HR group condemns police, military for arresting Iglesia Bishop and three others

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 14 May) — Human Rights group Barug Katungod Mindanao condemned the police and military for arresting last Friday in Ozamiz City Bishop Carlo Morales of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI), his wife Ma. Teofilina Morales, church driver Isadome Dalid, and alleged National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) consultant Rommel Salinas.

In a statement released on Saturday, the group also criticized government authorities for “fabricating charges” against Morales, head of the IFI diocese in Ozamiz City, and Salinas,  alleged secretary general of the Communist Party of the Philippines in Western Mindanao, for alleged possession of firearms and ammunition.

Bishop Morales on handcuffs. Photo from IFI-Ozamiz’s Facebook page

The group maintained Morales and his companions were arrested by the police when the warrant of arrest was only against Salinas, a duly accredited person under the Joint Agreement on safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) and who is a holder of Document of Identification No. ND978453 under the name of Hermie Abella as identified by the NDFP.

The JASIG prohibits state forces from arresting any person covered by it and cannot be charged in courts “to be able to freely participate and promote the peace process in the country” and to ensure the continuity of the peace talks “by assuring both parties that their negotiators and consultants can move and speak freely in relation to their role in the peace process.”

It called on President Rodrigo Duterte to look into this “disturbing circumvention of the rule of law and a blatant turnaround on previously-signed GRP-NDPF peace agreements like the JASIG.”

It noted that what the Ozamiz police and military did “clearly shows that government forces “arbitrarily refuse to honor the JASIG by arresting NDF consultants based on trumped-up charges.” It also cited the case of NDF consultant Ariel Arbitrario, who was arrested at a Davao City checkpoint in early February, even as he was supposed to be protected by the JASIG.

Charges against the bishop’s wife, Teofilina, and Dalid, the driver, were dropped but Morales and Salinas have been charged for illegal possession of firearms and ammunition that they claimed were planted by the military allegedly to justify their arrest and detention.

When accosted at the checkpoint in Barangay Gango in Ozamiz last Friday, the Barug Katungod  claimed the police did not declare Morales’ group was in possession of any illegal material and were made to ride another vehicle going to the police station while their belongings were separated and taken to antoher vehicle.

Authorities claimed to have recovered from their possession a hand grenade, six Nokia mobile phones, battery packs, a map of Misamis Occidental, and P80,700 in cash.

Barug Katungod said the at the police station, Morales, Salinas and company were “surprised to be informed by the police and elements of military that they were in possession of one hand grenade and “subversive” documents.

This is clearly a variance of the government’s ‘tanim droga’ and ‘tanim bala’ schemes. Only that this practice has been with us since Martial Law and is perpetrated by state security forces with impunity,” it said.

It added the police obtained a commitment order from the court for their continued detention but the human rights group questioned why the police did not present a copy of the case to Morales’ fellow church leaders.

PNP Northern Mindanao spokesperson Superintendent Lemuel Gonda on Friday said a joint police and army team arrested the four at a checkpoint in Barangay Gango.

Gonda said they found and confiscated from the four suspects a hand grenade, six Nokia mobile phones, battery packs, a map of Misamis Occidental, and P80,700 in cash.

The arrest of Bishop Morales ignited a furor among the IFI clergy who immediately summoned members to go to the Ozamiz City police station.

“Those of you who can travel, go now to the Ozamiz police station,” said Bishop Antonio Ablon of the IFI’s Pagadian City diocese.

Ablon said Bishop Morales identified himself to the police but the police still maltreated him.

The IFI issued a strong statement condemning the arrest of Bishop Morales and demanded for his immediate release.

“We find no reason that the good IFI Bishop of Ozamiz will be illegally arrested, handcuffed and illegally detained in jail. He had properly introduced himself as a bishop but was still accorded with maltreatments,” the IFI said Friday in a statement condemning the arrest of Morales and demanding his immediate release.(Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)