PASTORAL STATEMENT OF IFI OBISPO MAXIMO RHEE TIMBANG on the spate of killings and arrests in Negros Islands

“And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being” [Genesis 9:5].

MANILA, Philippines – Many of us went to bed last night with a heavy heart with the recent spate of killings in Negros Islands in mind, only to wake up this morning that another four [4] persons were killed. The revolting news breaks our heart all the more further. It was a bewilderment to think that in a span of one week fifteen [15] lives were wasted, and the killings early today added to the length of the list. When will all these killings end? When will these attacks come to a stop? When shall we come to our senses that these killings and attacks are not the solutions that we long for to address our national situation?

These killings are gruesome and the attacks to human lives are horrendous. They characterize a society in deep violence and a nation wallowing in death and grief and whose soul is slowly disintegrating. These killings and attacks eloquently speak that the road to war is not the way to build up a nation. And we blame the Duterte government for unleashing such a violent war. We make him at fault, in the manner that we called the previous governments of the same, for abandoning the road to peace, for stopping to work for peace, and for disregarding peace talks as viable option to resolve the armed conflict that torn this country apart for half a century now.

It is obvious that the cause of the killings and attacks in Negros Islands, and in fact in many parts of the Philippines especially in Mindanao, is the insurgency war waged by the AFP and PNP against the NPA. But for fifty [50] years now the militarist solution to quell people’s restlessness has not been effective in addressing the roots of insurgency; on the contrary, it has sacrificed thousands of lives, mostly of innocent people, as the total war inched forward day by day. The magnitude of the lives and properties waylaid and wasted could not justify the damage done to our people especially the poor farmers and workers and those who advocate for their cause and struggle. The killings and attacks in Negros Islands articulate the senselessness of this war, and more obviously point to the total war policy of Duterte government as the responsible culprit and drench his hands with the bloods of so many who some of them were expectant that this same government would change their miserable lives with his governance as President of this Republic as he promised in his election campaign.

But particular in Negros Islands rather than listening to the demands of the farmers and sugarcane workers for land, for just wages, and for justice and peace, President Duterte instead issued Memorandum Order #32 in November 2018, placed the whole of Negros Islands together with Samar and Bicol under emergency situation and called for the deployment of more military units. From two [2] Philippine Army battalions deployed since the issuance in November 2018, there are now five [5] battalions at present all over Negros Islands: the 11th IB stationed in Guinhulngan, and the 94th IB in the rest of Negros Oriental, while the 15th, 62nd and 79th IBs are in Negros Occidental. This military presence is reinforced by the Regional Mobile Force [RMG] of the Philippine National Police, Special Civilian Active Auxiliary [SCAA] paid by the LGU, Citizen Armed Forces Geographical Unit [CAFGU], and Revolutionary Proletarian Army [RPA] which are now all under the command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. In addition to this list is the horde of goons and hired killers under payroll of despotic landlords in Negros. Collectively, these provide the force in the sustained military operations especially in remote areas in Northern Negros for the last six months that has caused many forms of human rights violations in the said areas in the name of implementing Oplan Sauron the local campaign for the national Oplan Kapayapaan, now called Oplan Kapanatagan. Suffering the brunt of their fascist force are mostly members of National Federation of Sugar Workers [NFSW], suspected of being NPA members and symphatizers, and other personalities in the like of lawyers, teachers and even local government officials in Negros Islands known to be supporting the well-being of the farmers and sugarcane workers.

The militarization of the whole Negros Islands does not and cannot bring peace to that part of the country. For those government propagandists that say that militarization has brought peace and progress in the land they are like the hypocritical court prophets in King Josiah’s time of the Old Testament whom God’s Prophet Jeremiah criticized: “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace” [Jer 6:14]. The militarization of the whole of Negros Island only brings the escalation of violence, only increases the toll of death, only multiplies the number of victims of extra-judicial killings and of trumped-up charges, only raises the incidence of human rights violations and the trampling of human dignity. The militarization in Negros Islands only lead us to the sagging down of our moral soul and brings us to the abyss of national unpeace, social injustice and human indignity. Militarization makes us as a nation to walk in “the way of the wicked [which] is like deep darkness” [Proverbs 4:19].

