Priest accuses govt of targeting Filipino activists

Groups express concerns over spate of killings, 'illegal arrests' of people trying to assist poor communities
Priest accuses govt of targeting Filipino activists

Rights activists call for a stop to the reported persecution of development workers in Philippine rural areas. (Photo by Mark Saludes)


Development workers and social activists in the Philippines are becoming targets of "state persecution," according to a missionary priest.

Father Oliver Castor of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines said the activists have earned the ire of government forces "because they don't just give aid to the poor, but pursue solutions to poverty."

"People who fight social injustices are tagged as enemies of the state," said the priest, adding that authorities should instead "attack the cause of poverty not the people who help combat it."

Assert Socio-Economic Initiatives Network in the Philippines or ASCENT Philippines noted that 39 activists have been killed since President Rodrigo Duterte came to power last year.

At least 43 cases of "illegal arrest" of development workers have also been monitored by the development organization since July 2016.

"We are extremely concerned by this turn of events," said Renmin Crisanta Abraham Vizconde, the group's spokeswoman. 

"The list of violations of the right to development just keeps getting longer," she said, adding that the government's "shaky statement" on peace is "fast becoming an all-out war against the right to development."

Visconde cited the case of 30 health workers who were on their way to a remote village in the southern Philippines that was hit by a diarrhea outbreak in February.

Armed men told drivers who were supposed to pick up the health workers that there would be a shootout if the vehicles fetched the health team.

Vizconde called on the government to "rethink this militaristic outlook" and instead look at activists and development workers as "partners for change."

Father Castor said "if only the government does its job, there will be no need for social workers to sacrifice their lives to help those on the peripheries."

The priest urged Duterte to "sincerely pursue peace talks" with communist rebels and "unearth the reasons" why development workers are helping the poor in villages.

Government and rebel negotiators are set to meet in The Netherlands for another round of negotiations aimed at ending almost five decades of communist insurgency in the Philippines.

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