DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Fifteen bishops of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) in Mindanao wrote an open letter to President Duterte after a gathering they facilitated on Monday, March 26 in Cagayan de Oro City.
With heavy heart, the IFI bishops told Duterte in a letter of the series of vilifications staged by state forces, tagging them as supporters of the communists New People’s Army (NPA).
“We, bishops in Mindanao, have gathered together in Cagayan de Oro City on March 25-26, 2019 for a conferential meeting with the Obispo Maximo. It is with a heavy heart that we write this open letter to you, Mr. President.”
Led by their Obispo Maximo, the Most Reverend Rhee M. Timbang, the bishops said IFI church leaders, along with personalities from the sectors of peasants, workers, lumad, media, teachers, and lawyers have been subjected to surveillance for the last six months, some of whom have already been attacked, harassed and intimidated after being tagged as supporters of the NPA rebels.
They also expressed fear that some of those tagged are already killed.
They also decried the desecration of IFI through graffiti in highways and even at the walls of churches, maligning Bishops Antonio Ablon of Pagadian and Felixberto Calang of Cagayan de Oro.
“In your days as Mayor of Davao City and to this very day as President of this Republic, you have personally known our Church with the two bishops among our leaders taking exemplary role in peace talks and in public witness to attain the aspirations of the ordinary Filipinos especially the peasants, workers and indigenous peoples.”
The letter added: “We are deeply troubled by these attacks against people of faith who by their mandate to fulfill the gospel of truth, life and salvation are now facing the brunt of state forces.”
The bishops pointed out that such evil acts have been perpetuated due to the continuing imposition of martial law in Mindanao.
Despite the attacks, they took note that the government has not done a single act of due and proper investigation or any action whatsoever to resolve the violations.
“Worse, illegal arrest and detention, trump up charges and forced NPA surrenderees of peasants and lumad who are partners of our church in our community work and mission are conveniently presented to the public as prima facie evidence of the IFI’s and bishops’ affiliation to the rebel group,” the church leaders added.
The IFI bishops also condemned the attack made on February 22, 2019, where leaflets or hit list bearing names of the bishops including that of Fr. Chris Ablon, Fr. Rolando Abejo, Fr. Khen Apus and other networks and friends like Benjie Sambaan, Cong Corrales, Ofelia Tabacon, Atty. Beverly Musni, Atty. Czarina Musni, and Atty. Beverly Ann Musni was spread in different areas in Cagayan de Oro City.
“This baseless and malicious accusation strongly believed to be orchestrated by state forces has openly identified these people as members of the CPP-NPA-NDFP. We as episcopal leaders of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente in Mindanao are very much alarmed that wanton extrajudicial killings may fall on our church leaders. God forbid!”
The bishops are also alarmed that some of their active church lay leaders now feel insecure and fear for their lives as they are constantly being followed and will possibly be subjected to warrantless arrest.
“Mr. President, we are not your enemy. In fact, we tend to believe that you were one with us in pushing the cause and struggle of the less fortunate members of our society. We witnessed and heard you several times how you wished to address and end the systemic problem of social injustice besetting our land due to resource and capital monopoly, corruption, and inept bureaucracy and globalization policies that aggravated the situations of the majority of Filipinos especially the poor and downtrodden among us.”
The IFI bishops, through the letter, made an appeal to Duterte to heed the call of the people and asked him not remain persuaded by his security advisers to pursue the path of war against his own people.
“Their militaristic approach continued from past administrations has only emboldened mercenaries from military and police and entrenched normalcy of state violence, wanton disregard of people’s rights and human dignity and snuffed the many lives of your people. It has killed hundreds of your best citizens who take a collective role of nation building by struggling towards national industrialization and genuine land reform.”
They also urge the president to put an end to the series of attacks against peasant and labor leaders, against lumad and their communities, against defenders of lumad schools, lawyers, media and the church.
“Let us instead endeavor together to make the Philippines truly a nation with thriving democracy, just peace, and pro-people development. The Iglesia Filipina Independiente, its leaders, and mass membership will continue to live out its historical role and prophetic witness to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).”
The IFI bishops also expressed the belief that Duterte still has a heart for the people, a heart “at its right place that truly beats for the interest and wellbeing of our people especially the poor, the defenseless, and the vulnerable.”
They said they will continue to pray and invoke God’s help for Duterte and the government to “make wise and just decisions, and promote liberty, peace, and welfare of God’s people.” (davaotoday.com)