United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) has brought the country’s current human rights situation before the 54th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Bishop Melzar Labuntog, general secretary of UCCP, sounded the alarm over what he described as “ongoing arbitrary arrest and false charges” against Filipino human rights workers.
“Our country currently continues to grapple with one of the highest prison congestion rates globally, yet individuals continue to face arrests merely for raising their voices against the government,” said the prelate.
Labuntog, representing the World Council of Churches (WCC) and in collaboration with the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), addressed the international community on September 21, 2023.
The prelate criticized President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. for not taking action to address human rights violations and the denial of due process, which he said has “resulted in countless arbitrary arrests of activists”.
As of June 2023, there are 776 political prisoners, who are “unjustly detained on fabricated charges,” according to rights group Karapatan. This includes two UCCP Pastors, Rev. Nathaniel Vallente and Pastor Jimmy Teves, as well as Aldeem Yañez of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) in Cagayan De Oro.
Labuntog lambasted the government for “exploiting” the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act to target human rights defenders, including church workers.
He cited the cases of Rev. Edwin Egar from the UCCP and Rev. Glofie Baluntong from the United Methodist Church.
For decades, Baluntong’s ministry has focused on serving the region’s Mangyan Indigenous people by conducting humanitarian works and promoting human rights through education.
In 2019, the military accused the pastor of having ties to the Communist Party of the Philippines. In August 2022, she was subpoenaed for alleged violations of the anti-terrorism law.
In a separate WCC gathering, Labuntog said the freezing of accounts of several UCCP churches has denied 290 children of “three months’ worth of basic education support”.
“These instances of unrest deeply concern the UCCP. The increasing targeting of church workers and ministries within communities is a stark indicator of the erosion of human rights, freedom, and justice,” he said.