The Ecumenical Bishops Forum (EBF), an organization of Catholic and Protestant bishops in the Philippines, said it “strongly condemns” the arrest of Maria Natividad Castro, a physician and a human rights defender who was arrested last week for charges of kidnapping and “serious illegal detention.”
“The arrest of Dr. Castro is an attack against human rights defenders. It is a travesty of justice that belies the (Philippine President Rodrigo) Duterte government’s claim that, as duty-bearer, it is respectful and compliant of human rights laws,” read the Church leaders’ statement on Monday, February 21.
They said that with the arrest of Castro, who was accused by the government of being a top leader of the communist underground movement, it “is evident that human rights mechanism is not in place in this country contrary to the claim of this government.”
Castro was arrested by elements of the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines in her residence in San Juan City in the capital Manila on February 18. She was later brought to Bayugan City, Agusan del Sur province, in the southern Philippines.
The EBF said it “denounces the systemic repression by the Duterte government by weaponizing the law against political dissents, victimizing human rights defenders and activists by red-tagging, planting of evidence and/or concocted lies in order to file trumped-up cases with the State security forces as henchmen.”
They said Castro, who served as secretary general of human rights group Karapatan in Caraga region in Mindanao, is a “staunch human rights defender and a medical doctor providing health services in tribal communities.”
“Human rights advocacy and defense is not a crime,” said the bishops. “It is a laudable moral imperative in a situation of tyranny and repression,” they added.
The bishops called on the government to release Castro “and drop the trumped-up cases against her and against other human rights defenders.”
“Stop red-tagging, planting of evidences and false testimonies and the filing of trumped-up cases,” said the bishops.
They said the “as bishops of the Church, we appeal to those in custody of Dr. Castro and having jurisdiction over her case to listen to the words from the Holy Scriptures and reflect on it: ‘He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.’”