By PAOLA ESPIRITU
SAN FERNANDO CITY — Two Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) priests based in Ilocos Norte have been under a series of threats, harassment and intimidation.
Reverend Fr. Randy Manicap Sr., parish priest of Santa Anna, Piddig, Diocese of Laoag, reported that he has received two death threats on June 24, 2018 right after delivering the Sunday Mass.
The text messages sent from phone number 09666717822 says, “Ikaw na ang susunod (You are next), and “Mamamatay kang katulad ng idol mo si Alberto Ramento” (You will die and suffer the same fate like your idol, Alberto Ramento).
Fr. Manicap said that prior to this, he has been receiving threats and has been under the surveillance of suspected state agents. On June 11, he has observed the presence of unfamiliar faces outside his church. On June 12, while he was attending the National Priests’ Organization’s (NPO) Regional Executive Committee, suspicious-looking men were asking for his whereabouts as reported by his parish staff. Two days after, a parish staff noticed several people repeatedly looking for him to set a schedule for a church service.
On June 16, Fr. Manicap was followed by a pair of motorcycle riding men from his parish in Piddig to YMCA Laoag and back. On June 23, he was followed anew by motorcycle riding men to and from another ecumenical meeting in Solsona, Ilocos Norte.
From December 10, 2017 to January 2018, Fr. Manicap has been receiving death threats from anonymous numbers and has been under the surveillance of suspected state agents from December 10, 2017 to January 2018. Fr. Manicap is the lead convener of the People’s Solidarity against Large-Scale Mining in Ilocos Norte (PSALM-IN) and member of the Council of Leaders of Ilocos Network for the Environment (Defend Ilocos).
Rev Fr. Arvin Mangrubang, parish priest of St. Joseph, Sta. Elena, Dipilat, Vintar, Ilocos Norte, on the other hand, is included in the list of the military’s Order of Battle (OB) in Ilocos Norte. He reported that on June 12, a state security agent confronted him about his supposed “anti-government involvements” and was told to refrain from joining activities supporting people’s issues.
Fr. Mangrubang has received numerous calls from unregistered numbers in June 17 and June 18. No voices can be heard at the end of the line except for a humming sound.
On June 24, a fellow priest informed Fr. Mangrubang that two motorcycle-riding men were seen repeatedly passing in front of the Santa Rosa de Lima Parish church in Sarrat, Ilocos Norte where he was previously assigned.
On May 5, while he was about to leave home in Bacarra for a peace advocate’s meeting in Piddig, Ilocos Norte, he noticed two unidentified men believed to be state security agents seemingly waiting for him in front of his house.
The series of threats and harassments on Fr. Mangrubang started in 2017 while he was still assigned at Santa Rosa de Lima.
In February 2017, two pieces (rounds) of live bullets were found at the church’s door, after hosting a series of consultation meetings of AMIN, a local peasant organization in Ilocos Norte.
That same week, while he was delivering a mass, motorcycle riding men stopped in front of his church and threw a crumpled note which read, “Tumigil na kayo (stop what you’re doing).”
On December 11, after joining the International Human Rights day commemoration in Laoag City, he received two text messages from unregistered mobile number saying, “Agsardengkan (Stop what you’re doing),” and “Agsagana (Be ready).”
On December 16, just after the illegal arrest of environmental activist Sherwin de Vera, he received another text message which said, “Ikaw na ang susunod (You’re next).”
On January 1, 2018, another text was sent from an unregistered number saying, “Hindi mo na aabutan ang bagong taon (You’ll never see the new year).”
Ramento Project Rights Defenders, IFI’s church-based human rights program, condemns the series of threats and harassments to IFI priests in the region. They have expressed their concern over Fr. Manicap and Fr. Mangrubang’s security and safety, including their families. RPRD has already documented a dozen cases of clergy harassment in six dioceses in the northern and central Luzon regions.
IFI Diocese of Laoag Bishop Virmillion Tagalog, on the other hand, believes that both Fr. Manicap and Fr. Mangrubang are facing state-sponsored attacks along with other people in the religious sector supporting the legitimate struggle of the poor.
Bishop Tagalog said church workers are fast becoming targets of state-sponsored threats for speaking up against social and political injustices in the region. Since November 2017, three catholic priests have already been killed while a nun was almost deported. Three foreign missionaries from the United Methodist Church are currently being detained.
Amianan Salakniban and Defend Ilocos, through a joint statement, condemned the attack against rights and environmental activists especially those who are critical of the current regime. They stated, “the Philippines will have no problem maintaining its lead as the most dangerous country in Asia and second in the world for environmental defenders.”
“The issue goes beyond the threats against our colleagues and our mission to protect the environment. This is about the Duterte administration’s attack against our civil and political rights, of systematic steps to silence dissent.” Amianan Salakniban and Defend Ilocos call on and challenge all environment and human rights defenders to express condemnation and act vigorously against tyranny. # nordis.net