The Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) issued a statement condemning the harassment of a priest and a deacon in Mindanao.
The statement, issued on Feb. 6, by Obispo Maximo Rhee Timbang, said two (2) clergy in the Diocese of Malaybalay were subjected to an “harassment and intimidation” by the Duterte government through one of its agencies and security forces.
Fr. Crismon Destinado and Dcn. Fredmoore Arellano were subpoenaed on Feb. 6 by the Bukidnon Provincial Prosecutor prompted by a complaint made by DSWD Kitaotao, Bukidnon.
The two were accused of grave coercion after allegedly preventing a “medical team” organized by the LGU of Kitaotao and Quezon, Bukidnon for Lumad evacuees staying within the facility of IFI Kitaotao parish. The medical team was escorted by “military and police personnel” when they tried to enter the church premises.
From Nov. 9 to Dec. 9, 2019, IFI Kitaotao parish served as an evacuation shelter for 25 Lumad families who fled from their village in Sta. Felomena, Quezon, Bukidnon. Military elements threatened to bomb their community for allegedly cuddling members of the New People’s Army (NPA).
Bishop Timbang denounced the AFP and PNP for concocting lies and fabricating false witness against the IFI and its ministers. He said the Duterte government is using its agencies for “deception and repression.”
Timbang condemned what it sees “as another shameless move of the AFP and PNP under the Duterte government to harass and intimidate” church people. “We recognize the obvious pattern of harassment and intimidation trended and perpetuated by the state security forces in several similar instances involving church people engaged in the advocacy for and accompaniment with the cause and struggle of the lumad,” the plelate said.
The IFI has been vocal in its criticism of the Duterte government’s anti-insurgency campaign. “(This is a) concrete example of the devilish effect of EO 70 implementation that uses government agencies under the direction of the military for the war against the insurgents that only tend to victimize those who are legally and openly speaking up and working for the poor and the needy, like the clergy of the IFI and other churches,” Timbang said.
He calls on Duterte to “to rescind the implementation of EO 70 and dismantle structures of continuing martial law in Mindanao.”
Bishop Timbang asked IFI congregations across the country to “to pray for the safety, protection and well-being of our clergy and lay workers” and to take a stand against state harassment and repression.
(Photo of Lumad in IFI Kitaotao, Bukidnon, courtesy of Deacon Allan Khen Apus)