A 61-year old Protestant pastor decried what he described as his “wrongful arrest” last week and denied allegations that he was part of an alleged ambush that killed soldiers.
Pastor Dan San Andres of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) said the charges leveled against him are “baseless” and are part of the government’s “crackdown against rights defenders.”
“There is no way that I can be part of an ambush and kill soldiers,” said the pastor. “Am I armed in the first place? These are all malicious allegations aimed to harass church people,” he said.
On July 9, authorities arrested San Andres in his house in Sipocot town, Camarines Sur province, for the killing of soldiers in an ambush in Ragay town in May 2018.
San Andres was allegedly part of a team of New People’s Army guerrillas who conducted the ambuscade.
The pastor was first brought to the Sipocot police station. He was transferred to a detention facility in Libmanan town on July 10 to await for inquest.
San Andres claimed he was targeted by the police because of his active involvement in various human rights campaigns and social work.
The pastor is the spokesman of human rights group Karapatan in the Bicol region.
Two days before his arrest, Jenelyn Nagrampa of women’s rights group Gabriela was also arrested in San Isidro village in Nabua town.
Nagrampa, a village councilor, was also accused of “double murder” and of being a member of the communist movement.
Bishop Joel Tendero of the UCCP South Luzon Jurisdictional Area condemned the arrests and the charges against the pastor and Nagrampa.
“Fabricated cases and illegal arrests are the manifestations of a rotten system that is based on lies and injustice aimed to suppress the people,” said the prelate.
He accused the government of using a cycle of red-tagging, illegal arrests, and detention “to silence the truth, the people who speak the truth, those who defend it.”
“The recent arrests only shows that the government perceives those who fight for human rights, those who speak the truth, and those who defend human dignity as enemies,” he added.
The prelate said the pastor’s teachings and actions are “in accordance with the UCCP’s declaration of faith and the fulfillment of its laws such as the protection of human rights.”
Bishop Tendero said the human rights ministry of San Andres “is in line with the UCCP’s belief,” adding that the pastor’s “flocks are not only members” of the Protestant church.
The National Council of Churches in the Philippines also condemned the “unlawful arrest” of San Andres.
“We stand with confidence over Rev. Dan’s innocence and his faithfulness in pursuing Christ’s ministry to the church and community,” the mainline Protestant council said in a statement.
The council said San Andres is “instrumental in facilitating humanitarian activities.”