The United Methodist Church (UMC) in the Philippines denounced the charges filed against one of its pastors, Glofie Baluntong, saying it is part of a “larger campaign” to silence rights defenders.
The Church’s said it is “immoral” to accuse anyone as a terrorist if one “faithfully does the mission of justice and peace.”
“Obviously, these contrived cases were designed to stop [Baluntong] from doing her prophetic duties of mercy and justice,” said Bishop Ciriaco Francisco of the Philippines Central Conference Board of Church and Society of UMC.
On August 5, Baluntong received a subpoena ordering her to answer the criminal charges filed against her for alleged violation of the Anti-Terrorism Law.
The subpoena came after nearly a year after she was charged with attempted murder, which authorities claimed occurred on March 25, 2021.
Baluntong is the former district superintendent of Oriental Mindoro-Romblon-Marinduque District of the UMC.
Bishop Francisco said the pastor “took the tasks of communing with the Mangyan indigenous group and is one with them in the struggle to care for creation and in defending the rights of the Indigenous People.”
The UMC said Baluntong has been at the receiving end of a “series of harassments from state authorities” since 2019 because of her advocacy and ministry.
The Church said the “harassment” against Baluntong became more apparent after the military accused her of supporting communist rebels.
UMC’s Bishop Pedro M. Torio Jr. of Baguio said Baluntong “is not anti-government,” adding that she “represents the people whom she serves.”
“Her faithfulness calls her to help the poor and the weak,” said the prelate.
Bishop Rodolfo Juan of Davao appealed to the Armed Forces of the Philippines to “extend compassion, truth, and righteousness.”
“Please give freedom to Reverend Baluntong. She is a pastor of integrity, working for peace and justice,” said Bishop Juan.
Bishop Francisco reminded the government that “loving the poor and working for justice is imperative for the Church.”
“It is vile to weaponize the [Anti-Terrorism Law] and courts against those whose work exemplifies a profound commitment to serving the poor,” said the bishop.