United Methodists decry 'red-tagging' of church council

United Methodists are defending The National Council of Churches in the Philippines after the organization was labeled as a “front organization of local communist terrorist groups” by the Department of National Defense of the Philippine Government.

The Philippine council was among 18 organizations “red-tagged” during a congressional briefing Nov. 5. The list was presented by Major General Ruben Basiao, deputy chief of staff for intelligence for the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The National Council of Churches in the Philippines is an ecumenical fellowship of mainline Protestants, of which The United Methodist Church in the Philippines is a member. Its main mission is “to be a channel for united witness and common action by being in solidarity with the people in the struggle for justice, peace and integrity of creation.”

United Methodist Bishop Rodolfo A. Juan of the Davao Area, who currently serves as vice chair of the National Council of Churches, lamented the labeling.

“I am bent on defending the council, which I believe is faithfully carrying out its prophetic role to proclaim the truth,” he said. “On behalf of The United Methodist Church, I urge faithful disciples to stand firm during these trying times. We will continue to be a check and balance of the government.”

The United Methodist Church in the Philippines has condemned extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses in the country, as well as protesting the treatment of indigenous people. The church has worked both alone and through ecumenical groups like the National Council of Churches.

United Methodists joined thousands of interfaith participants rallying in February to call attention to human rights violations. A district superintendent and pastor said police intimidated and threatened them for offering sanctuary to human rights workers at Dangay 3000 United Methodist Church in Roxas, Philippines.

In addition, the church offered shelter to farmers in 2016 after Philippine government security forces fired on the farmers’ peaceful demonstration for rice. Bishop Ciriaco Q. Francisco, who was at the time leader of the Davao Episcopal Area, opened the Spottswood Methodist Mission Center to the starving families. That action put him in danger and he was threatened with arrest.

Last week, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA released a statement in support of the Philippines council.

“We stand by our NCCP sisters and brothers and pledge to remain vigilant on behalf of their safety and security and to raise our voices on their behalf.”   

The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries also released a statement standing in solidarity with the council, “as it withstands yet another attempt to discredit its prophetic witness.” 

The statement noted that, “This tactic has been employed previously against persons and organizations that dare to protest the indiscriminate killings of thousands in President Rodrigo Duterte’s ‘war against drugs.’ The goal is to discredit those who dare to uphold human rights and publicize unjust actions and abuse of power, causing untold suffering, especially among the poor and the powerless in Philippine society.”

Bishop Francisco, who now leads the Manila Area, told United Methodist News that he was saddened to hear that the church council had been tagged as a communist front. 

“It is a religious organization standing and promoting peace and justice. It has a long history of helping the poor, the victims of both human and natural calamities, human rights violations and others,” he said.

Francisco emphasized that the National Council of Churches in the Philippines has a prophetic role in denouncing and resisting evil.

“The government should not harass religious organizations or institutions but protect instead its constituents.”

The Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, top executive of the World Council of Churches, also expressed alarm and grave concern over the allegations.

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“In the context of current Philippine politics, such ‘red-tagging’ gives a green light to harassment and deadly attacks against those listed,” Tveit said. 

He appealed to the Philippine government “to end the war on drugs, to take measures to hold accountable those who have carried out extra-judicial killings, and to respect and protect the human rights and equal God-given dignity of all people in the Philippines.” 

The Rev. Connie Semi Mella, a United Methodist clergywoman who serves as dean of Union Theological Seminary, read a statement during a recent Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform press conference.  

“Union Theological Seminary joins the national and international outcry against the baseless and irresponsible report,” she said. “NCCP is both witness and active participant in nation building and national development. It helped forge unity among churches, a significant section of our population, during our country’s most trying times.”  

The Association of Women in Theology also released a statement condemning the labeling. Darlene Marquez-Caramanzana, a United Methodist deaconess, serves as national coordinator for the ecumenical association.

“This inclusion in the list is a blatant attempt to discredit a highly credible and reliable organization whose track record in serving the poorest, the most vulnerable and marginalized is unquestionable,” the statement said.

It expressed the association’s fears for the safety of church leaders and members.

“This act of red-tagging the NCCP puts the safety and security of its church heads, members and staff in grave danger. Such an irresponsible labeling is an open endorsement for state forces to attack, harass, arrest, torture and even kill them,” the statement said.

The association demanded that the government stop attacking the ministries of the NCCP and all institutions providing services for the people’s welfare and development. 

“Stop weaponizing the law against churches, organizations, human rights defenders and people exercising their democratic rights.”

Some statements also demanded retraction and public apology from the Philippines government.

“Issue a public apology for maligning an institution that has a long history of serving the people faithfully in obedience to the Gospel mandate of loving our neighbor,” the Association of Women in Theology statement said.

Juan also gave his strong demand to recall the negative tag as soon as possible.

“The church as the body of Christ will continue the ministry of Jesus Christ boldly,” Juan said.

Mangiduyos is a communicator from the Philippines. News media contact: Vicki Brown, news editor, [email protected] or 615-742-5470. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.

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