Philippine Church calls for support for accused prelates

Sedition charge proceedings expected to start against them this week
Philippine Church calls for support for accused prelates

One of the accused prelates, Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan leads a 'prayer vigil' in his diocese on Aug. 2. (Photo by Vincent Go)

Philippine church leaders have appealed to Catholics to pray for four bishops facing a preliminary investigation this week for sedition.

In a statement signed by Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao, the Catholic bishops' conference called for "solidarity ... in prayer."

He said prayers are imperative as the four bishops were "now facing difficult days ahead".

"The processes related to the sedition charges have now started to move .... We ask ourselves as brother bishops, what can we do for them?" said Bishop Valles.

Philippine authorities have filed charges of inciting sedition, cyber libel, libel, and obstruction of justice against Bishop Honesto Ongtioco of Cubao, Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan, retired prelate Teodoro Bacani Jr., and Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan.

The charges stem from the release of a video that went viral on several social media platforms early this year that linked President Rodrigo Duterte and his family to the illegal drug trade.

Also facing the same charges were former education secretary Brother Armin Luistro, Divine Word priest Flaviano Villanueva, Jesuit priest Albert Alejo and Father Robert Reyes.

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila also asked priests and Catholics to recite a "prayer for the nation" for "persecuted" bishops and priests during the entire month of August.   

Outpouring of support

The four accused bishops have expressed their gratitude to what they described was an "outpouring of support" from the people.

"I would like to see in it a stand, not just for us bishops, priests and religious, but for all others who suffer the consequence of being on the side of truth, justice and human dignity," said Bishop David.

Retired Bishop Bacani said he knows he is "completely innocent, and so are my fellow bishops," adding that, "prayer is our best weapon to fight evil."

During a "prayer vigil" on Aug. 2, Bishop David stressed that he is "a bishop and a shepherd" who respects the democratically elected government.

"We respect the democracy in our country and the mandate of our authorities," he said, adding that he hopes authorities will also respect the "rule of law."

"Our plea is for the law to be upheld, for human rights and dignity to be respected, for lives to be preserved, and for the sick and victims to be given aid," said Bishop David.

The prelate has been vocal in his criticism of President Rodrigo Duterte's "war on drugs" that has reportedly resulted in the death of thousands of suspected drug users and dealers.

"Ideology of death"

In a separate statement, the Ecumenical Bishops Forum (EBF) condemned what it described was an "ideology of death" within the country.

The Catholic and Protestant prelates said the "ideology" is responsible for the threats, harassment and killing of church people.

The bishops issued the statement following the killing on Aug. 2 of Pastor Ernesto Javier Estrella of United Church of Christ in the Philippines in the southern Philippines.

"The number of violent attacks against Christian human rights defenders has increased alarmingly in the three year’s of Duterte’s government," read the EBF statement.

"His avowed contempt for human rights has provided the institutional framework of this violence being committed against those who uphold the sanctity of human life and the dignity of the human person," it added.

They called on Christian communities to "defeat the ideology of death and culture of impunity by re-appropriating and living-out the prophetic heritage of their faith."

"Christians must act together for the defense of justice, human rights, democracy and the common good," read the statement.

"Let us fight against the systematic design to undermine the participation and contributions of church people in the people’s struggle for equality, dignity and the common good," it added.

The ecumenical bishops' group said that "now is the Gospel moment to speak out and stand together in the name of Christ in upholding the God-given value of human life, dignity and rights."

The EBF is a fellowship of Catholic bishops and leaders of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines, the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, and the United Methodist Church.

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