Bishops of the Philippine Independent Catholic Church (PIC) in Mindanao today issued a strongly worded statement lambasting the government for what the prelates described as an "alarming culture of impunity in the country."
The bishops issued the statement after a three-day assembly of the PIC which was attended by at least a hundred priests and lay leaders.
The PIC, or Iglesia Filipina Independiente, is a Christian denomination of the Catholic tradition in the form of a national church in the Philippines. It separated from the Vatican in 1902 and has been in full communion with the Episcopal Church in the United States since 1960.
Government statistics show that the PIC has about six million members, constituting about 2.6 percent of the country's population.
Bishop Felixberto Calang said the PIC is alarmed over the rising number of its clergy who have been "subjected to different forms of harassment and persecution in the exercise of their pastoral and prophetic ministry."
Many PIC members, especially in Mindanao, are known advocates of community issues, including large scale mining operations and the expansion of corporate plantations on the island.
Calang said "the sorry state of human rights in the country" is characterized by the "unabated cases of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and forced evacuations."
Human rights group Karapatan has recorded, from July 2010 to September 2012, 114 cases of extrajudicial killings, 12 enforced disappearances, 70 torture victims, 224 victims of illegal arrests and detentions, 8,266 victims of forced eviction/demolition and 29,613 internally displaced persons, in the country.
"The statistics of such unrelenting abuses and disregard to human dignity is not mere propaganda," Calang said. He added that New York-based Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have reported the dismal human rights situation in the country.
Fr. Redeemer Yanez, parish priest of Opol town in Misamis Oriental, said he and his altar boys have been hounded by "suspicious looking men" who lurked around the church compound.
"We have been included in the illegal surveillance because we provide sanctuary to the destitute, which for the wicked constitutes a crime,” Yanez said.
He said the "harassment" started after he opened his church as a venue for meetings and other activities of an indigenous people's group that expressed opposition to the entry of an American plantation in the town.
In a statement issued by the bishops, the PIC called on the faithful "to remain steadfast and on no occasion waver in preaching the gospel of truth, justice and peace."
The Church also called for justice for the killing of one of its bishops, Alberto Ramento, and Fr. William Tadena, "and all martyrs who offered their lives to the altar of peoples struggle for land and life."
Ramento, a former Supreme Bishop and chairman of the Supreme Council of Bishops, was stabbed to death on Oct. 3, 2006.
Prior to his death, he had been active in organizations and movements advocating human rights and social justice, especially for the working class.
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