Outcry grows over arrest of Filipino bishop

Philippine Independent Church, rights groups demand immediate release of Bishop Carlo Morales
Outcry grows over arrest of Filipino bishop

Members of the clergy call for the immediate release of Bishop Carlo Morales during a candle-lit protest in Manila on May 15. (Photo by Maria Tan)


Church and human rights groups have joined in calls for the immediate release of a Protestant bishop arrested in the southern Philippines on May 11.

The Christian Conference of Asia said the arrest of Bishop Carlo Morales of the Filipina Independiente (Philippine Independent Church) was "appalling" and "a violation of human rights."

The Conference is an ecumenical organization representing 15 national council of churches and over 100 denominations in the Asia and the Pacific regions.

Mathews George Chunakara, general secretary of the organization, said the "maltreatment" of Bishop Morales is "unfortunate."

"Despite introducing himself as a bishop, he was illegally arrested, handcuffed, and detained in a crowded holding cell in the city's police station," read Chunakara's statement.

Bishop Morales and his companions were arrested at a checkpoint in the village of Gango in the city of Ozamis on May 11.

The bishop has been charged with "illegal possession of firearms and ammunition."

The arresting officers claimed one of the bishop's companions was a member of the rebel communist National Democratic Front of the Philippines, which is currently negotiating a peace deal with the government.

The National Council of Churches in the Philippines has called for the unconditional release of Bishop Morales, saying that the charges against the prelate are "fabricated" to keep him "under government control."

Rommel Linatoc, program secretary of the church's ecumenical relations body, said the charges "manifest the continuous fascist strategy of state forces against church leaders."

The United Church of Christ in the Philippines said the prelate's arrest was "not so surprising."

"In these critical times where good is often seen as bad and evil is seen as good, someone who advocates for peace based on justice will surely be harassed," said Bishop Elorde Sambat.

Bishop Morales was arrested with his wife Maria Teofifina Morales, driver Sadome Dalid, and Rommel Salinas who was later identified as a rebel leader and consultant in the ongoing peace negotiations with the government.

Human rights group Karapatan said Salinas is the fourth rebel consultant arrested since February this year.

With the upcoming fifth round of peace talks in Europe next month, Karapatan called on the government to release all detained rebel consultants, including Salinas.

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