Stop red-tagging church missions for the poor, bishops appeal to gov’t

Dec. 15, 2021

CAGAYAN DE ORO – Local Christian church leaders are appealing to government to spear their organizations and affiliates from being red-tagged so not to disrupt their services for the poor.

In a statement released in the observance of the 73rd Human Rights Day last December 10, four prelates from major Christian churches made this appeal to the national leadership.

“We request that the Duterte administration fully respect the Churches’ efforts to serve the [‘anawim’] including its partner organizations, in both paper and practice, in order to continue the 500-year work here in the Philippines,” said the Ecumenical Forum for Peace and Human Rights.

The Hebrew term “anawim” refers to the society’s poor and vulnerable.

The forum is headed by retired Archbishop Antonio Ledesma and current Archbishop Jose Cabantan, of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro; Bishop Felixberto Calang, head of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente in Cagayan de Oro; and Bishop Ligaya San Francisco, head of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines’ Northwest Mindanao jurisdiction.

“Stop the administration’s harmful red-tagging, fear tactics, and ministry-derailment techniques,” the spiritual leaders said.

“False allegations are leveled against human rights workers, activists, civil liberties groups, and even religious workers who defend human dignity, land rights, and peace advocates in order to muzzle dissent,” the leaders said, adding that with the implementation of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict the situation only became worse.

For Bishop San Francisco, the fight to uphold the human rights is rooted in the Bible.

The respect for human rights, she said, is “a biblical and a spiritual mandate” and that even Jesus Christ had sided with the powerless in society.

The prelates said the country has seen its fair share of martyrs, and that the state must “allow the church to fully pursue Jesus Christ’s life-abundant giving purpose.”

The group added: “Allow peace activists to continue their work without fear of retaliation. Allow indigenous peoples and the urban poor to take advantage of the benefits that this society has to offer. Let human rights and peace be the foundation and standard of existence in our beautiful country.”

The bishops have noted that the as churches carry out their Gospel duty, the Filipino people continue to be engulfed in a web of structural violence that is woven into the socio-political fabric.

San Francisco added that the country’s next president must champion the revival of the peace negotiations between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

Meanwhile, in a separate statement emailed to reporters, the Initiatives for International Dialogue and the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed-Southeast Asia, have observed that human rights are still being violated around the world, especially in the region.

“Our human rights and democracy, including our inherent right to peace and self-determination continue to be pummeled and challenged by those who cunningly promote tyranny with a goal to curtail our fundamental freedoms and undermine our concept of democracy even as the world continues to confront a health pandemic,” they said.

The principles of equality and non-discrimination, the groups said, are at the heart of human rights and it is within this spirit and context of ‘equality and non-discrimination’ that we strongly reassert the ‘imperative and most urgent task of humanity’ to find peaceful resolutions to conflicts happening around the region of Southeast Asia today.

“Inequalities, marginalization and exclusion are the roots of conflicts that must be eliminated if we are to build a society that respects human rights and ensures a life of dignity for all,” they said.

To achieve this, governments should establish mechanisms to address legitimate grievances and provide greater space for people’s meaningful participation in decision-making that affects their lives and democratic future, the groups added.

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