Philippine bishop decries threats to clergy

Protestant prelate accuses police, military of making threats to silence church and stop it standing up for human rights
Philippine bishop decries threats to clergy

Members of the Philippine Independent Church call for the release of Bishop Carlo Morales during a candle-lit protest demonstration in Manila last year. (File photo by Maria Tan)


A Protestant bishop in the southern Philippines has accused the police and military of targeting members of the clergy who work with human rights groups and tribal people.

Bishop Rhee Timbang of the Philippine Independent Church said leading clergymen in Mindanao have been placed under surveillance and visited by soldiers and policemen.

"We see these cases of harassment, threats and intimidation as efforts to co-opt the church to kowtow" to the authorities, said the bishop.

The prelate cited the case of Bishop Carlo Morales of the church's Ozamis Diocese who has been visited by the military four times in recent weeks.

The bishop was released on bail in March, following a year in prison on charges of illegal possession of explosives.

Despite the "intimidation and harassment," Bishop Timbang said the clergy in Mindanao would continue their advocacies "to promote and defend people's rights and civil liberties."

"We take them as another series of challenges and trials that we need to overcome as a church," he added.

The bishop said the tactics employed by the authorities are part of a "grand scheme to silence our clergy from their prophetic advocacies."

Military spokesman Lt. Col. Gerry Besana, said accusing state forces of harassment "is propaganda" by the communist rebels.

"We impress upon [the church leaders] that we will not, in any way, hamper their obligation to evangelize the people and perform their humanitarian roles," the military official said.

Besana alleged that some members of the clergy have links with the communists, although he did not name names.

The Philippine Independent Church, which has 47 dioceses and at least six million followers nationwide, marked its 116th anniversary this month.

On Aug. 3, 1902, Isabelo delos Reyes, head of the Union Obrera Democratica, the first-ever labor confederation in the Philippines, announced the establishment of the church.

Delos Reyes and former Catholic priest Gregorio Aglipay headed the schism with Rome over the mistreatment of Filipinos by Spanish friars and the execution of national hero Jose Rizal. 

In December 1902, Pope Leo XIII ordered Manila Archbishop Bernardino Nozaleda y Villa to excommunicate all Catholic priests and laity who joined the church. 

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In the 1960s, it declared its full communion with the Episcopal Church in the United States or the Anglican Church.

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