Progressive groups expressed their concern on the recent news that one of the committees of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) will engage as a private sector representative with the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).
On Friday, Sept. 1, reports came out that CBCP has joined the NTF-ELCAC as one of the private sector representatives.
In a statement, CBCP President and Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David said that CBCP’s Commission on Public Affairs will engage with the NTF-ELCAC. He also said that CBCP’s Permanent Council will discuss at its forthcoming meeting whether the commission can engage with the anti-insurgency task force without having to join as members of the NTF-ELCAC Executive Committee.
In reaction, the Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR) said that the CBCP “should be wary of lending their credibility to NTF-ELCAC that has been prone to misconstruing information and taking advantage of Church influence.”
“Engagements should be carefully studied since NTF-ELCAC involvement may impact the prophetic, priestly, and peacebuilding ministries of the Church, as these are intrinsically bound to the covenant of trust with communities where Church people seek to engage in mission,” the group added.
Gabriela Chairperson Gertrude Libang, meanwhile, said that the news comes heavy as they “have known a great deal of persons of faith within the CBCP who have spoken out against the measures so gleefully pushed by the NTF-ELCAC such as the Anti-Terrorism Act.”
She added that the CBCP has also expressed its support for embattled human rights workers such as the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), whose assets have been frozen because of false claims by the NTF-ELCAC.
“We are talking about a task force that has openly committed pernicious acts of red-tagging, vilification, defamation, harassment, justification of murder, and the perpetuation of countless lies against human rights advocates—including church persons. We hope the CBCP can clarify its position, and why they would be announced to have relations with a task force holding such a diabolical track record,” Libang said.
For Karapatan’s secretary general, Cristina Palabay, this recent development is “obviously part of the NTF-ELCAC’s so-called ‘whole of nation approach’ of harnessing all available resources to surveil, profile, red-tag, marginalize, persecute and inflict other human rights violations against the poor and other critical voices, including the institutional church.”
Palabay also pointed out NTF-ELCAC’s role in persecuting church workers. She said that RMP is the very first victim of NTF-ELCAC and the government’s other repressive instruments like the anti-terrorism and anti-terrorist financing laws. The RMP is also facing terrorist financing-related civil forfeiture cases and its members facing criminal charges of terrorism financing before an Iligan City court.
Palabay also added that others from the church sector have not been exempt from the NTF-ELCAC’s menace.
“Methodist pastor Rev. Glofie Baluntong from Oriental Mindoro, UCCP executive pastor Rev. Edwin Egar from Batangas, and RMP lay worker Mariel Domequil from Eastern Visayas are just some of the church workers facing terrorism charges after having been falsely accused by military-sponsored witnesses,” she said.
Palabay pointed out that the NTF-ELCAC’s talking heads have branded the calls of Sr. Mary John Mananzan and Negros Bishop Gerardo Alminaza for peace and social justice as “diabolical and demonic.”
Palabay added that the “ultimate victims of the NTF-ELCAC’s onslaught on the church’s missions are the tens of thousands of impoverished beneficiaries of their health, educational, livelihood, environmental and human rights advocacy projects.”
She cited the Church-Military Advisory Group and the “Kasimbayan” wherein, she said, “the church has been used in justifying military operations that result in civilian casualties and unpeace in communities, and in harassing and coercing red-tagged civilians into signing documents branding them as New People’s Army members and joining fake surrender ceremonies.”
Palabay urged bishops “to seriously reconsider its formal engagements with the notorious NTF-ELCAC.”
“The church’s prophetic voice and mission will be better heard and appreciated outside the NTF-ELCAC, among the ranks of our oppressed and suffering people,” Palabay said.
The PCPR also said, “In matters of democracy and upholding civil liberties, it is wise to err on the side of standing with the citizenry, rather than the military. The lessons of the Marcos Sr. martial law should resound in our collective memories, guiding us to uphold the welfare, freedom, and democratic rights of our people, especially the poor ones.”