Human rights group Karapatan threw its support behind Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos in the central Philippine province of Negros Occidental after he and several other Church people were “red-tagged” in a television program.
The prelate was criticized for calling for the resumption of the formal peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.
In a statement, Bishop Alminaza said, “We should never be afraid, but rather be brave in speaking for the truth on behalf of the victims of injustice.”
“While we laud Bishop Alminaza’s courage, we cannot help but be concerned for his safety and security as well as that of other church workers active in their justice and peace ministries,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay in a statement.
The bishop, who is also one of the convenors of the church-based Pilgrims for Peace assailed the human rights violations, killings and “militarization” in Negros.
“We have nothing but the greatest respect and admiration for Bishop Alminaza for standing up for his principles,” said Palabay.
The prelate earlier decried what he described as the “red-tagging” and the calling of his peace advocacy as “diabolical and demonic” by hosts of a television program.
“The demand to pursue peace is an echo of Jesus’ command to love. As your pastor, I cannot be silent amid violence and injustices,” he said.
He said the recent “red-tagging and the calling of my advocacy as ‘diabolical and demonic’ by [hosts of the television program Laban Kasama ang Bayan] … can never stop our commitment to peace and justice.”
Television commentators Jeffrey Celiz and Lorraine Marie Badoy came out strongly against Bishop Alminaza who earlier issued a statement calling for the release of political prisoners, among them former priest Frank Fernandez.
In an earlier statement, the prelate said the release of political prisoners should be on top of the list of concerns of the government.
“Excuse me, Bishop Alminaza, Frank Fernandez had ordered the killing of many soldiers, policemen, and civilians when he headed the Negros island [communist rebels] with his wife, Cleofe Lagtapon,” said Celiz in Filipino over the SMNI News Channel.
He assailed the prelate over the latter’s claim that there are 200 political prisoners in Negros island alone.
“Where is your proof, bishop?” Celiz asked, adding that the bishops’ statement “is dangerous” because “while you are destroying the image of the military and the police you are praising (communist) killers.
“You copied it so well, bishop, this is the line of the Central Committee of the [Communist Party of the Philippines], the one you are yapping about,” Celiz said.
Bishop Alminaza, however, said that as the program “continues to malign and even invoke vicious threats against the work of church-people, bishops and pastors, dedicated activists, and ordinary persons — we should never be afraid, but rather be brave in speaking for the truth on behalf of the victims of injustice.”
“With this commitment to taking the side of the victims of injustice, I am comforted by the words from the scriptures ‘Lord, you establish peace for us,’” said the prelate in a statement.
He said the Church “cannot continue the fake model of peace that is one-sided — using pseudo development, militarized and highly politicized.”
“We want a peace that is integral and inclusive, benefitting the common good — that uplifts the poor and promotes authentic development,” said the bishop.