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Philippine govt accused of targeting church workers

Crackdown on activists accused of being militants has not spared aid programs for the poor, missionary group says

Inday Espina-Varona, Manila

Inday Espina-Varona, Manila

Updated: November 28, 2017 05:22 AM GMT
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Philippine govt accused of targeting church workers

An activist displays a placard during a protest rally in Manila to call for an end to attacks on tribal schools that were established by church groups in the southern Philippines. (Photo by Mark Saludes)


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A government crackdown on suspected militants has also targeted church workers and threatens to affect church programs especially in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao, according to a Catholic missionary group.

The Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) said church people working in poor communities are already being targeted in an "upsurge of attacks" against activists.

The RMP is an organization of men and women religious, priests, and lay people working with farmers and tribal people in Mindanao since 1969.

In a statement released on Nov. 27, the group said government security agents have started hounding church workers and activists to force them out of their advocacy.

The group cited the case of 22- year old Kathleen Cabardo, coordinator of a European Union-funded project for tribal people in Mindanao, who has been accused of being a communist rebel.

Unidentified men claiming to "work for the government" visited Cabardo's family and accused the young woman of being a member of the communist movement.

Police has also visited her home to inquire about her whereabouts. The RMP said police also put her family under surveillance.

The woman also allegedly received messages on her mobile phone warning her that she would be raped if she did not do what she was told, the group said.

President Rodrigo Duterte announced this month that his government would go after activists allegedly conspiring with communist rebels.

The president tagged the rebels "terrorists" and "a bunch of criminals" after he declared an end to peace negotiations with the communist-led rebel group National Democratic Front.

However, reports say threats and attacks on activists and church workers started even before Duterte signed the proclamation last week that terminated the peace talks.

On Nov. 16, unidentified gunmen shot dead Pastor Perfecto Hoyle of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines in Agusan del Norte province.

At least two other activists have been reported killed and three others were reportedly abducted and are still missing, according to human rights group Karapatan.

Unidentified men also shot at the house of a leader of a farmers' group also in Agusan del Norte province. 

On Nov. 26, villagers from 12 tribal communities in Surigao del Sur province fled their homes due to intensified military operations against suspected rebels.

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