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Philippine superiors issue war cry over govt 'attacks'

Sedition charges against bishops, priests 'an attempt to intimidate' church leaders, congregation association tells gathering

 Mark Saludes and Marielle Lucenio, Manila

Mark Saludes and Marielle Lucenio, Manila

Updated: August 07, 2019 06:07 AM GMT
Philippine superiors issue war cry over govt 'attacks'

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.
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Father Cortez said the "use of false information and the filing of trumped-up charges" against Catholic bishops, priests, and a religious brother "is a desperate move to hinder the Church from conducting its mission for the poor."

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 intimidation

The 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."

In his homily during the gathering’s Mass, Vincentian priest Daniel Franklin Pilario appealed to Catholics not to be afraid. "Silence in the face of evil is evil in itself," he said.

Jesuit priest Albert Alejo, one of those charged with sedition, said it is time for church people to "resist the temptation of disconnecting doing good from seeking the truth."

"It is not enough that we take care of those who are dead. We have to investigate who led the act of killings," he said.

"It is not enough that we rehabilitate the drug addicts. We need to probe who is the mastermind behind these drug syndicates," added the priest.

Father Alejo has been a vocal critic of Duterte's "war against drugs," which has cost the lives of at least 6,000 people.

Human rights activists, however, say more than 20,000 suspected drug users and dealers have been killed.

Divine Word priest Flaviano Villanueva, another accused, said church people "will continue to speak up" and "resist everything that stands in the way [of truth] ... because it is how we follow Christ."

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 support

Faith-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.

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