MANILA, Philippines – The government peace panel urged the "immediate release" of Bishop Carlos Morales, a leader of the Aglipayan Church, who was arrested along with a "most wanted" commander of the New People's Army (NPA).
The government panel, which is negotiating peace with communist rebels, said it is "asking the Department of Justice (DOJ) to expedite the process for the immediate release" of Morales, who was arrested in Ozamiz City on May 11.
The panel made this call in a statement Thursday, June 22.
In this statement, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, government chief negotiator, urged the DOJ "to look into the case of Bishop Carlos Morales on humanitarian grounds."
Bello and peace panel members pointed out that Aglipayan priests and bishops have been "assisting the government it its peace efforts and initiatives."
Clergymen of the Aglipayan Church, formally known as the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, have helped "especially in facilitating the release of (government) captured soldiers/military officers or members of law enforcement agencies in the past," Bello and members of the peace panel said.
Morales was with Rommel Salinas, a high-ranking communist leader who was wanted by the police, when their vehicle was flagged down at a checkpoint in Ozamiz City.
Morales earlier said he did not know Salinas, who just hitched a ride with the bishop as it was raining and he was carrying many bags.
Morales said the security forces initially arrested only Salinas. But he said he and his wife decided to accompany him to the police station when they learned that he was a consultant of the National Democratic Front, the group talking peace with the government on behalf of the rebels.
It was then that he said they were also handcuffed and accused of conniving with Salinas.
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at email@example.com.