DAVAO CITY, Philippines — The Council of Bishops of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) demanded a public apology from the Regional Peace and Order Council of Region 11 (RPOC-11) for “besmirching the integrity” of the Christian denomination, and called for the urgent withdrawal of its “arbitrary resolution” ordering the shutdown of the UCCP-Haran Center here.
The church’s leadership council, in a statement on Wednesday (Jan. 29), said it is “deeply offended” and “gravely concerned” by the forced entry on Jan. 25 of the members of paramilitary group Alamara into the UCCP-Haran compound, which serves as a sanctuary for indigenous people who are fleeing militarization from their communities.
The bishops stated that the incident was caused by the RPOC 11 resolution, which they found “undoubtedly offensive against the Church and against those that advocate peace, justice and human rights – a clear violation of the principle of separation of church and state.”
The Council said: “UCCP-Haran is not a mere evacuation center. The RPOC is probably not informed that HARAN stands for ‘Home and Altar for Renewal, Action and Nurture,’ a mission house inspired by the UCCP action in 1990 to declare our churches and church facilities as sanctuaries and zones of peace.”
“The Regional Council has no right whatsoever to demand the closure of a church’s mission, much more to blame a church for faithfully doing its Christian mission of defending the poor and the oppressed,” it added.
For years, the UCCP-Haran compound has housed Lumad evacuees from neighboring provinces leaving their communities due to what they claim are harassment and attacks from the military and paramilitary forces.
Tensions arose at the sanctuary at around 9:00 am on Saturday when members of Alamara, armed with bolos and wire cutters, tore down the compound’s fences and occupied the area. The evacuees said that policemen were already in the vicinity during the incident.
“The forced intrusion of the Alamara group into the compound of UCCP-Haran could not have happened without the prodding of those who initiated the resolution. It was unlawful and yet no one among the illegal intruders has been apprehended by the police up until this moment. We deplore such inaction and fumbling on the part of the police,” the UCCP said.
The UCCP Council of Bishops also deplored the “black propaganda” being spread against UCCP-Haran that are also aired by PTV News Mindanao, a media outlet in the region.
The church “unfalteringly” denied all allegations that Lumad evacuees are being used to get donations from foreign groups and they are being detained.
The UCCP leadership called on the Davao City Council, through its committees on human rights and indigenous peoples, to conduct an investigation into the intrusion into UCCP-Haran and the resulting damage to property there.
It also demanded that the Philippine National Police be held into account for condoning the intrusion and for its inaction, that all Alamara leaders who were involved in the attacks be apprehended for their unlawful forced entry in UCCP-Haran and for the damage to church properties, and that the Alamara be disbanded. (davaotoday.com)