The President of the Philippines ordered aerial bombings in the hinterlands of Sulu and reinforces of checkpoints and military forces in some provinces like Basilan and Zamboanga peninsula. Hinterlands in Agusan-Surigao-Bukidnon and Southern and Far South Mindanao are continually bombarded with bombs and Canons to flush the ‘enemies of the state.’

In Cagayan de Oro City, the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) was harassed through red-tagging. The leaders of the Lumad and farmers’ organization were illegally arrested and detained by the elements of the Regional Police Office in Northern Mindanao after leaving the IFI compound at Bulua, Cagayan de Oro City. The police charged them as members of the New People’s Army (NPA). The office of the farmers’ organization in Misamis Oriental was raided. Rural missionaries and community leaders in Cagayan de Oro and were abducted.

Two Lumad leaders in Surigao were murdered by elements of the Philippine Army. They were tortured and killed. The Army accused them as members of the NPA.

In Aritao, Nueva Viscaya, an NDFP Peace consultant was treacherously murdered while sleeping inside the bus he was riding. The progressive organizations are mad and held indignation rallies. The police in Region 2 claimed that the NPA killed him.

All these incidents happened in a week.

These attacks are added to the intensifying attacks that happened in Negros, Samar and Bicol. These attacks further worsen the continuing war on drugs of the state against the helpless, powerless and poor people. These attacks are still part of the Oplan Kapayapaan of the Rodrigo Duterte administration, which most of the victims are the Lumad and Moro people in Mindanao, and farming communities in the countryside nationwide.

These intensifying attacks against the progressive, legal and legitimate organizations are a big challenge to the Church leaders, specially the Roman Catholic (RC) Church. Recently, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) issued a statement asking forgiveness for a “long silence” and pledged to work as shepherds of the flock of God.

The RC bishops said:

“As bishops we have no intention of interfering in the conduct of state affairs. But neither do we intend to abdicate our sacred mandate as shepherds to whom the Lord entrusted His flock. We have a solemn duty to defend our flock, especially when they are attacked by wolves.”

“No amount of intimidation or even threat to our lives will make us give up our prophetic role especially that of giving voice to the voiceless.”

In a gathering of Church leaders in Manila dubbed as “One Faith, One Nation, One Voice”, the leaders of the Philippine Churches deplored the attacks of President Rodrigo Duterte to the faith and practices of the Roman Catholic Church and also of other Christian Churches.

Mr. Duterte continually attacks the RC bishops. Recently, he called on criminals to rob the bishops and if they fight, kill them, while some church leaders are threatened through red-tagging. The reality is that the intensifying attacks against the progressive and legal organizations have also continued.

With these intensifying attacks against the progressive and legitimate organizations and churches, especially the IFI, and peace advocates, the Philippine Church leaders, especially the RC Church, are challenged to exercise their prophetic voice. The victims are also the flock of God and as shepherds they have to stand with them.

They cannot stand beside the oppressors and exploiters, nor they can stay at the middle. They can be a “bridge” to the opposing parties, but even in building a bridge someone must to start from both ends not in the middle. The Church leaders must choose the righteous but powerless. They have to take side like Jesus in His time on earth.

These intensifying attacks are the big challenges to Church leaders who are, who remain, very cautious of their actions and pronouncements.

(Cover photo from Ramento Project for Rights Defenders Facebook page)

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