BAGUIO CITY — The chief cleric of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (Aglipayan church or IFI) decried the force surrender campaign, and vilification against their church and clergy by the military in a community meeting in Barangay Gulpeng, Pinili, Ilocos Norte.

“Yesterday, February 16, which was a big Sunday, is completely different, however, for the IFI in the Diocese of Batac. The day was smack with evil as uniformed military personnel from 81st IBPA called for and presided over a community meeting…,” said Aglipayan Supreme Bishop Rhee Timbang in a statement.

The bishop described the village, where the meeting took place, as a small farming community “with the majority of its residents are poor peasants tilling non-irrigated farmlands.” He said that most of the residents are their members and active in their local farmers’ organization.

During the activity, the soldiers showed a video of the residents participating in rallies and receiving relief from the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP). They then confronted the residents and tagged their organization as a front of the New People’s Army (NPA). The army also implicated that PIC, NCCP, and the United Church of Christ in the Philippines support the rebels.

According to him, the military “forced barangay residents, including minors, to sign documents that they are NPA surrenderees.”

“Also shown and named in the video presentation was an IFI clergy Revd. Rogelio Cornelio Molina as an active NPA supporter. The video also tagged other members of the Clergy of the IFI Diocese of Batac as NPA supporters,” he said.

Molina resides in Gulpeng with his wife, Genalyn. While assigned in the bishop’s office in Batac, Ilocos Norte, he holds monthly Sunday mass in the community.

Genalyn was among those forced to sign a paper stating that they are NPA supporters surrendering to the government. Timbang said the military threatened her, along with members of the peasant association, that something terrible would happen if they remain in the organization.

“Indeed, the [Armed Forces of the Philippines], which had become so viciously wicked and devilish under the Duterte regime, has no tinge left for solemn regard of the Lord’s Day, and worst, has nothing to demonstrate for sublime respect of the fundamental rights of persons and their human dignity,” the Supreme Bishop said.

According to him, the incident stems from “the AFP’s paranoia to beat its own deadline of ending the insurgency.” He said that this “transmogrified the military into dangerous horrible cretins” that labels those fighting for their rights as a communist.

“We gravely denounce this continuing act of labeling and red-tagging that endangers the lives and security of our clergy and lay in the IFI who are simply doing their best to be faithful to their vocation and ministry,” said Timbang.

He also expressed anger, and called the government’s red-tagging of the church and members of its lay and clergy as “unfair, ridiculous and baseless.” The cleric also noted that “staging fake surrenderees has become the fad for the military nowadays to show that the AFP is winning in their campaign to merit promotion.” According to him, the scheme allowed military officials to earn cash “at the expense of the rights and wellbeing of the innocent and highly vulnerable Filipinos.”

Timbang said the incident in the Diocese of Batac is similar to how the AFP harassed two clergies in the Diocese of Malaybalay.

“The same experience as well that Revd. Roevel Tindahan and his spouse, Christy Tindahan, and the youth leader Richmond Cayanong, all in the IFI Diocese of Pagadian, underwent a few weeks earlier,” he said.

The Supreme Bishop of the Aglipayan church called on President Rodrigo Duterte “to direct the AFP to stop this malicious and irresponsible act of labeling and red-tagging.” He also urged the president to explore the resumption of peace negotiations “as a viable option to end the insurgency problem in the Philippines instead of the militarist way.”

“We ask our clergy and lay workers in the IFI to continue to be faithful in doing the Lord’s mission, in doing good for the sake of our people in want and need, in accompanying the struggling sectors of our society in their journey for decent living, for justice and peace,” Timbang said. # nordis.net

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