Protestant leaders in the Philippines on Wednesday assailed what they described as the "harassment" of a pastor by soldiers in the southern province of Laguna. The United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), a union of five Protestant denominations in the country, said that the pastor, Pastor June Ver Mangao, had been the target of "a scheme designed to link human rights defenders and advocates to the underground left." "Surveillance to harass, threaten and intimidate [Mangao] is an attack on the United Church of Christ in the Philippines as a whole," said UCCP spokesperson, Rev Joel Tendero. The chief of police in the town of Mabitac, Laguna, confirmed that the pastor was under surveillance by the army in order to check an alleged link to communist rebels. Tendero, however, said UCCP members, especially those in the Southern Tagalog region, have been experiencing "systematic surveillance." He recalled that soldiers were also spying on Pastor Noli Capulong before he was killed in May 2006, and Pastor Berlin Guerrero who was abducted and imprisoned in May 2007.
Tendero claimed that trumped up charges were also filed against Pastor Rodel Canja before he was abducted in May 2008 and coerced into testifying against Guerrero. Last June, the UCCP also denounced what it described as "acts of vilification" of groups and institutions, including church organizations, "that seek to be of loving service to the poorest of the poor." The Protestant group issued the statement after unknown individuals spray painted slogans in front of its main offices in Quezon City. One of the slogans read "Stop Armed Struggle." Fr Rex Reyes Jr, of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, said attempts to tarnish the image of church groups working for the poor are "deplorable, irresponsible, and lack moral decency." The Promotion of Church People's Response (PCPR), a national alliance of church-based groups, described the harassment of church people as "a clear manifestation of the intent to vilify church institutions who are actively involved in social issues and public witnessing." Nardy Sabino, general secretary of the PCPR, said linking churches and church personnel with armed groups to discredit church advocacies has been part of the government's counter-insurgency plan that aims to harass and silence vocal government critics. The UCCP earlier joined calls for the resumption of peace negotiations between the government and communist rebels to end a four-decade-old insurgency.
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