Dear President Duterte:
We, bishops in Mindanao, have gathered together in Cagayan de Oro City on March 25-26, 2019 for a conferential meeting with the Obispo Maximo. It is with a heavy heart that we write this open letter to you Mr. President.
In the last six months, our Church, the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, and church leaders, along with peasants, workers, lumad, media people, teachers and people’s lawyers, are being attacked through red tagging, vilification, surveillance, harassment and intimidation and worse, killings.
We saw at the highways and even walls of our churches desecrated with graffiti maligning the IFI and its leaders, Bishop Antonio Ablon of Pagadian and Bishop Felixberto Calang of Cagayan de Oro. In your days as Mayor of Davao City and to this very day as President of this country, you have personally known our Church with the two bishops among our leaders taking exemplary role in peace talks and in public witness to attain the aspirations of the ordinary Filipinos especially the peasants, workers and indigenous peoples.
We are deeply troubled by these attacks against people of faith who by their mandate to fulfill the gospel of truth, life and salvation are now facing the brunt of state forces. Under the blanket of martial law, these evil acts perpetuate. Not a single act of due and proper investigation or any action whatsoever from state forces leads to a resolution to these violations. Worse, illegal arrest and detention, trump up charges and forced NPA surrenderees of peasants and lumad who are partners of our church in our community work and mission are conveniently presented to the public as prima facie evidence of the IFI’s and bishops’ affiliation to the rebel group.
We strongly condemn the recent attack dated February 22 where leaflets or hit list bearing names of the bishops including that of Fr. Chris Ablon, Fr. Rolando Abejo, Fr. Khen Apus and other networks and friends like Benjie Sambaan, Cong Corrales, Ofelia Tabacon, Atty. Beverly Musni, Atty. Czarina Musni, and Atty. Beverly Ann Musni! This baseless and malicious accusation strongly believed to be orchestrated by state forces has openly identified these people as members of the CPP-NPA-NDFP. We as episcopal leaders of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente in Mindanao are very much alarmed that wanton extra judicial killings may fall on our church leaders. God forbid!
We likewise have active church lay leaders who now fear for their lives and security. They are constantly under surveillance and are possible subject to warrantless arrest.
Mr. President, we are not your enemy. In fact we tend to believe that you were one with us in pushing the cause and struggle of the less fortunate members of our society. We witnessed and heard you several times how you wished to address and end the systemic problem of social injustice besetting our land due to resource and capital monopoly, corruption and inept bureaucracy and globalisation policies that aggravated the situations of the majority of Filipinos especially the poor and downtrodden among us.
As a matter of fact, we were inspired by your earlier public announcements on your support and initiatives for lasting peace to reign in our land and resolve the basic problems of our society. We see them as clear affirmation of our common goal that the way to a just and lasting peace is by resolving the root causes of the armed conflict.
We strongly appeal to you, Mr. President, to heed the call of the people. Do not remain persuaded by your security advisers to pursue the path of war against your own people. Their militaristic approach continued from administrations past has only emboldened mercenaries from military and police and entrenched normalcy of state violence, wanton disregard of people’s rights and human dignity and snuffed the many lives of your people. It has killed hundreds of your best citizens who take a collective role of nation building by struggling towards national industrialization and genuine land reform.
We strongly urge you, Mr. President, to put an end to these attacks against peasant and labor leaders, against lumad and their communities, against defenders of lumad schools, lawyers, media and the Church. Let us instead endeavor together to make Philippines truly a nation with thriving democracy, just peace and pro-people development. The Iglesia Filipina Independiente, its leaders and mass membership will continue to live out its historical role and prophetic witness to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).
We still believe Mr President that you have a heart for your people, and we ask that it may be a heart at its right place that truly beats for the interest and wellbeing of our people especially the poor, the defenceless, and the vulnerable.
We continue to pray for you, Mr. President, and your government, persistently invoking God’s help that through your leadership your government “may make wise and just decisions, and promote liberty, peace and welfare of God’s people” (Intercession, IFI Order of Mass).
THE MOST REVD RHEE M. TIMBANG (SGD)
THE RIGHT REVD ANTONIO N. ABLON (SGD)
THE RIGHT REVD FELIXBERTO L. CALANG (SGD)
THE RIGHT REVD DELFIN E. CALLAO JR. (SGD)
THE RIGHT REVD DENNY D. DAPITAN (SGD)
THE RIGHT REVD RUDY N. JULIADA (SGD)
THE RIGHT REVD NOEL LORENTE (SGD)
THE RIGHT REVD MERVIN JOSE ELIMANCO (SGD)
THE RIGHT REVD ROMEO G. TAGUD (SGD)
THE RIGHT REVD REDEEMER A. YAÑEZ JR. (SGD)
THE RIGHT REVD RAUL O. AMORCILLO (SGD)
THE RIGHT REVD JULIUS M. DACERA (SGD)
THE RIGHT REVD CARLO A. MORALES (SGD)
THE RIGHT REVD VICTOM Y. BATOY (SGD)
THE VERY REVD GIL DINAPO (SGD)