Nuns raise clenched fists to show their indignation at alleged attempts by the government to intimidate church leaders who have been vocal in their criticism against rights abuses by state forces. (Photo by Maria Tan)
The Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP) has appealed to Catholics to "resist the shadow of fear cast over the nation" following government allegations that several church leaders conspired to oust President Rodrigo Duterte.
It called on people to resist the government’s "lies, violence and betrayal," at a gathering attended by hundreds of priests, nuns, and lay people in Manila on Aug. 6.
"This is a time for all Christians to display vigilance and resist injustice," AMRSP executive secretary, Father Angel Cortez, said."We are calling on everyone to stand together and hold the government accountable for acts of wickedness, the violence and for selling out our sovereignty," he added.The AMRSP is a joint forum of heads of religious congregations, which run most of the country's top universities and institutions.
The police have filed sedition, cyber libel, libel, and obstruction of justice charges against 36 people including the country's vice president, members of the opposition, four bishops, a religious brother, and three priests.The charges stem from the release of a video that went viral on several social media platforms early this year that linked Duterte and his family to the illegal drug trade.
Attempt at intimidationThe religious group said the filing of charges against the religious leaders is "an attempt to intimidate" church leaders and "to stop us from doing what we do best, voice the truth."
Priests, nuns, and lay people hold a "solidarity gathering" in Manila on Aug. 6 to show their support for those accused of plotting against the administration of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. (Photo by Andrea Maxene Punzalan)
Show of supportFaith-based groups expressed their support for the accused church leaders during the "solidarity Mass" and a candle lighting activity that followed."The president cannot just intimidate the Church and hinder it from telling the stories of the victims [of killings]," said Nardy Sabino, secretary-general of the Promotion of Church People’s Response.Sister Elenia Belardo of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines called on the government to "stop persecuting church people who work for justice and peace." Isaiah Ministry, an ecumenical church group, condemned the sedition charges filed against the bishops and priests."We find it deplorable that the charges are simply based on questionable and unreliable statements," the group said in a statement."That the basis of these charges are lies, makes it only obvious that the current administration is paving its way towards total dictatorship," it added.The Catholic bishops and priests charged were known critics of the government's anti-narcotics campaign."The intolerance of the regime on dissent and criticism becomes more despicable every passing day," read the Isaiah Ministry statement."The people should not cower before these attacks," it added.A preliminary hearing in the cases filed against Bishop Honesto Ongtioco of Cubao, Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan, retired prelate Teodoro Bacani Jr., and Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan is set for Aug. 9.