The Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI), or Philippine Independent Church, have issued a statement condemning what it alleged was the harassment of its priests by agents of the state. The statement, issued on Feb. 4, by Bishop Rhee Timbang, head of the independent Christian denomination, said five priests were subjected to stalking and intimidation in two separate incidents last week. On Jan. 31, Father Christopher Ablon, the church’s program coordinator claimed that he and his colleagues — Fathers Marciano Carabio, Jerome Lito and Arnold Abuel — were put under surveillance. On Jan. 30, another priest, Marco Sulayao, reported that policemen took pictures of him while he returned home from a meeting in the central Philippines. Bishop Timbang said "no amount of harassment, intimidation or threats
can dissuade the church from its faithful witness."
The prelate said the church would "continue its prophetic witness and social advocacy for and in the interest of justice and peace and transformation of the unjust structures of Filipino society." The IFI has been vocal in its criticism of President Rodrigo Duterte’s policies
, especially his war against drugs, which has killed thousands of suspected drug users and dealers, as well as his anti-insurgency campaign that has displaced tribal communities. Last week, IFI churches in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao were daubed with graffiti, which accused the church of supporting terrorism and harboring communist rebels. Father Ablon said recent killings of Catholic priests
— three were killed in the space of six months last year — and of activists, as well as Duterte's verbal attacks against church leaders, "there was a real cause for alarm." "The forces of evil in our society are not stopping, and they are bent on pursuing their evil intent with impunity," said Bishop Timbang. He condemned what he called were “cowardly acts of violence, repression and intimidation against church people and peace advocates." The prelate accused Duterte of "publicly endorsing this culture of impunity." "His public declaration is a green light for state security forces and rogue elements among them to go on a rampage of killing and violating the basic and fundamental constitutional rights of people," Bishop Timbang said. In recent weeks, Duterte has again lambasted church leaders, accusing them of corruption and sex abuse, for criticizing killings in his drug war. The Philippine Independent Church, which has 47 dioceses and at least six million followers nationwide, has earlier warned of possible attacks against its clergy and lay workers after receiving a number of threats addressed to priests since last month. The government has not yet commented on the statement or allegations of intimidation against Iglesia Filipina Independiente clergymen.
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