CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/ 17 November)—Bishops of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) or the Philippine Independent Church lambasted Friday the Aquino administration “for the alarming culture of impunity” in the country.
The bishops castigated the government in a strongly-worded statement during the opening of its three-day Mindanao Plenary Assembly, which was attended by at least 100 IFI priests and sectoral lay officers at the IFI Bulua Church here.
In a press conference after the opening ceremonies, Bishop Felixberto Calang said the IFI clergy is alarmed at the rise of a number of its clergy who have been “subjected to different forms of harassment and persecution in the exercise of their pastoral and prophetic ministry, and for advocating for community issues in dissent to the entry of environmentally dreadful large-scale mining and corporate plantation expansions.”
“The sorry state of human rights in the country—the unabated cases of extra-judicial killings (EJKs), enforced disappearances and forced evacuations— evidently [over]shadow the culture of impunity [in] the past administration of Gloria Arroyo,” Calang said in the statement.
He stressed that 118 individuals have been killed so far under the Aquino administration.
“The statistics of such unrelenting abuses and disregard to human dignity is not a mere propaganda. The President, Benigno Aquino III, should not be annoyed on reports accounted by human rights groups but should take it as a wake-up call,” the IFI bishops said.
The IFI prelates cited that both the New York-based Human Rights Watch and the Nobel Peace Prize awardee Amnesty International hold similar position on the sorry state of human rights in the country.
During the opening day of the three-day assembly, Fr. Redeemer Yaňez, parish priest of Opol town in Misamis Oriental, revealed that he and his altar boys have “seen suspicious looking men lurking on his church convent several times.”
“We have been included in the illegal surveillance because we provide sanctuary to the destitute, which for the wicked constitutes a crime,” said Yaňez.
He said this form of harassment started when he opened his church in Opol as a venue for the meetings and other activities of Pangalasag, a local indigenous people’s group claiming land rights against American-owned A. Brown Company.
“True to her nationalist tradition, the IFI bishops call on its faithful to remain steadfast and on no occasion waver in preaching the gospel of truth, justice and peace,” they said in the statement.
“(We) resoundingly call for justice for the killings of Bishop Alberto Ramento and Fr. William Tadena of Tarlac, who were silenced while helping the farmers of Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac, as well as Benjamin Bayles, a lay leader helping the sugarcane workers in Negros and all martyrs who offered their lives to the altar of peoples struggle for land and life,” IFI Mindanao Bishop’s Conference Chairperson Bishop Delfin Callao said in the statement.
“The IFI has no land to give, no wealth to offer, but has ourselves to share,” added Callao, urging the need to uphold human rights.
The IFI Mindanao Plenary Assembly this year runs from November 16 to 18 and carries the theme: “Nourish the faith to sustain the unity, pursue justice to celebrate God’s peace (ef. Luke 24:36).” (Cong Corrales/MindaNews)