Ecumenical groups condemn sedition charges vs bishops, priests

MANILA, Philippines – Various ecumenical groups expressed condemnation of the sedition charges filed against 8 members of the Catholic clergy in relation to viral videos that tagged President Rodrigo Duterte and his family in the illegal drugs trade in the Philippines.

Priests Father Flaviano Villanueva, Father Albert Alejo, Father Robert Reyes, Bishops Honesto Ongtioco, Teodoro Bacani Jr, Pablo Virgilio David, and Socrates Villegas, and former education secretary Brother Armin Luistro are among the 36 respondents in the complaints of inciting to sedition, cyber libel, libel and obstruction of justice filed by the Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP CIDG). 

Isaiah Ministry on Wednesday, August 7, said the charges are based on lies, adding that the actions “make it only obvious that the [Duterte] administration is paving its way towards total dictatorship.”  

“The intolerance of the regime on dissent and criticism becomes more despicable every passing day and we should realize that it is the manifestation of President Duterte and his minions’ fear on the people’s dissatisfaction which is equally growing,” the group said.

Citing a passage from the book of Exodus which states that one should not give false testimony against his neighbors, Isaiah Ministry said it was also deplorable that the charges are based on “questionable and unreliable statements.” 

Ecumenical Bishops Forum (EBF) also condemned the charges against the Christian leaders as well as the continuing attacks against various faith-based human rights defenders and peace advocates. 

“Their work for the poor and the marginalized have put them at risk of attacks both extrajudicial and through legal structures,” EBF said. “As they strive to put an end to violence and abuse, many have been red-baited, arbitrarily arrested and forced to face politically motivated charges.”

The group called the government’s crackdown “deeply distressing and terribly wrong,” and urged Duterte to stop from utilizing the law and the legal system to discredit groups and individuals who seek to fight for human rights.  

“President Duterte wants to inflict pain and shame on church people, vilifying their struggles that spring from righteous causes,” EBF said. “His steady drift from reason towards violent repression is reproachable but, while it seeks to spawn insecurity and fear, people of faith take heart."

Unite vs ‘draconian’ measures

The Duterte administration has been hit by many organizations for its treatment of dissent since 2016, as well as criticism of his violent war on drugs. 

According to data from rights group Karapatan, at least 2,370 human rights defenders have been charged by the government from 2016 to 2019. The numbers under Duterte, many said, are clearly worst of the last 3 administrations. (READ: Duterte's war on dissent) 

The ecumenical groups called on the people to unite against the oppressive measures of the Duterte administration against critics.  

“It is the instinct of the people… to resist and to call on the people to unite against the evils of this world,” Isaiah Ministry said. “In our resistance, we will always bear in mind this Biblical verse: ‘Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.’ (1 Peter 5:8).”

“Within this troublesome tide, church people will continue to give witness to their faith and march forward in defense of the Filipino people’s common values and aspirations for human dignity, justice and peace,” EBF said. – Rappler.com

Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.

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