SEVERAL church leaders in the Philippines called on Filipinos to continue to defend their freedom as the country marks the 122nd anniversary of its independence on Friday, June 12.
“We celebrate independence with hope that true independence will come upon us if now we defend our freedom,” said Bishop Broderick Pabillo of Manila.
The prelate, an outspoken critic of the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, cited as “threat” to freedom the proposed anti-terrorism bill that was passed by Congress last week.
“We fight the terror bill that threatens our hard won freedoms,” said Bishop Pabillo.
Several church and civil society groups and personalities have expressed opposition to the proposed measure, saying it would violate the basic rights of people.
Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos called on Filipinos to read the “signs of the times” and “express our love for country and honor the precious memory of those who offered their lives for our freedom.”
Bishop Arturo Bastes, retired prelate of Sorsogon, called for prayers and fasting on June 12, saying that people should pray for the “dying democracy” in the country.
“Our country should fast and pray to God on June 12 for deliverance from the pandemic, from poverty, and from political terror and oppression,” he said.
Bishop Bastes called for the ringing of church bells “to remind all Filipinos to pray for these intentions to make our country truly free.”
A network of church workers and rights advocates announced that they will join demonstrations against the proposed anti-terror law on June 12.
“As we read many thoughtful and cogent statements against [the bill] from church people, it is clear that we remain united in our stand for human rights and freedom on our beloved homeland,” read a statement from the group One Faith, One Nation, One Voice.
The church leaders said they are grateful for the participation and contribution of church workers to the “growing throng of protest against the bill” and likened the “collective stand” to that of Queen Esther “who dared to enter to king’s court and speak for the welfare of her people under threat.”
“For such a time as this, we have been emboldened to defend democracy and promote the civil rights of our people,” read the group’s statement.
Government spokesman Harry Roque, meanwhile, reminded the public against mass gatherings of more than 10 people during the Independence Day celebration.
“Gatherings of 10 people or more is prohibited. That is all,” Roque said when asked about the government’s reaction on planned protest actions by activist groups.
Authorities warned activists that they could be arrested if they will join street protests on Independence Day.
Police Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar said security personnel will ask protesters to “voluntarily disperse” and not violate health protocols imposed during the quarantine period.
“Arrests will come after we have exhausted maximum tolerance and [protesters] insist,” said the police general.
Mark Saludes contributed to this report.