By SHERWIN DE VERA
Preaching about protecting the environment and respecting human rights has become dangerous, especially for members of the church. In the Northern Philippines, armed state agents have set their crosshairs on bishops and priests from the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI or Philippine Independent Church) and Roman Catholic Church active in defending the environmental and human rights.
The red-tagging frenzy of state forces transformed ordinary days into hellish experiences for members of the clergy who are attending to their social duties. Also, the unwanted visits from military personnel under the command of Capt. Rogelio Domrique, Jr., which has disrupted their daily routine, continues. It has prevented them from performing their moral and religious responsibilities to some extent.
Disrupting clergy responsibilities
Last February 17, IFI priest Randy Manicap was supposed to be in the monthly clergy meeting of the Diocese of Laoag. However, church superior and colleagues advised him to stay at the parsonage in his assignment in Piddig, Ilocos Norte.
The reason for the counsel given was for the past six days; suspicious individuals lurked around his church. They also followed him from Laoag City to his assignment in Piddig.
“Tamtambayandak manen, since February 11. Idi kalman, addada idiay lauden ti simbaan (They are watching me again, since February 11. Yesterday, they were here again, at the Eastside of the church),” he said during an online interview on February 18.
His altar boy told him that every time he goes out of the church, the men watching the compound also disappear and return when he comes back.
“Ada pay napan nagpasyar nga kameng ti [Philippine National Police] ken army idiay parokiami dita Pallas, Vintar ket damdamagenda diay naka-assign no ditoyak nga agtaltalinaed ngem imbagana nga saan (There were police and army who went to our parish in Pallas, Vintar and asked the one assigned there if I’m staying here, but the priest told them no),” he shared.
According to him, he finds no other reason for the threats and harassments he receives, except for his advocacies and living the progressive tradition of his church.
As co-convener of the People’s Solidarity Against Large Mining in Ilocos Norte (PSALM-IN), he does not make a distinction between protecting the environment and human rights. For him, fighting for nature also means promoting people’s rights and welfare.
Manicap was the Social Action Director. However, after receiving a series of death threats in 2019, the bishop relieved him of the job as a safety measure. He explained that his task requires him to travel to far-flung communities and churches within the diocese.
“Madanagannak, para iti bagik ken ti pamiliak. Adda panagamak aglalo ta kastoy ti mapaspasamak (I’m concerned, for myself and my family. There is fear especially with the recent events),” he said.
He revealed the diocese received information from a reliable source that he is a target for an attack. This consideration forced him only to hold mass in his main church and cancel all services in the communities.
Not an ordinary Sunday
February 16 was supposed to just another Sunday for Rev. Rogelio Cornelio Molina. The church assigned him at bishop’s office of the Diocese of Batac in Ilocos Norte. He conducts monthly mass in his home town of Pinili, in Barangay Gulpeng, where he and his wife Genalyn resides.
However, the day was like no other. As PIC Supreme Bishop Rhee Timbang puts it, it was a “smack with evil.”
According to his statement, that day, soldiers from the 81st Infantry Battalion under the 7th Division of the Philippine Army called and presided a meeting in the community. They showed videos of protest actions and relief operations that residents attended.
Also, in the video, was Molina, whom the soldiers accused of being a supporter of the New People’s Army (NPA). The army then accused the residents that their farmers’ organization is a communist front. They also linked the Diocese of Batac to the rebels.
“In that meeting, Genalyn and other members of the peasant organization signed a paper under duress that they are NPA’s now surrendering to the government. The military threatened them that something bad would befall on them if they continue to join and take part in the peasant organization,” the Supreme Bishop stated.
Like Manicap, Molina is a long time human rights and land reform advocate. Before joining the clergy, he was a peasant organizer and a member of the Council pf Leader of the Solidarity of Peasants Against Exploitation. His advocacy for peasant rights did not cease when he joined the church.
He attended peasant and human rights gathering. The last activity he participated in was the International Human Rights Day commemoration on December 10 last year held in Vigan City.
Timbang views the incident in the community as the result of the paranoia engulfing the Armed Forces of the Philippines “to beat its own deadline of ending insurgency in the country.” He said it “transmogrify the military into dangerous horrible cretins,” tagging anybody who supports the people’s struggle as a communist.
An afront to IFI
Diocese of Batac Bishop Emelyn Dacuycuy condemned the incident. According to her, red-tagging the diocese, its clergy, and members “is a shameless affront to IFI.” She explained that the church is proud of its tradition of advocating for the delivery of basic social services, genuine social reforms, and upholding human rights. This involvement in social issues, she said, is “the reasons why our bishops, priests, and laypeople are being red-tagged.”
The bishop stressed that the government is mistaken in its belive that it can silence the IFI by tagging them as communists.
“The government may continue to threaten, harass and intimidate church people, time and again try to red-tag us and include us as targets in its counterinsurgency war, but the Diocese of Batac will not cower. We will firmly stand by our faith to work and witness for the Gospel in solidarity with the poor and powerless,” she added.
Dacuycuy is no stranger to red-tagging and the dangers that come with it. Two decades ago, she and her husband, Reverend Professor Noel, were implicated in the killing of Cordillera Peoples Liberation Army chieftain Conrado Balweg. The court dismissed the case against them.
Before taking her parish in 2003, Dacuycuy served as the secretary-general of the Ilocos Human Rights Alliance (IHRA). Like Molina, the bishop continued her human rights advocacy while tending to her duties in the church.
Last year, during the December 10 International Human Rights Day commemoration in Vigan City in Ilocos Sur, she read the statement of the IFI in the protest in front of the provincial capitol. For this activity, her picture was among those shown during a military officiated meeting in the fishing village of San Manuel, Agoo, La Union, on January 23. They tagged her as among the leaders of “communist front organizations.”
Meanwhile, in Cagayan Valley, suspected state agents put up posters along the roads tagging three Catholic priests as “communists.” Those named in the malicious material were Archbishop Sergio Utleg, Fathers Manny Catral, Patrick Caro, Jay Talosig, all of the Archdiocese of Tuguegarao, and Peter Simangan of the Diocese of Ilagan.
Utleg, who served the archdiocese for eight years, officially resigned in October 2019 after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75. During his term, the Roman Catholic became a strong voice against environmental plunder, human rights abuses, and corruption in the region. The archdiocese covers the entire Cagayan Valley.
Catral is a vocal critic of the blacksand mining operation in the Cagayan province. Caro, on the other hand, is a peasant rights advocate. He allows peasant organizations in his parish to share their conditions and craft alternative programs to uplift their economic situation.
In 2018, Talosig welcomed peasant, human rights, and non-government organizations in his parish during a Fact-Finding Missions and Mercy Relief and Medical Missions in Sitio Dibilisawan, Jones, Isabela. The area was then under intense military operation with reports of human rights violations coming from the locals.
Simangan was among the priest who supported the regional campaign for the indemnification of Martial Law victims. He welcomed martial them in his parish during the launching of the signature campaign for the passing of another indemnification bill in Congress. # nordis.net