A group of Catholic and Protestant bishops in the Philippines appealed to the government to remove the “terrorist” tag on a community doctor who was earlier arrested on kidnapping and serious illegal detention charges.
In a statement on Monday, February 13, the Ecumenical Bishops Forum (EBF) called for the removal of the “terrorist” designation on Dr. Natividad “Naty” Castro by the country’s Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC).
“The wickedness of the Anti-Terrorism Act finds expression in the diabolical act of the [ATC] designating innocent persons as ‘terrorist,’” read the bishops’ statement.
Castro was designated as a “terrorist individual” by the ATC in a resolution released on January 30.
“Those dastardly and arbitrary tactics are a denial of due process as Dr. Castro was never given the opportunity to confront her accusers and present a counter-affidavit,” said the bishops.
The Church leaders said “the only logical reason” for the government action was “to vilify anyone or anybody critical of the government’s policies and programs not serving the best interest of the majority of Filipinos.”
“Anybody designated as a ‘terrorist’ is placed in a precarious situation of possible physical harm,” said the bishops.
Castro was tagged as a members of the Communist Party of the Philippines and was first arrested in San Juan City in February 2022 on charges of kidnapping and serious illegal detention.
The case was dismissed by an Agusan del Sur Regional Trial Court for “lack of probable cause.”
In June 2022, however, the court reversed the initial dismissal of the charges after the prosecutors filed a motion for reconsideration.
In its statement, the bishops expressed their “heartfelt solidarity” to Castro and condemned “the dastardly acts” of the ATC.
“As shepherds of the flocks, we raise our voices calling for the removal of ATC ‘terrorist’’ designation on Dr. Castro, repeal of the Anti-Terrorism Law, and “junking” of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict.
The statement was signed by Bishop Emeritus Ciriaco Q. Francisco of the United Methodist Church; Rev. Emelyn Gasco-Dacuycuy and Rev. Dindo de la Cruz Ranojo of the Philippine Independent Church; Bishop Emeritus Joel E. Tendero of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, and Catholic Bishop Emeritus Deogracias S. Iniguez Jr..
Earlier, the ecumenical group “One Faith. One Nation. One Voice.” also expressed support for Castro, saying she “is not a terrorist,” and described the doctor as “an example of someone who understood journeying with farmers and indigenous peoples at the margins of society and put this understanding into service and action.”
The group said that when Church leaders challenged the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, they hoped to stop the “sinister hand of militarists, who would take advantage of the law to attack civil-society leaders, social activists, and even those pushed toward civil unrest.”
“The vague and over-broad definition of terrorism is prone to abuse,” read the group’s statement signed by Catholic bishop Gerardo Alminaza of Diocese of San Carlos, Philippine Independent Church bishop Rhee M. Timbang, Minnie Ann Mata-Calub, acting general secretary of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, and Sister Rowena Pineda, MMS, chairperson of the Sisters Association of Mindanao.
Sister Ma. Lisa Ruedas of the Daughters of Charity, Rev. Dr. Federico Villanueva of the group Faith and Bayan, and Benedictine nun Rosalind Tanhueco also signed the statement.
The group said Castro’s “arbitrary designation as a ‘terrorist individual’ exposes the rotten core of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.”
“Not only has Dr. Naty been denied due process, but even we, the concerned public, are not able to weigh and measure any alleged evidence against her,” added the statement.
The Anti-Terrorism Council alleged that Castro was involved in the planning, training, preparing, and facilitating the commission of terrorism and recruitment and for supposedly providing material support to terrorist organizations.