BAGUIO CITY — A pastor of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) active in environmental and human rights issues in the Ilocos region in Northern Philippines has expressed fear for his security and family members.

Reverend Marcelino Mariano said his concerns arose from the information relayed by a reliable source that a member of the military asked for their home address. His informant also told the pastor the soldier was interested in the sketch of their residence.

The pastor, assigned in Balaoan, La Union, said he is worried that the military or police might ransack his home, like what they did to some members of progressive groups in Negros province and Manila.

Madanagan ken mabutengak para iti bagik ken sibubukel a pamiliak ta balay met ti birbirokendan (I am anxious and afraid for my entire family and myself because they are now looking for my house),” he said in a text message.

It can be recalled that state forces raided the offices of progressive organizations, including residences of their leaders, in Negros Occidental and Manila last month. The wave of arrests during the All Saints Day long-weekend resulted in the detention of 62 activists and filing of trumped-up charges.

According to Mariano, the person asking for their location claimed to be a member of the 81st Infantry Battalion stationed in Balaoan. The individual also accused him of being a member of the New People’s Army (NPA) that is using the church to recruit fighters for the communist-led revolution.

“Kastamet a maburiburanak para iti barriok ken kadagiti kameng ti iglesia ta ibagbagada metten a kamengnak ti NPA, numanpay siaammo dagiti bumario ken kameng ti iglesia a pastorak (Although my neighbors and church members know that I am a pastor, it still bothers me that they are telling my neighbors and members that I am a member of the NPA),” he said.

Currently, Mariano is the spokesperson of Ilocos Network for the Environment (Defend Ilocos), a group known for its significant contribution to the campaign against destructive mining in the region. Recently, the group, together with local farmers, thwarted the installation of the Gregorio del Pilar Impoundment in Salcedo, Ilocos Sur.

The P3.4 billion dam intends to irrigate about 5,000 hectares. However, it will submerge a community and hectares of farmlands. The National Irrigation Administration canceled the project due to strong protests from the affected communities and local government.

Mariano is also a member of the Ilocos Region Ecumenical Council. As a leader of the ecumenical community, he is vocal about human rights abuses by state forces and encampment in communities.

He was the subject of regular unannounced visits by members of the 2nd Civil-Military Operations Company under the 7th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army. His case was among the issues raised by the UCCP North Luzon Amburayan Conference at the dialogue with the 81st IB in August. Ilocos Sur Governor Ryan Singson facilitated the activity to resolve issues of rights violations committed by the soldiers.

Mariano said that despite the commitment made not to revisit them, the army continued with their routine. The clergy shared that despite having reservations about the regular and unannounced visits by the soldiers, he tried to be civil and welcoming. He even informed them of church activities to prove that there is nothing wrong with his advocacy.

He identified the following personnel of the 2nd CMO who regularly comes to his church: Sergeants Aristotle V. Lomibao, Rodolfo G. Garcia, Marvin T. Agustin, and Lopez G. Lozada and Corporals Camilo T. Aquino, Jr., Michael P. De Vera, and Joemar Keyle Jasmin.

“Tumigil na dapat sila sa pagred-tag sa akin kasi eight monthsdan a makigimgimong sa Balaoan, from April 2019 until now ay wala naman silang nakikitang kakaibang programang ginagawa sa church. Isardengdan ti makigimong no sabali met gayam ti purposeda (They should stop red-tagging me since they have been attending mass in Balaoan for eight months, from April 2019 until now, and they did not saw anything suspicious in the programs of the church. They should stop attending my services if they have a different intention),” he said.

Mariano’s daughter, Jennybeth, also a victim of red-tagging on social media, aired her disgust and concern about the matter. She is the secretary-general of Anakbayan Ilocos.

“Tinanggap at tinuring kayong mga kaibigan ng mga miyembro ng simbahan lalo na ng tatay ko. Pero sa kabila ng magandang loob na pagtanggap sa inyo ay sasabihin niyong NPA ang tatay ko!? Sana makonsensya kayo sa paglalagay sa panganib sa buhay ng tatay ko at sa aming buong pamilya (Church members accepted and treated you like friends especially my father. Despite their good dealing towards you, you’ll accuse my father as a member of the NPA!? I hope your conscience will haunt you for putting my father and our entire family in danger),” she posted on Facebook.

“Sa lahat ng miyembro ng simbahan na kinausap nila. Paglalagay po sa alanganin ang ginagawa nila sa tatay ko (To all church members they [military] talked with, they are putting my father’s life in danger),” she added.

Meanwhile, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) – Ilocos, in a statement, condemned the continuing threat and harassment against for “fulfilling his duties as a true Christian, which is to side with the oppressed at all times.”

“This [incident] is a clear example of how progressive church leaders and workers are being vilified and red-tagged to condition the minds of the masses and justify any untoward incident that may happen to them. This is a desperate attempt to silence the voice of the oppressed, the truth and justice,” the group said.

Bayan-Ilocos attributed the intensified attacks against activists and rights advocates to President Rodrigo Duterte’s Oplan Kapanatagan and Executive Order 70 the instituted the “whole of nation approach,” which the group said, “validates the attacks against his critics.” # nordis.net

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