Bishop Carlo Morales of the Philippine Independent Church Diocese of Ozamis. (Photo courtesy of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente)
The Iglesia Filipina Independiente (Philippine Independent Church) or IFI condemned what it described as the "illegal arrest" of one of its bishops in the southern city of Ozamis in Mindanao.
A combined military and police unit arrested Bishop Carlo Morales and his companions at a checkpoint in the village of Gango in the city on May 11.
The arresting officers claimed one of the bishop's companions was a member of the rebel National Democratic Front of the Philippines, which is currently negotiating a peace deal with the government.
"Be that as it may, we find no reason that the good bishop of Ozamiz will be illegally arrested, handcuffed, and illegally detained in jail," read the church's statement released on May 12.
The church said Bishop Morales "fully introduced himself as a bishop but still he was accorded with such maltreatment."
"We, the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, raise our voice to the highest condemnation," read the church's statement.
The IFI is an independent denomination in the form of a national church. Its schism from the Catholic Church was proclaimed in 1902 due to the alleged mistreatment of Filipinos by Spanish priests.
Since 1960 the church has been in full communion with the Episcopal Church in the United States and the entire Anglican Communion.
"We demand for [Bishop Morales] immediate release," said Bishop Antonio Ablon of the nearby Pagadian Diocese.
"It is a clear violation of human rights and on the person of a religious leader or a bishop that has an obligation to provide protection or sanctuary to a person who is in distress or politically persecuted," said the prelate.
Bishop Ablon called the arrest of his fellow bishop as a "despicable police malpractice and a clear harassment and human rights violation."
Bishop Morales and his companions — wife Maria Teofifina Morales, driver Sadome Dalid, and a certain Rommel Salinas — spent the night in a crowded holding cell in the city's police station.
Father Dave Bitos from Ozamis Diocese told ucanews.com that the bishop is facing charges of "harboring a warranted person."
The police accused Salinas of being a "high-ranking New People's Army [NPA] leader in western Mindanao. His arrest was covered by five warrants for the crimes of "destructive arson, murder, frustrated murder, attempted murder, and robbery in band [squatting]."
The NPA is the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines that has been waging a more than four-decade old insurgency.
Arresting officers said a hand grenade and personal belongings were recovered from Salinas during his arrest.
Members of the church held an overnight protest outside the police station in the city to call for the release of the bishop and his companions.