North Cotabato: Church Underfire

Jul. 12, 2009

By Media Mindanao News Service

News Digest Volume 1, August 1987-July 1988 Posted by Davao Today

KIDAPAWAN, North Cotabato (MMNS/August 31, 1987) — Some 200 priests, nuns, lay church workers will converge at the Bishop’s residence of the local Diocese starting September 1 in a celebration of “sacrifice” called hunger strike.

Members of the Basic Christian Communities and students from 17 towns here are expected to join the “sacrifice” which will be staged for a week.

The diocese’s dramatic move was prompted by a discernment of the worsening peace and order situation of the province. What is peculiar in the situation is that the Catholic Church appears to be the target, then and now.

When Italian priest Fr. Tulio Favali was killed on April 11, 1985 at barangay La Esperanza, Tulunan town, the church let out a cry of protest pointing an accusing finger at the “fascist rule” of then President Marcos. Favali’s death became the landmark that identified the Diocese more with the poor.

“Upon assumption to power of the Aquino government, hopes stirred up among many church people in the diocese; hope that the persecution of the church will be put to an end and the death of the church’s martyr be given justice,” stated Fr. Tony Labiao, diocese pastoral coordinator. “But the church in Kidapawan has been the subject of black propaganda,” Fr. Labiao told MMNS.

Diocese Vicar General, Fr. Taddy Castillo, OMI added that the present persecution of the church has taken new form but is a “carry over” of the past anti-church propaganda from some reactionary quarters. In the absence of cause-oriented groups, the church became the “spokesman” of the people.

The church according to Fr. Castillo has been playing an active role in human rights advocacy, social action program and other cause-oriented activities. The thrust and programs of the Diocese earned the ire of some people, he explained. “That is the reason why they attack us with baseless and malicious accusations,” he added.

Castillo revealed at least three major instances of what he calls “the new wave of anti-church propaganda campaign.”

On August 7, a national daily carried a story quoting some provincial officials claiming that the Kidapawan clergy has been giving “unprecedented support” to leftist rebels. When civilian authorities were confronted by the church leaders, they disowned the story.

Weeks after Bishop Pueblos was installed head of the Diocese a Davao City-based tabloid published a story promptly picked-up by radio stations about the Kidapawan Clergy seeking the ouster of the Bishop supposedly because of the latter’s criticisms on the program initiated by “radical” priests.

Other dirty tactics, Fr. Castillo added, included: spreading of rumors that the bishop have been kidnapped on “orders” from “radical” priests; putting up streamers depicting the priests as “agents” of satan and traitors”; and several threats of attacks from some political quarters which he refused to identify.

“They want to confuse and alienate the mainstream of the church people from the clergy. The church programs make the people realize their importance and role as people of God. In the process the people become critical of the events around them and they start to struggle for the true empowerment of the poor majority. For these reasons, the reactionary forces are afraid because their interest might be affected,” explained Fr. Castillo. He added that the attempt to link them with the leftist rebels is a means to “justify” attacks against the clergy.

He however emphasized that the concern of the local church is not so much the clergy but the lay church workers and the laity in general.

“What we experienced before are currently experienced by the layworkers. And theirs are even worse than ours,” he lamented.

As reported by the Justice and Peace Desk (JPD) of the Diocese, liturgical services and other church activities have been stopped in at least 29 BCCs in the different parishes. The causes are harassments and death threats allegedly from para-military groups and anti-communist vigilante organizations.

Among those chapels closed was San Antonio de Padua, in Barangay Kanibong, Tulunan town. Last July 23, Kumander Lawin, allegedly a Tadtad fanatic and his men appeared while the BCC members held a “Celebration of the Word.” The chapel was burned and Lawin consequently ordered the people not to support the church because “the priests are communists.” Lawin also urged the people to join other religious sects.

The JPD also reported killings of church leaders and noted a noticeable decline of churchgoers during the time anti-communist vigilantes mushroomed in the diocese. This was confirmed by tribal leader Datu Eduardo Inda. Inda, a leading figure of the bolo-wielding vigilante groups said 98 percent of his members are joining the fundamentalist protestant sects. He blamed the local church whose activities, he added, are helping the insurgents.

Msgr. Pueblos had personally handed to President Corazon Aquino a summary report of the incidents that occurred in the diocese during the July meet of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). The President’s office referred the summary report to Gen. Jose Magno, Presidential Adviser on Military Affairs, then to the Secretary of National Defense for actions.

But until now, we are still waiting for the action,” Fr. Castillo said.

In the last statement of concern made by Msgr. Pueblos, he assailed the growing number of fanatical sects which according to him, are sowing terror in Tulunan, Makilala, M’lang and New Cebu parishes. Notably nationalist representative Gregorio Andolana’s victory.

Msgr. Pueblos in the same statement commented on the “seeming tolerance” of civilian and military authorities of the bolo-wielding anti-communist vigilantes who have been identified perpetrators of harassments, death threats and summary killings of lay people.

Among the anti-communist vigilantes here are the Alsa Masa, NAKASAKA, MATUKA (Malinawong Tumong sa Katawhan), Tadtads and MINDAHILA Peace Brigade, umbrella organization of the Itoman, Pulahan and Putian cultists.

Kidapawan Mayor designate Florante Respicio, when ask of his opinion, views the ongoing “black propaganda” against the local church as a “systematic pattern hatched by some quarters to weaken those who espouse the cause of the poor majority.” Respicio commented that the scheme is to “divide and create friction among the church people” at the same time claiming he was in the same predicament when he took over as OIC. He did not eleborate.

North Cotabato Provincial Commander, Major Renato Santos sees no conflict. “Military church authorities have a good relationship,” he said but stopped there. “I have nothing to comment about the situation of the church,” he added.

How far this “persecution” will go, Fr. Taddy could not tell. But religious optimism beefs up the struggling spirit of the church, Fr. Castillo concludes: “Truth will win, after all, the real victory of Christ’s passion was not on the cross, but in his victory over death upon resurrection.” (Media Mindanao News Service News Digest Volume 1, August 1987-July 1988 Posted by Davao Today)

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