Philippine Catholics march to defend church leaders

Thousands turn out to back church people accused of trying to oust President Rodrigo Duterte
Philippine Catholics march to defend church leaders

Members of the clergy in Lingayen-Dagupan Archdiocese express their support for their prelate during a 'prayer march' in the city of Dagupan on July 31. (Photo by Jojo Rinoza)

Catholics in the northern Philippines are throwing their support behind church leaders accused of conspiring to overthrow President Rodrigo Duterte.

About 3,000 people in Lingayen-Dagupan Archdiocese took to the streets on July 31 to show their support for their archbishop.

Church workers, students, and parishioners carried placards with messages expressing support for Archbishop Socrates Villegas and other accused church people.

The Justice Department is set to start a preliminary investigation next week into sedition allegations against them.

Aside from Archbishop Villegas, Bishops Honesto Ongtioco of Cubao, Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan, and retired prelate Teodoro Bacani Jr. are also charged with sedition and cyber libel.

So too were Divine Word priest Flaviano Villanueva, Jesuit priest Albert Alejo, Father Robert Reyes, and La Salle Brother Armin Luistro.

At least 36 other people were also charged for allegedly orchestrating a series of online videos alleging that Duterte and his family members were involved in the illegal drugs trade.

The bishops’ conference has called the allegations "beyond belief."

Speaking during a Mass before the July 31 prayer march in the city of Dagupan, Auxiliary Bishop Fidelis Layog called on Catholics to stand up for truth, justice and human rights.

"We are doing this not only for [them] but also for others who are maligned and persecuted, whose human rights are crushed to the ground," said the prelate.

"[We] fervently stand with Archbishop Villegas and other bishops who are being persecuted and falsely accused for standing up against malicious insults to truth, justice, and freedom," read a statement released by the archdiocese.

The marchers later called on the police to drop the charges as they lit candles in front of the city's St. John the Evangelist Church where they celebrated the Eucharist.

The archdiocese appealed to Catholics across the country to offer their support.

Students in the northern Philippine city of Dagupan join a 'prayer march' on July 31 to express their support for their prelate, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, and other church leaders who are accused of conspiring to oust President Rodrigo Duterte. (Photo by Jojo Rinoza) 

 

Masses, prayers to be offered

On Aug. 1, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila issued a call to the clergy and Catholics in Manila to offer Masses and prayers on Aug. 4 for those suffering because of "persecution and false accusations."

"Let our prayers be the best expression of our solidarity and fraternal support for them," read a circular letter addressed to the clergy and religious men and women of Manila Archdiocese.

Father Reginald Malicdem, the archdiocese’s chancellor, said Cardinal Tagle is urging everyone to be "aware and discerning" toward the "many disturbing issues" in society.

Attached to the circular was a "Prayer for the Nation," which Cardinal Tagle asked to be recited during Sunday and Saturday Masses for the whole month of August.

"The prayer will take the place of the 'Prayer of the Faithful' of the Mass and will be prayed standing," said Father Malicdem.

In a personal statement read by Monsignor Manuel Bravo, Archbishop Villegas thanked Catholics in his archdiocese for their love and prayers. "Your love is so powerful," he said.

The prelate said that while he always knew and understood that the priesthood is a sacrifice, he never imagined that he would be accused of a crime like sedition.

"The good Lord knows I am innocent of the crime they charge me with," Archbishop Villegas said.

"Thank you for the many assurances that you believe me when I say so. If the process will be fair and truthful, I know the authorities will see it too," he added.

"My fire comes from the spirit of the Gospel not from a subversive heart," said the prelate. "I am not a political troublemaker; my duty is to disturb cold consciences," he said.

Jojo Rinoza contributed to this report.

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