The United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) announced on Feb. 10 that it is preparing charges against those behind the attacks of its sanctuary in Mindanao.
The church facility, the official residence of UCCP Bishop Hamuel Tequis, has served as sanctuary to about 400 tribal people who fled their villages due to military operation in recent years.
State security forces have repeatedly attempted to enter the church compound dubbed HARAN, or “Home and Altar for Renewal, Action, and Nurture.”
In January, the peace and order council in Davao region passed a resolution seeking for the immediate closure of the facility.
It said the church has been using the tribal people “to get donations from foreign groups.”
The council also alleged that the tribal people inside the compound are being detained and exploited for “various terroristic activities.”
Bishop Tequis said he is consulting the church’s legal teams as they prepare for the filing of “legal action against those who were involved in these acts of aggression.”
In a forum in Manila on Feb. 10, UCCP leaders vowed to continue proclaiming its “mission to defend and serve the poor.”
“It is inherent to the church to aid those who are in need,” said Bishop Tequis. “It is our apostolic mission to care for the poor and the oppressed,” he added.
The church leaders called on the government to respect “zones of peace,” including churches and church facilities that host people in distressed or those who are in danger.
Bishop Emergencio Padillo said the intrusion of the paramilitary group last month “could not have happened without the prodding” of those in power.
He said the church is not holding the tribal people against their will. “They are free to leave the facility anytime they want but they are staying because they have nowhere to go,” said Bishop Padillo.
Army spokesman Lt. Col. Ezra Balagtey said the men who entered the church facility on Jan. 25 were tribal leaders and relatives of those who are inside the sanctuary.
“They were calling for the return of their relatives and members of the tribe to the communities,” he said, denying military involvement in the incident.
The UCCP, meanwhile, called on Davao’s peace and order council to “urgently withdraw its arbitrary resolution” and issue a public apology “for besmirching the integrity of the church.”