The National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) on Thursday, July 1, called for the immediate release of several pastors who have been arrested by the military, especially Pastor Nathaniel Vallente of Bohol province who was taken on June 25.
“We join the [United Church of Christ in the Philippines] in condemning this atrocious illegal arrest and harassment against one of our members of the clergy,” said Bishop Reuel Norman Marigza, secretary general of NCCP.
On June 25, government security agents arrested Vallente in the town of Mabini in the central Philippine province of Bohol for alleged possession of guns and grenades.
“We ask the government, what is so fearful with Church workers when they begin to exercise our prophetic ministries?” asked Bishop Marigza in a statement sent to media.
Pastor Valiente is the fifth UCCP pastor to have been arrested in recent years.
Pastor Jimmy Teves in Negros Occidental province was arrested in 2019 while Pastor Dan San Andres was nabbed in Bicol region in June of 2020.
Pastor Dan Balucio from the province of Albay, a humanitarian actor and a minister of the UCCP was arrested on May 2 and was charged with “illegal possession of firearms and ammunition.”
On June 6, Pastor Benjie Gomez was arrested in Zamboanga del Norte after holding Sunday worship. He was arrested over a charge of “frustrated murder.” He has been working with Subanen indigenous communities in the province.
Charges were also filed against Protestant Bishop Hamuel Tequis and Rev. Daniel Palicte while the bank accounts of the UCCP Haran Center in Davao were ordered frozen on March 12 for allegedly financing insurgents.
Fear and trauma
Local church leaders and family members of victims of alleged human rights abuses have expressed fear over the government’s actions.
“We are afraid,” said Pastor Ray Galloagan. “[The threats and attacks] give us psychological trauma,” he added.
Edna Vallente, wife of Pastor Vallente, said he was afraid and could hardly move when she saw the armed men enter their house in the early hours of the morning.
“We were very afraid. They were heavily armed,” she said referring to the police who raided the Vallente household.
“They went around the house, entered the rooms, and searched everywhere. Then suddenly somebody shouted that they saw guns and ammunition,” said Edna during an online media briefing on Wednesday.
“We are concerned. We are not blind …. Attacking church personnel is a serious matter,” said Bishop Feliciana Tenchavez, UCCP jurisdictional bishop for West Visayas.
She said that instead of red-tagging and attacking human rights defenders, the government should focus on helping communities affected by the pandemic.
“Stop Church repression and release the pastors,” said Bishop Tenchavez.
‘Instruments to proclaim Good News’
Bishop Marigza, meanwhile, described the arrested pastors as “instruments to proclaim the good news of salvation to God’s Anawim, and to expose and denounce evil.”
He said the church people’s “unwavering stand against any attempt to suppress and oppress the people’s basic and fundamental rights make them a target of a government that is coward yet intolerant to criticism.”
The NCCP statement said the arrests of UCCP pastors “are reminiscent” of the administration of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo when church people “were arrested or killed for being vocal in their ministries for the poor and the marginalized.”
“Are these arrests of UCCP church workers and the freezing of the account of Haran indicative that the state is targeting UCCP and its ministry?” asked Bishop Marigza.
“The UCCP, along with other churches, have already sacrificed many of its fine sons and daughters, those who champion the rights of the disadvantaged,” noted the prelate.
Despite the attacks, the UCCP and other churches and church organizations have never wavered in accompanying the poor and the oppressed,” he said.
Bishop Marigza called on the government “for the unconditional release of our pastors and to stop harassing our church workers.” – with a report by Czarina Legisma