 Lumad evacuees, continue to seek sanctuary in UCCP Haran for years–despite hardship on food supplies while others were already acquiring illnesses–due to alleged military and paramilitary attacks against IP communities.
For his part, IFI Obispo Maximo Rhee Timbang said that hope on the possibility of resumption of peace talks remains largely with the Filipino people, continuing to press the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) to again enter in the formal negotiating table.
“Our pressure is more on the [Duterte] government, because it’s the moral responsibility of the government to provide and address issues which have been crippling and dividing the Filipino people [for] almost half a century now,” Timbang said. (davaotoday.com)