Mindanao pastor fears for safety over false rebel link

Father Rolando Abejo among several Philippine activists accused of having communist sympathies
Mindanao pastor fears for safety over false rebel link

Activists hold a demonstration in Manila to call for a stop to activists being accused of being communist rebels. (Photo by Jire Carreon)

ucanews.com reporter, Manila
September 3, 2019
A Protestant pastor in the southern Philippines has voiced concern over his safety after being branded a communist rebel.

Posters and flyers were distributed last week labeling Father Rolando Abejo of the Philippine Independent Church as a member of the communist-led New Peoples Army in Mindanao.

"I’m afraid something will happen to me and my family because of this," the pastor said.

Father Abejo said he now has to be more careful and has been on the lookout for "suspicious individuals" who might attack him.

He said linking him to the rebels was meant to silence his activism. The pastor is spokesman of Movement Against Tyranny — a group opposed to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte — in the Northern Mindanao region.

"Stop the red tagging and the vilification," he said when asked about his reaction to stories about him in the media.

He said his congregation also feared for his safety.

Father Christopher Ablon, national program coordinator of the Philippine Independent Church, decried what he said was a "renewed attack" on their members.

He accused government agents of being behind the accusation because of the Church’s involvement in social justice issues.

"The government is trying to tell church people to stop being a church, to stop being priests," said Ablon.

Authorities earlier alleged that several church workers were conspiring with rebels to oust Duterte.

Froilan Gallardo, a journalist who was also labeled a rebel supporter, said accusing church people and media members of being rebels make them "targets for liquidation."

Gallardo said he might have been targeted because he had interviewed communist rebels in the course of his work as a journalist.

The Commission on Human Rights called such accusations a "serious human rights concern."

"Society also bears the impact of vilification as it is a form of psychological warfare by creating a social consciousness that political dissidents ... are outside the protection of human rights, rule of law, and international humanitarian law," the commission said in a statement.

It acknowledged that "red-tagging or red baiting" has been used by the state as a form of counterinsurgency strategy.

The commission said classifying individuals and groups as "friends" and "enemies" of the state only creates an environment of suspicion, fear, and division in society.

"When no distinction is drawn between terrorists and human rights activists, state actors put the whole of civil society under general suspicion," added the statement.

It said demanding accountability from the government should not be construed as acts to destabilize the administration but as a reminder of its sworn duty to the people.

Bong Sarmiento contributed to this report.

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