The United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) denounced what it described as a “systematic campaign to smear (its) reputation.”
In a statement released on October 4, the UCCP said the “persecution of the Church” aims “to stop the Church from its prophetic witness in the midst of intensifying authoritarian regime in the country.”
“Political dissent is being suppressed as the tyrannical nature of the government is revealed in the passing of the Anti-Terrorism Law of 2020,” said the Protestant group.
It also noted “the increasing number of extrajudicially killed, especially human rights workers and advocates, peace negotiators, peasant and labor leaders.”
Last week, former military general Carlito Galvez, the government’s adviser on the peace process, called for an investigation into the UCCP Haran Center in Mindanao.
Galvez claimed the center, which has been serving as sanctuary for displaced tribal people, is being used by communist rebels to solicit international financial support.
“We are asking the [European Union] and the [United Nations] to investigate what is really happening at the facility,” said Galvez.
“By doing so, they would see what is really happening on the ground and not be influenced by the propaganda of the insurgents abroad,” he added.
Galvez accused the UCCP of “holding” displaced tribal families against their will inside the facility in the city of Davao.
“I’m calling on the UCCP, if you are really for God, please set free the families you are holding. God teaches us to love each other,” said the former general.
“You have to set them free so that they reunite with their families,” he added.
“Let us unite our brothers who have been divided by this immoral ideology of using armed struggle and violence to achieve their one group’s selfish interests,” said Galvez.
The group Movement Against Tyranny lambasted Galvez’s pronouncements calling it the “height of hypocrisy and cruelty.”
The group noted that the Philippine government has “vehemently refused” efforts of the international community to investigate the “escalating human rights violations in the.”
In its statement, the UCCP said the “harassment” seemed to be part of “a series of legal build-up to crush the organized resistance” of the displaced tribal people.
In 2014, more than 1,350 tribal people fled their villages in Talaingod town, Davao del Norte province, due to military operations against communist insurgents.
The tribe endured a six-day march to seek temporary refuge in the city of Davao, which was then led by then-mayor Rodrigo Duterte.
Last month, members of the Ata-Manobo tribe filed a complaint against 48 leaders and members of UCCP Haran Center for alleged “exploitation” and “recruitment” for the revolutionary movement.
The group filed criminal cases for violations of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act, and the Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide and Other Crimes Against Humanity.
Lawyer Marlon Bosantog of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict claimed that the UCCP violated international humanitarian laws for recruiting children who “were incapable of giving consent.”
Bosantog claimed that the UCCP has forced the children to become combatants for the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
Bishop Reuel Norman Marigza, secretary general of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, described the charges as “persecutory measures.”
“Instead of working out solutions, these agencies have never stopped harassing the Church and recently permitted paramilitary elements to forcibly and violently entered Haran Center,” said the Protestant bishop.
Early this year, members of a paramilitary group entered the church compound supposedly to convince the tribal people who sought shelter there to go home.