The Ecumenical Bishops Forum (EBF), which is composed of Catholic and Protestant bishops in the Philippines, condemned “in the strongest terms possible” the alleged “red-tagging” of one of its members.
In a statement on Tuesday, June 7, the group said a “shadowy group” calling itself Tagapagtanggol ng Bayan Laban sa Terorismo accused Bishop Emelyn Gasco-Dacuycoy, EBF co-chairperson, and three priests of the Diocese of Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) in Ilocos Norte, of being recruiters of the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
Posters and streamers with pictures of the religious leaders were reportedly posted in the province and flyers were distributed in the IFI cathedral in Laoag City and in the IFI parish in Batac town.
The group reportedly urged the bishop and the priests to surrender to the police to clear their names.
The EBF statement described the incident as a “sinister act of the government which is supposed to protect and uphold the Constitutional rights to life, liberty and security of its citizens, instead putting them at absolute danger and risk.”
“Red-tagging continues to demonize those who work for justice, peace, and righteousness, including the shepherds of the people of God — the priests, pastors, and bishops,” read the statement of the Church leaders.
The said “red-tagging” has become a “convenient tool” of the government “to malign, harass, and publicly spread false news and disinformation putting in peril the life and security of people whom State security agents perceived as ‘enemies of the State’ even without the iota of truth and proof to support their vicious allegations.”
They noted that the “institutionalization of red-tagging as a legal tool of suppression of democratic rights” came about following the passage of the country’s Anti-Terror Law.
“We deplore the government’s consent to this travesty of justice and impunity against its own people,” said the EBF as it called for an end to the “attacks against Church people” and for the abolition of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, a task force organized by the government to respond and raise awareness to the ongoing communist rebellion in the country.
“As shepherds of God’s flock, we will continue to stand our ground for truth, justice and righteousness,” read the EBF statement.