Statement of the Obispo Maximo
Iglesia Filipina Independiente
February 6, 2020

The Most Revd Rhee M. Timbang

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8-9 NIV)

Speaking up for the poor and the needy and working for their good forms the core of Christian responsibility as demanded by our Lord Jesus. For the ordained ministers in the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) this serves as the imperative of our faith, the mandate of our mission, the motivation of our ministry, and the essence of our calling. This expresses our apostolacy and discipleship as baptized and ordained persons, and measures our faithfulness and consistency to our tradition, history and teaching as a Church. And it is not surprising therefore to have clergy in our Church who are engaged with the work of accompanying the struggle of the poor and needy in our society, especially for the lumad people who continue to experience discrimination and persecution from this present dispensation particularly.

The Reverends Crismon Destinado and Fredmoore Arellano

It is therefore outrageous to know that two (2) IFI clergy from the Diocese of Malaybalay, in the persons of Revd Crismon Destinado, assigned in Poblacion, Damulog, Bukidnon, and Revd Fredmoore Arellano, assigned in Metebagao, Kitaotao, Bukidnon, have received this morning a subpoena issued by Bukidnon Provincial Prosecutor directing them to reply within ten days to the complaint of certain PEMS Ramil Noble for violation of RA 7610 and grave coercion, arising from the accusation of DSWD Kitaotao that the two clergy allegedly restrained the combined medical team, escorted by military and police personnel, from the LGU of Kitaotao and Quezon to enter into the church function hall in Kitaotao Parish, Bukidnon where the lumads from Quezon, Bukidnon sought refuge and were provided sanctuary by the IFI between November 9 to December 9, 2019. Twenty-five (25) families comprising of one hundred thirty three (133) individuals including children fled from their community in Sta. Felomina, Quezon, Bukidnon after they were threatened by the military that their community and its vicinity would be bombed when they refused to heed to the order of the military to surrender as members of the New People’s Army (NPA).

We, the leadership of the IFI, regard this development as another shameless move of the AFP and PNP under the Duterte government to harass and intimidate the church people and repress the church. We see the manipulating hand of the AFP and PNP to concoct lies and fabricate false witness against the IFI and its ministers and use government agencies to implement their methods of deception and repression. 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. Particularly, we take this instance as the 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.

We, the leadership of the IFI, strongly denounce this brazen display of lies, deception and fakery. We are resolute in condemning this continuing act of harassment, intimidation and repression against church people and the Church itself even as we in the IFI have to strive to defend our clergy from these assaults and clear the names of those who are grossly malinged and wrongly accused. We said it before, and we say it again, that the IFI continues to stand firmed in pursuing its mission as rooted from the ministry of our Lord Jesus and as inspired from the courageous witness of the apostles and martyrs of the Church and of Apo Aglipay, Don Belong and other heroes of faith in the nationalist and revolutionary tradition of the Filipino people. No amount of harassment, intimidation and repression can deter the IFI and its clergy and lay workers from “witnessing faithfully to God’s love in Christ in every place and time in the power of the Holy Spirit” (2020 GA Theme).

We call on the IFI faithful in forty-nine dioceses all over the Philippines and overseas to continue (i) to pray for the safety, protection and well-being of our clergy and lay workers; (ii) to support the whole work of mission and ministry of the Church especially at these challenging times; (iii) to engage discernment and study on the national situation through the eyes and heart of the Lord Jesus in order to deepen our appreciation of our faith-tradition and church history; (iv) to link up with ecumenical formation and networks that promote similar advocacy; and (v) to persist in the work of educating, organizing and mobilizing our members and people.

We echo our calls for President Duterte (i) to implement pro-poor, pro-people, pro-Filipino and pro-peace policies and programs in the remaining years of his government even as we in the IFI continue to include him and other public officials in our Intercessory Prayer that “they may make wise and just decision and promote freedom, peace and welfare of the people;” (ii) to rescind the implementation of EO 70 and dismantle structures of continuing martial law in Mindanao despite its termination; and (iii) to resume the peace talks which is the remaining viable option towards genuine, just and lasting peace in our land and terminate the long existing armed conflict which source up financial opportunism and paranoia among the war-mongers in the AFP and PNP.

It is truly in the reign of genuine, just and lasting peace where our people shall be able to “lie down and sleep in peace…and lie down in safety” (Psalm 4:8 NRSV). It is the kind of righteousness that we peace-loving Filipinos seek for many decades now. As the Prophet Isaiah says: The fruit of that righteousness will be peace; its effect will be quietness and confidence forever. My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest” (Isaiah 32:17-18). We, in the IFI, shall work towards this end even as we shout out “no” to continuing harassment and repression.

May the God of justice and peace preserve the IFI and its clergy in his gracious keeping and embolden the witness of the whole Church for peace, justice and integrity of creation .

++ RHEE
Obispo Maximo, February 6, 2020, Manila, Philippines

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