The Iglesia Filipiniana Independiente (Philippine Independent Church), or IFI, has expressed alarm over the arrest of one of its paralegals in the southern city of Oroquieta.
An arrest warrant issued by a regional trial court judge alleged that 40-year-old paralegal Jennifer Clavite Aguhob is a “wanted person” linked to communist rebels.
She was subsequently arrested on Feb. 5.
The IFI, however, maintained that Aguhob works for the church’s ministry with tribal peoples in the region known as “lumad.”
The IFI is an independent Christian denomination in the form of a national church in the country.
In May 2017, Aguhob, an engineer by profession, volunteered to help as a paralegal in the case of IFI Bishop Carlo Morales, who was arrested for alleged illegal possession of explosives.
The bishop was released in 2018, but the case is still being heard by the court.
In a statement, the Philippine Independent Church said the arrest of Aguhob is a “grave form of harassment and repression against a paralegal worker and her fundamental rights.”
“We in the IFI condemn this dastardly act,” read the statement.
The church group lambasted the government’s security forces, claiming their “propensity to arrest and detain certain persons serving the democratic rights of the Filipino people is expeditiously maddening.”
The IFI called for the immediate release of Aguhob, and for authorities to drop her case.
“We ask the government to stop the practice of filing trumped-up cases as a form of harassment and repression against those who work for the defence of people’s rights,” read the church’s statement.
It also called on the Filipino people “to be always vigilant in defending their basic fundamental rights,” which they allege are “under threat” amidst the rise of “tyrannical rule.”
The National Union of People’s Lawyers, meanwhile, reported that apart from Aguhob, others arrested include: Alexander Philip Abinguna, coordinator of the human rights group Karapatan; local journalist Frenchiemae Cumpio; Mira Legion, of the activist group Bayan; and Marissa Cabaljao of the People Surge Network, an alliance of victims of Super Typhoon Haiyan.
The arrests, which happened in the central Philippine city of Tacloban on Feb. 7, were based on a warrant for illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
“All of the arrested are open, legal, and peaceful, yet militant human rights workers,” said the lawyers’ group.
“The question is simple and straightforward, if not rhetorical: How can high profile and visible people working in open legal organizations doing perfectly legal and constitutionally-protected advocacy commit or be committing patently criminal acts and yet not be in hiding,” read their statement.
The group further charged the government is criminalizing “otherwise legal acts, behaviors, and individuals.”