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Philippines tags church, aid groups as 'communist fronts'

Accused organizations include Oxfam and the Protestant National Council of Churches group

Joe Torres, Manila

Joe Torres, Manila

Updated: November 06, 2019 09:25 AM GMT
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Philippines tags church, aid groups as 'communist fronts'

Catholic nuns join a candlelit march in Manila on Nov. 5 to protest against alleged attacks against church workers and human rights activists. (Photo by Jire Carreon)

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Several church and humanitarian groups in the Philippines have been declared "communist fronts" by the military during a security briefing in Manila.

Among 18 organizations listed as "communist terrorist group front organizations" were the Protestant group National Council of Churches in the Philippines and international aid organization Oxfam.

Also included were the Gabriela Women's Party, the non-government Farmers Development Center, and the tribal organization Cordillera People's Alliance.

The Nov. 5 briefing came days after a crackdown against activist and human rights groups in capital Manila and the city of Bacolod in the central Philippines.

It was given by defense and military officials who were providing an update on the country’s security situation and the military's modernization program for Lower House legislators.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said they based their conclusions from documents they had recovered in military operations across the country.

"It was [Jose Maria Sison] himself who said during one of the videos we saw: 'These are the front organizations.' That’s our basis. We did not make this up," said Lorenzana.

Sison is the founding chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines who has been living in exile in the Netherlands.

'Attack on Christian faith'

The National Council of Churches in the Philippines said its inclusion on the list was an "attack on our Christian faith and traditions."

In a statement, the Protestant organization said it "vehemently condemns the malicious and careless tagging by the Armed Forces of the Philippines."

"We will remain resolute in our prophetic witness and service to the people even in the midst of shrinking democratic space and rising impunity," it added.

Oxfam, which has been working in the Philippines for the past 30 years, also denied the allegation.

"If our vision and mission in the Philippines have led to Oxfam being labeled a local communist terrorist group or a funder of communist terrorist groups, then we find this a most troubling situation," it said in a statement.

"These allegations affect not only us but also put the communities and partners we work with at risk." 

The group said organizations like Oxfam "should be encouraged, rather than hindered" in countries where there is poverty.

On Nov. 5, religious leaders in Manila held a march to protest against what they described were a rising number of attacks on government critics.

"We cannot allow injustice to rule our land," said Franciscan priest Angel Cortez, spokesman of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines. "The Church and the people have to stand together and speak up despite the intimidation and harassment." he said.

He said church people were being persecuted "because we stand for victims of injustice."

"Activists and church people have one thing in common. We both serve the poor, the oppressed, and we amplify the voice of the most abandoned," said the priest.

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