Clerical criticism of President Aquino could constitute sedition, justice minister warns
Bishop Socrates Villegas (AFP Photo/Jay Directo)
Philippine bishops on Tuesday issued an "Oratio Imperata", or obligatory prayer for peace, amid accusations that they and other groups were plotting to overthrow President Benigno Aquino following the deaths of 44 police commandos in a bungled counterterrorism raid in Mindanao last month.
Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, said the situation in the country requires all bishops "to turn to the Lord in humble supplication and gather our people to pray".
"As the nation continues to grieve over the tragedy in Mamasapano and the family of nations is threatened by war and terror from extremist groups, our best contribution to the nation and to the world is to encourage people to pray," Villegas said.
A group of bishops and religious leaders called on President Aquino last week to step down but later clarified that they would not support a military coup d'état.
"A military coup is violent. We will never allow the use of guns…. If you use guns and somebody gets killed that is not transformation, that is deformation. We are not for that," said Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa.
Archbishop Arguelles is part of the National Transformation Council, a group of Catholic and Protestant leaders who are vocal critics of the Aquino administration.
"We are asking [Aquino] to step down because we think he is not entitled to that position because of what he has done and failed to do," the prelate said.
The religious leaders said the January 25 bungled anti-terrorism raid was the peak of the Aquino administration's failure to meet the expectations of the Filipino people.
The call to prayer followed a response on Sunday by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who warned that religious leaders could face criminal prosecution for what she described as fomenting an uprising.
De Lima said the conferences organized by the religious leaders "can already be contemplated as conspiracies relating to sedition, rebellion or coup d'état".
"The government will not relent in applying the full force of the law against them in order to protect the people and the state from an unconstitutional and illegal power grab," de Lima said.
Archbishop Arguelles, however, said there is nothing illegal in what his group was doing.
"We are not doing anything illegal. We are patriots defending our country, our constitution and our people,” the archbishop said.
Various groups have scheduled protest rallies around the country on Wednesday to mark the 29th anniversary of the "People Power” revolution.
Activists are calling for the resignation of President Aquino, but the presidential palace said the president is determined to finish his term, which ends in 2016.
The 1986 peaceful uprising ended the 20-year rule of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos and catapulted Corazon Aquino, the mother of President Aquino, to power.
The presidential palace declared February 25 a special holiday for schools nationwide.
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