A Philippine church leader has appealed to the country’s millions of Catholics to hold prayers for four bishops, calling sedition charges against them “beyond belief.”
The bishops are among dozens charged with allegedly plotting to destabilise President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration, which faces international criticism over its deadly war on drugs.
Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao called for “solidarity in prayer” for the four, along with prayers for those involved in processing the cases, so they may be guided by “a deep sense of fairness, justice and truth.”
“I am very saddened by this news and am greatly disturbed by this development. That they are accused of sedition and other criminal complaints is for me beyond belief,” said Archbishop Valles, president of the Philippines Catholic Bishops’ Conference.
The four, Bishop Honesto Ongtioco of Cubao, Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan, retired prelate Teodoro Bacani Jr., and Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, have expressed gratitude for an “outpouring of support” from the people.
The Catholic Church has emerged as a prominent voice of dissent against Duterte’s war on drugs that has claimed thousands of lives. But Catholic and other Christians leaders who speak out face death threats, along with open hostility from Duterte.
Philippines police filed sedition, cyber libel, libel and obstruction of justice charges against the bishops, four other priests, Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo, opposition political figures and other critics in July.
Amnesty International has described charges against the group as judicial harassment and an attempt to silence government critics.
The allegations centre on a formerly arrested crime suspect, who alleged that he plotted with the accused to discredit Duterte, his government and other government officials, by linking them to drug syndicates.
In a series of online videos, he detailed supposed links of Duterte to illegal drugs. He was later presented at a police news conference where he denied the claims made on video, instead implicating Duterte critics in a plot to discredit the government.
In a separate statement, the Ecumenical Bishops Forum (EBF) condemned what it called an “ideology of death” within the country following the killing of a pastor on Aug. 2 in the south.
“The number of violent attacks against Christian human rights defenders has increased alarmingly in the three years of Duterte’s government.”
“Christians must act together for the defense of justice, human rights, democracy and the common good.”
The EBF is a fellowship of Catholic bishops and leaders of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines, the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, and the United Methodist Church.