Priests and bishops, in the northern Philippines claimed to have received threats and harassment from state agents for preaching about environmental protection and human rights.
Several church leaders in the northern part of the country claimed that they have been tagged as having links with communist rebels.
They said the threats to their lives have affected their work with the poor.
Randy Manicap, a priest of the Philippine Independent Church, was supposed to attend a clergy meeting of the diocese on Feb. 17 but his superiors advised him not to go.
He was also told to refrain from holding Masses in his parish in the town of Piddig, Ilocos Norte province because unidentified men were watching his church.
“They are watching me again since Feb. 11,” he said. “Yesterday, they were here again,” the priest said in a message.
He said policemen and soldiers even visited another parish and asked for his whereabouts.
The priest said there could be no other reason for the harassments except for his human rights advocacy.
Father Manicap is co-convener of the People’s Solidarity Against Large Mining in Ilocos Norte province.
He used to head the Social Action Commission of his diocese until he was relieved of the task in 2019 because of threats to his life.
“I’m concerned for myself and my family,” he said. There is fear, especially with the recent events,” added Father Manicap.
Like Father Manicap, Father Molina is a long-time human rights advocate. He used to be a member of the council of leaders of the group Solidarity of Peasants Against Exploitation.
In Cagayan Valley, Catholic priests Manny Catral, Patrick Caro, Jay Talosig, and Peter Simangan have been tagged as “communists” on posters plastered along roads in the region.
Father Catral has been a vocal critic of black sand mining operations in Cagayan province while Father Caro has been helping peasant communities.
In 2018, Father Talosig hosted fact-finding missions in the town of Jones in Isabela province, where the military conducted operations against the rebels.
Father Simangan, meanwhile, has been vocal in the campaign to indemnify victims of atrocities during the years of martial law.
Bishop Emelyn Dacuycuy of the Philippine Independent Church’s Diocese of Batac said soldiers have also accused the diocese of supporting organizations linked with the communists.
She dubbed the allegations as a “shameless affront” to the church and the faith.
“The government may continue to threaten, harass, and intimidate church people, but the diocese will not cower,” said the first woman bishop of the Philippine Independent Church.
“We will firmly stand by our faith to work and witness for the Gospel in solidarity with the poor and powerless,” she added.