DAVAO CITY, Philippines – A Catholic priest in Surigao del Sur has been red-tagged on Facebook for his advocacy supporting the Lumad school Alcadev.
In a statement made on Monday, Fr. Raymond Montero Ambray, parochial vicar of the Holy Child of Christ Parish in Lingig, revealed he has been a subject of an online post discrediting his ministry and advocacy for the indigenous peoples.
A Facebook account owned by a certain Randy D. Alagahan posted a meme of Ambray with a background of New People’s Army fighters in the background. It carried a text in Cebuano that reads: “A priest that brings evil. An ally of MAPASU, which is protecting the terrorist CPP-NPA, he uses the word of God to manipulate and destroy the lives of the Lumad. Do not be deceived”
MAPASU or Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod (Perservering Struggle for the Next Generation) is a Manobo community organization supporting Alcadev.
The account and meme is no longer visible on Facebook.
Fr. Ambray is the director of the Alternative Learning Center for Development (Alcadev), a secondary school for Manobo schoolchildren, a role that has made him involved in forums and dialogues with provincial officials and with the local Department of Education calling for the protection of the school from military and paramilitary attacks.
The priest says he is not intimidated by the red-tagging. “I have met other people, too, working with the Lumads and most of them are often harassed or vilified. Let us not be afraid! Our life could only be meaningful if we offer it as a form of service to the poor, oppressed, and marginalized,” he said.
He suspects the meme was created by the 36th and 40th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army which has accused MAPASU and Alcadev as fronts of the communists and arrested some of MAPASU’s leaders.
In his statement, Ambray narrates how his involvement with the Lumad started with his fieldwork in Alcadev for his master’s degree in anthropology.
During this time, he joined the evacuation of the community when Alcadev director Emerito Samarca and community leaders Dionel Campos and Sinzo were killed by paramilitary members in September 2015.
READ: More killings: IP school director, 2 others killed in Surigao del Sur
“During my fieldwork, I experienced how to be displaced together with the Lumad communities due to military operations. My experience living with them intermittently for more than a year, allowed me to account about their struggle as a people. I have presented papers about them in different fora.”
Ambray pointed out that the Diocese of Tandag has been supporting the schools, starting with literacy programs established by former Bishop Ireneo Amantillo and was continued by Bishop Emeritus Nereo Odchimar with the establishment of Alcadev.
Ambray refuted the military’s claim that the school is influencing the children with ideology. “Education equipped them to assert for their rights.” He points out the indigenous peoples have long been waging a campaign to protect their cultural identity and ancestral lands.
“Now their land is at stake again due to mining or other extractive industries. With the education among them facilitated by the Diocese, they are now standing up to oppose capitalist intruders. Needless to say, for the Lumads or Indigenous Peoples for that matter, Land is Life.” (davaotoday.com)