Statement of the Obispo Maximo on the Recent Case of Red-Tagging,

The Most Revd Rhee M. Timbang

Sunday is a big day for any IFI clergy and lay: it is the Lord’s Day, a holy day to keep and a worship day to observe. It is a day to celebrate God’s gracious, saving work for the world in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Hence, Sundays always bring good cheer and bright hope; and clergy and lay in the IFI look forward to it to gather for worship and fellowship and to claim it to usher in a blessed, inspiring week ahead.

Yesterday, February 16, which was a big Sunday, is completely different however for the IFI in the Diocese of Batac. The day was smack with evil as uniformed military personnel from 81st IBPA called for and presided over a community meeting in Brgy. Gulpeng, Pinili, Ilocos Norte and forced barangay residents, including minors, to sign documents that they are NPA surrenderees. These soldiers had earlier camped in the neighbouring barangay in Capangdanan, Pinili, Ilocos Norte a month ago. In the meeting, a video was presented showing some footages of various activities which barangay residents had participated in, like the December 10 Human Rights Day Program, Peasant Caravan and others, including their massing up as beneficiaries of relief operations conducted by the National Council of Churches in the Philippines. Brgy. Gulpeng is a small barangay in Pinili town with majority of its residents are poor peasants tilling non-irrigated farm lands. Most residents are IFI church members and are active in their peasant organization. In that meeting the military confronted the barangay residents that their peasant organization is an NPA-front supported by IFI, UCCP and NCCP.

Also shown and named in the video presentation was an IFI clergy Revd Rogelio Cornelio Molina as an active NPA supporter. The video also tagged other members of the Clergy of the IFI Diocese of Batac as NPA supporters. The Revd Rogelio Cornelio Molina is currently assigned at Batac Cathedral Church assisting his diocesan bishop and regularly conducts worship service in Brgy. Gulpeng, Pinili, Ilocos Norte every month. He and his spouse, Genalyn Magbulos Molina, reside in the said barangay. In that meeting, Genalyn and other members of the peasant organization, signed a paper under duress that they are NPA’s now surrendering to the government. The military threatened them that something bad will befall on them if they continue to join and take part in the peasant organization.

Indeed, the AFP, which had become so viciously wicked and devilish under the Duterte regime, has no tinge left for solemn regard of the Lord’s Day, and worst, has nothing to demonstrate for sublime respect of the fundamental rights of persons and their human dignity. The AFP’s paranoia to beat its own deadline of ending insurgency in the country has transmogrify the military into dangerous horrible cretins which can only see “red” and tag anyone working openly and legally for the well-being of the struggling people as “communists.” This terrible act of harassment, intimidation and threat that officers and members of the 81st IBPA had shown yesterday against the community residents of Brgy. Gulpeng, Pinili, Ilocos Norte and against the IFI and its clergy in the Diocese of Batac obviously showcases the beastly worse that is in the military. Staging fake surrenderees has become the fad for the military nowadays to show that the AFP is winning in their campaign to merit promotion in the military heirarchy and a way for some of its officials to earn cash from the highly corrupt military system at the expense of the rights and wellbeing of the innocent and highly vulnerable Filipinos.

We, the leadership of the IFI, strongly condemn this fresh attack and vilification against the IFI and its clergy. We gravely denounce this continuing act of labelling and red-tagging that endangers the lives and security of our clergy and lay in the IFI who are simply doing their best to be faithful to their vocation and ministry. What happened in the IFI Diocese of Batac is of the same pattern in the way our two clergy in the IFI Diocese of Malaybalay, namely Revd Crismon Destinado and Revd Fredmoore Arellano, were harassed by the AFP using civil agencies of the local government that took place several days ago. The same experience as well that Revd Roevel Tindahan and his spouse, Christy Tindahan, and the youth leader Richmond Cayanong, all in the IFI Diocese of Pagadian underwent few weeks earlier.

We are utterly angry with this unfair, ridiculous and baseless act of labelling and red-tagging against the IFI that only intends to discredit its brand of faith and witness which is rooted in the life and work of the Lord Jesus and in its tradition and history being a church born out from the nationalist struggle of the Filipino people. We see it as deliberate efforts of the state and its security forces to repress and silence the IFI and stifle its prophetic witness, social advocacy, pastoral care and empowering ministry in defense of people’s rights and in promotion of justice, peace and integrity of creation.

We call on the Duterte government to direct the AFP to stop this malicious and irresponsible act of labelling and red-tagging. We ask the AFP to stop employing this pattern of harassment, intimidation and threat as it is applied all over the country to terrorize and endanger our clergy and lay in particular working in the field together with other political, social and environmental activists. We obligate the Duterte government to explore the peace talks as viable option to end the insurgency problem in the Philippines instead of the militarist way which has only gained notoriety and corruption in the AFP.

We demand from the Philippine Congress to conduct in-depth investigation on the rampant staging of fake surenderees among innocent people in the country sides to validate the AFP’s serious abuse and violations against people’s rights and to expose the truth that some military officers are earning cash out from these cases. We ask the governments of other nations which have been giving aid to Philippine government to withhold their financial support as these funds might have been used to finance the killing of the masses and the attacks of the basic and constitutional rights of the Filipino people.

We ask our clergy and lay workers in the IFI to continue to be faithful in doing the Lord’s mission, in doing good for the sake of our people in want and in need, in accompanying the struggling sectors of our society in their journey for decent living, for justice and peace. We call on the faithful of the IFI spread out in the forty-nine dioceses to pray for all our lay and ordained workers, and to support the whole work of mission and ministry of the IFI. In the name of our Lord Jesus, let us not become weary in doing good (Galatians 6:9a). Instead let us continue to uphold the prophet’s word: “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow” (Isaiah 1:17).

Let us all in the IFI persevere in “witnessing faithfully to God’s love in Christ in all places and time in the power of the Holy Spirit” (2020 GA Theme). For it is truly right, and the proper thing to do in Christ our Lord.

++ RHEE

Obispo Maximo

17 February 2020, Manila, Philippines

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