Evangelical Bishop Noel Pantoja has been elected to lead the Philippine Interfaith Movement Against Human Trafficking. (Photo supplied)
Catholic and evangelical church leaders have elected an evangelical bishop to lead the Philippine Interfaith Movement Against Human Trafficking (PIMAHT).
The body elected Bishop Noel Pantoja as head of the movement, while Bishop Narciso Abellana of Romblon was chosen to represent the Catholic bishops’ conference.
Bishop Reuel Marigza of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines was also elected as a representative
The election was held during PIMAHT’s annual assembly on July 23, which took place online.
Bishop Pantoja said the major concerns he needed to address were bringing Filipino workers abroad home and sexual exploitation of children.
“The new leadership is discussing plans on how to help address the repatriation of overseas Filipino workers and problems of online sexual exploitation of children during the pandemic crisis,” said Bishop Pantoja.
Government sources said more than 35,000 overseas Filipino workers have been repatriated since March.
As of June 5, 13,566 land-based workers had returned while 21,829 cruise ship workers reportedly lost their jobs due to mass retrenchment.
In his State of the Nation Address, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte told lawmakers that there were still more than 48,000 Filipino migrant workers waiting to be repatriated.
Duterte also warned that the number of workers coming home could rise further and surpass 100,000 in the coming months due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Bishop Pantoja said cause and effect had established the relationship between poverty and human trafficking that was feeding the online sexual abuse of children.
“If people are poor, parents are forced to sell their children online without thinking of the moral implications of their actions. They believe that online sexual acts are morally permissible because they do not physically hurt their children,” Bishop Pantoja told UCA News.
He said poverty was the root cause of human trafficking crimes.
“It was reported that because of the ongoing crisis and loss of jobs, many of those crimes are perpetrated in the homes by the parents and relatives,” Bishop Pantoja added.
Before his appointment, Bishop Pantoja was national director of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches, an organization composed of 78 evangelical denominations and more than 40,000 evangelical churches in the Philippines.
He also served as pastor for 30 years in the Church Planter and Multi-sectoral Church Planting Coordinator in Washington D.C., preaching in Filipino, Asian, Hispanic and African communities.
Catholic Bishop Arturo Bastes of the Commission on Mission congratulated Bishop Pantoja on his new post. He said his election was the manifestation of Catholic bishops’ strong relations with evangelical bishops.
“He has the trust of Catholic bishops and we pray for the success of his administration,” Bishop Bastes told UCA News.
Bishop Bastes also said that global problems like poverty and human trafficking were beyond doctrines and faith that every citizen must resolve.
“Poverty and human trafficking are social issues of every faith or religion. Thus, it is important that all religions come together to share ideas and to work together to alleviate our fellow countrymen from these social ills,” Bishop Bastes added.