As a church, we in the IFI condemn the killings of around eighty-three [83] persons in Negros Island since President Duterte came to power. We denounce the illegal arrest and detention due to baseless charges of more than seventy [70] people. We are outrageous on the on-going militarization in the countryside of Negros Islands that brought the displacement of communities and the declaration as no-man’s land in several areas. We are aghast in the way some personalities and individuals are being tagged or accused as supporters to the communist movement because these labelling would mark or signal for their eventual neutralization or termination as proven by in the killings of Atty. Benjamin Ramos Jr., Salvador Romano, Atty. Anthony Trinidad, former Ayungon Mayor Edsel Enardecido and many others.

We likewise grieve for the death of several police and army personnel and other people who had become part of the machinery of war of this government. We feel sorry for the loss of their lives and for their families and relatives; we respect their decision in life as part of their occupation and we ask the government to provide their families the benefits that deserve them because, like the many farmers and sugarcane workers and those who advocated for their rights and cause who were felled by bullets and incarcerated in prisons, they are also victims of this senseless war against humanity perpetrated by the head and security forces of the state who can only read war, see red, and benefit from war due to the huge amount appropriated to underwrite war against the insurgents and to modernize the military. Both the AFP and PNP have long standing records of corruption and of milking the government funds intended for these state security forces dry.

We therefore ask the whole IFI community in the Philippines and abroad to be gravely wary and concern about the situation in Negros Islands, and in the whole country, and we task all ordained and lay church members to mobilize every resources of our faith and of the church

1) to shape our worship and educational gathering to become venues and opportunities for praying for peace and healing of our land, especially in Negros Islands, and for discernment and awareness-raising of our church members and congregations about the real state of our nation under this present dispensation whose independence, sovereignty and dignity of its people are compromised and for the continuing formation of our ordained leaders to seriously exercise their role and ministry as modern-day prophets in the context of a highly violent society;

2) to form our programs and activities to lead our parishes and dioceses towards continuing efforts to organize, mobilize and consolidate our lay and ordained and congregations to advocate for genuine peace, for people’s rights, for national sovereignty and for human dignity and to take part in the varied initiatives of the ecumenical church for mass actions and protest mobilizations, fact finding missions, pastoral ecumenical visits, relief and medical mission, and other forms of missionary and pastoral engagements;

3) to open our churches, rectories, conference centers, schools and other buildings and facilities within our respective jurisdiction as sanctuaries for all our brothers and sisters who will be displaced from their communities or whose lives and security are threatened as consequence of and due to the so-called “war against the terrorists” implemented by this government; and to design our church budgets along the course of underwriting our social actions and/or ministry for human dignity and for any initiatives that may result in offering ourselves as sanctuaries including seeking legal relief from the courts of justice in our land;

4) to join with other churches, networks and people’s organizations in calling strongly for the resumption of peace talks between the GRP and NDFP in order to address the long-standing armed conflict in our land spawned by social injustice in our midst and heightened by violence committed by both parties and to bring the country towards the needed national industrialization and genuine agrarian reform; and in demanding justice for all victims of extra-judicial killings and of trumped-up charges factored by the culture of impunity, by institutionalization of violence, and by desecration of human life and the system of justice; and

5) to concretize the thematic call of our upcoming 117th IFI Proclamation Anniversary Celebration by our common and unified undertakings as a church to join with the Roman Catholic Church in Negros to ring our church bells in all parishes and chapels of the IFI every 5PM beginning today until August 6, which is the Feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord, alongside with the recitation of the Collects for Peace, for the Mission of the Church, for Sound Government, for Social Justice, for Protection and for Guidance with the common response to every petition: “God of justice and peace, in the name of our Lord Jesus, have mercy on us; make us faithful witnesses; and renew our mind to be able to heal our land;” and by our common and unified undertaking as a church to hung and display as soon as we are ready and able the tarpaulins in the façade of our churches – parochial and outstation – that bear our calls: “Stop the Killings and Attacks! Stop Red-Tagging and Labelling! Justice to all Victims of EJK’s! No to Militarization! Resume the Peace Talks! O God, heal our land!”

The situation in Negros Islands, and in the whole nation, is indeed worrisome. Yet it calls us all to greater faithfulness and utmost obedience to God’s liberating word and deed in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. It demands us to be responsible to the lives and dignity of our fellow human beings. It challenges us to bring those who are in power in this government and can do much to avoid the situation in Negros Island and in the other parts of the country to deteriorate to have accountability for the many lives felled along the road of senseless war. It requires us “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God” [Micah 6:8]. The situation calls us to claim, embrace and own peace as people of God. May the peace of the Lord reign in our land.

Obispo Maximo


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