Various church groups hit the synchronized military and police “anti-communist” raids on March 7 that led to the death of nine leaders of progressive people’s organization and the arrest of another six in the provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas and Rizal.
The National Priests Organization-South Central Luzon (NPO-SCL) slammed the attacks against the legitimate people’s organizations.
“We strongly condemn these heartless acts of violence perpetrated by government security forces acting under the baton of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC),” the organization of priests of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) said in a statement on March 8.
Two days before the crackdown, President Rodrigo Duterte told the police and military to “kill right away” and “finish off” all communist rebels during an armed encounter.
Rev. Cesar Hilario, NPO-SCL regional governor, blasted the government for targeting human rights defenders, peace advocates and social activists in its anti-insurgency efforts. He said the government must refrain from criminalizing, vilifying and red-tagging human rights defense, peacemaking, social change advocacy and activism.
In the statement, the NPO-SCL body also asked its members and the lay people to show solidarity by reaching out and sharing their resources to the victims, their families and communities.
“We stand with them in holding perpetrators accountable, and in defending our basic freedoms and civil liberties,” Hilario said.
IFI’s South Central Luzon Bishops Conference (SCLBC) chairperson Bishop Rowel Arevalo, meanwhile, called the killings a “massacre.”
“We are once again confronted with the evils and horrors of violence,” the bishop said in a statement on March 12.
Arevalo expressed the Conference’s indignation for the “relentless persecution and execution” of rights defenders and peace advocates previously red-tagged and branded as terrorists by President Duterte’s government and NTF-ELCAC.
“The blood of all those innocent civilians are on their hands,” he lamented.
The bishops strongly condemned what they called “state-sponsored violence” against government critics.
“We cannot betray the Gospel of Christ by feeling and doing nothing against the systemic violence that criminalizes and victimizes those who selflessly labor for a just society,” SCLBC said in its statement.
Earlier, the ecumenical group One Voice equally denounced the bloody crackdown as “tokhang-style killing,” referring to the government’s anti-illegal drug operations that left thousands of deaths.
The group said that those killed and arrested belonged to people’s organizations and denied they were armed rebels.
“The simultaneous raids and the resulting killings were not encounters with armed rebels, but a fascistic targeting of social activists of open, legal, and recognized cause-oriented groups,” On Voice said in a statement on March 10.
One Voice is calling for an independent investigation into the March 7 incident.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines and the National Council of Churches in the Philippines also issued statements condemning the killings and arrests of activists.#
(Photo from ABS-CBN)