Catholic priest Edwin Gariguez, former executive secretary of Caritas Philippines, expressed fear over what he reported as “inappropriate visits and questioning” by the military.
The priest, who now serves as social action director of the Apostolic Vicariate of Calapan, said he has been receiving “unwanted meetings” from military men.
On March 21, while on his way back to the convent, the priest was flagged down by two men who identified themselves as soldiers.
Father Gariguez said he was questioned about his presence and purpose in the village of Pakyas in Victoria town, Oriental Mindoro province.
“I don’t see any reason why the military needed to stop my car and interrogate me for conducting a meeting with the Mangyan people,” said the priest
Father Gariguez said he was in the village to meet with a Mangyan tribal leader who was asking for livelihood and relief assistance.
Early on the same day, two Army personnel visited the priest’s mission station in Pook Paytabangan, in the village of Loyal, also in Victoria town.
“That surprise visit went well,” said Father Gariguez. “The Army officer, who identified himself as the team leader of the nearby detachment, was cordial and respectful.”
“I offered him vegetables that we just harvested,” he said.
The priest, however, said the “series of unexpected encounters” with the soldiers “created an uncomfortable atmosphere given that there is a prevailing climate of suspicion and surveillance among humanitarian and church workers.”
It was not the first time that the priest experienced “something unusual” from the military this month.
On March 9, an Army sergeant visited the priest’s office to tell him that a military official in the province of Rizal “would like to invite me to give a talk on Mangyan culture via Zoom.”
“This is something unusual as the invitation could have just been sent through email or through the Army command in our province, which we have regular contact,” he said.
“I don’t want to be alarmist, but given the backdrop of impunity in cracking down on progressive groups and personalities, I also need to take precaution,” he said.
Father Gariguez served as executive secretary of the social action arm of the Catholic bishops’ conference for 10 years.