International Virtual Solidarity Forum scheduled for Tuesday

Red-tagging faith leaders is causing concern for the United Church of Christ in the Philippines

by Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — The United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) will host an International  Virtual Solidarity Forum from 8 a.m. through 10 a.m. Eastern Time on Tuesday, Nov. 17.

Through the virtual forum, UCCP believes “we will know and achieve the increased level of solidarity support coming from our partners and the level of unity we can forge in asserting the right to religious freedom, the right to life, liberty and justice,” the Church said in a statement.

The request for solidarity is, the Church believes, an urgent one.

The UCCP is under attack by the government, which has associated the Church and its mission with the revolutionary movement in the country. It has systematically “red-tagged” many church leaders, from bishops to local church pastors and laity.

Even the acts of providing peace sanctuary for displaced indigenous people and defending the rights of peasants and workers have been considered as crimes by the current government, through its military and anti-insurgency agencies.

Red-tagging is the targeting of individuals who are considered to be critical or not supportive of the current government. The process has resulted in arrests and extrajudicial killings of Church leaders and those supporting the mission of the Church.

Recently the UCCP Council of Bishops condemned the filing of a legal complaint against 40 individuals of the National Commission on Indigenous People that included several names of UCCP leaders. The complaint was filed at the Davao City Prosecutor’s Office alleging that these individuals violated several laws including the Anti-Trafficking of Persons Act, the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act and the Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide and Other Crimes Against Humanity.

The Church’s provision of sanctuary for internally displaced indigenous people in UCCP’s Haran compound in Davao City was targeted by the government’ s Anti-insurgency National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict. Church leaders suspect the persecution is intended to stop the church from its prophetic witness in the midst of an intensifying authoritarian regime.

With the passing of the Anti-Terrorism Law of 2020, an increasing number of human rights workers, advocates, peace negotiators, peasant and labor leaders have been killed.

In a statement about the international solidarity forum, the UCCP said:

“Until justice is served to victims, until the Church is vindicated, and until enduring peace is achieved, we will unceasingly CRY OUT to God to rescue us from our enemies. We know that our persecutors and those who are out to tarnish the image of the Church as the station of salvation and respite for the suffering people will not succeed even if they destroy the physical aspects of our faith and mission.”

The UCCP believes the solidarity of its partners at the national and international levels will strengthen its faith and witness in the struggle against the powers attempting to tarnish its image and harm the Church.

“We request the sincere solidarity support of our partners and their commitment to intercede for us to God for guidance and sustenance and to invoke to the State the inviolability of the value and dignity of human persons as created in God s image,” the UCCP said. “By doing so, the partners make the CRYING OUT louder and intensify Church people’s resistance to the demonic schemes in society.”

Sara Lisherness, interim director of Presbyterian World Mission, will represent the Presbyterian Mission Agency at the forum. In a video message to the group, she plans to offer these words:

“The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) joins the efforts of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines and the ecumenical civil society organizations who demand an independent investigation into the red-tagging of church leaders and human right defenders throughout the Philippines.  We will amplify your concerns and raise awareness to our local churches, and to our local, national, and international network of partners, until the light of justice and the rays of peace radiate across your beautiful country.”

Participants can watch a livestream of the forum through the official Facebook page of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines:

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