A district superintendent and pastor say they were intimidated and threatened by police for offering sanctuary to human rights workers at Dangay 3000 United Methodist Church in Roxas, Philippines.
The Rev. Glofie G. Baluntong, superintendent of the Oriental Mindoro-Romblon-Marinduque district, and the Rev. Wilfredo Yasay, pastor of Good News United Methodist Church in Roxas, were questioned by a regional mobile group of the Philippine National Police at the church on June 17.
Baluntong said the police asked to search Dangay United Methodist Church, despite not having a search warrant, and ordered the clergy to surrender their guests to the police so that they would not be held as accomplices.
Since June 15, the Dangay church has been housing members of the Karapatan Southern Tagalog quick reaction team. Karapatan is an alliance of individuals, groups and organizations working for the promotion and protection of human rights in the Philippines. Its founders and members have been at the forefront of the human rights struggle since President Ferdinand Marcos imposed martial law on the nation in 1972.
Baluntong said members of a Karapatan fact-finding team sought refuge from the church while they extend assistance to the families of three suspected members of the New People’s Army killed in Mansalay. The New People's Army is the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
Baluntong said it was near noon when a police patrol car parked in front of the church. “Eleven men and a woman in uniform got out of the police vehicle and knocked on the front gate,” she said, noting that the men were holding M-16 rifles.
“In a high tone and without any search warrant, they asked if they could enter the premises,” she said. “Even without a search warrant, I allowed them to see the dental clinic and I even invited them to check all the rooms so they would know we are not hiding anything.”
Bishop Ciriaco Q. Francisco of the Manila area condemned the harassment and violation by the police.
"I wish that the Philippine National Police, as protectors of civilians, would recognize and respect that the church is a neutral ground. They have no right to search if they have no search warrant. With that, we strongly condemn the intimidation, harassment and violation of rights they have committed," Francisco said.
Baluntong said the captain, who introduced himself as a Methodist from Bayombong United Methodist Church in Nueva Vizcaya, threatened that a case could be filed against them for coddling the New People’s Army. She said she reiterated that the people they are housing are human rights defenders, adding that the captain raised his hand as a signal for her to stop talking, which she said she interpreted as intimidation and harassment.
“(He) insisted that we should not coddle those people, that we should only help instead the United Methodists.”
Yasay told the police group about the Southwest Philippines Conference’s declaration that all United Methodist churches serve as sanctuary for the victims of both natural and manmade calamity, regardless of who they are.
Francisco said the Philippines Central Conference also has declared all United Methodist local churches as a safe space for all.
This week, the Philippines Board of Church and Society released a statement condemning the police actions.
"We condemn these unlawful and disrespectful acts of the Philippine National Police. They displayed an utter lack of respect on the sanctity of the church when they barged into the sanctuary and the church premises brandishing their guns, and in harassing pastors they found in the premises," the statement said.
The statement noted that the continued military operations by government soldiers in the hinterlands of Mindoro provinces and other parts of the country are the result of “the all-out war policy” of the government led by President Rodrigo Duterte.
Baluntong said the police left after about 30 minutes. Karapatan’s fact-finding team is still staying at Dangay United Methodist Church as it continues to assist the families of the victims.
"The group feels that The United Methodist Church is still the safest place for them," she said.
“We will continue to uphold what is just. We are here to welcome and protect the people, whoever they are. It is our mandate to be with those who are victims of violence, the poor and the deprived. The United Methodist Church shall continue to open its doors (as) a sacred space for all."
Mangiduyos is a communicator from the Philippines. News media contact: Vicki Brown, news editor, firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-742-5470. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.