Karapatan wary of series of harassment involving church workers and local leaders, says this is a prelude to killings

“Nobody is safe in this country, not even those in the church sector and communities. We now live at a time when men in motorcycles immediately spark fear and suspicion, as they have been used in numerous killings. In the first few months this 2019, we have received frequent reports of threats and harassment, many involving priests. This comes after several extrajudicial killings of Catholic priests in 2018, the incessant vandalisms around the vicinity of churches, and the recent “challenge” given by the President to inflict harm on bishops, among other church workers. Thus, harassment and intimidation in all its forms, given this particular context, is a cause for alarm,” said Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay, emphasizing that harassment and threats are often a prelude to killings. 

A priest of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) in Western Visayas was harassed on January 30, 2019. Rev. Fr. Marco Sulayao, also the chairperson of the Promotion of Church Peoples’ Response (PCPR) Panay-Guimaras, had his photograph taken without permission by 7 uniformed policemen as he was stepping off the bus in San Carlos City, Bacolod. This surprised Fr. Sulayao but he was not able to question the perpetrators as they left immediately.

On January 31, 2019, two men who were outside the IFI National Cathedral monitored, and later tailed four IFI priests. Rev. Christopher Ablon, Rev. Marciano Carabio, Rev. Jerome Lito, and Rev. Arnold Abuel already noticed the two men observing the church at around 7p.m. When they went out for dinner 30 minutes later, the two suspicious men suddenly moved to board their black motorcycle, following the priests who also boarded a tricycle. The man on the passenger side took out something from his bag and covered it with his gray jacket. The perpetrators stayed close and were just behind the tricycle. Alarmed, the priests asked the tricycle to stop. The two men approached, but eventually passed by the tricycle and the four alarmed priests. 

On the morning of February 4, 2019, IFI priest Randy Manicap, Sr. was at the rectory of the IFI parish in Santa Anna, Pidding, Ilocos Norte when he noticed two men onboard a motorcycle loitering around the vicinity. The men left after learning thereafter. They were riding a Honda TMX motorcycle with no plate.  Later in the afternoon, Fr. Manicap was en route to Laoag City when the same men who monitored him were spotted at the junction in Pallas, Vintar. The perpetrators tailed him until he reached his in-laws’ residence in Sta. Maria, Laoag, City.  At 8 p.m. in the evening, Fr. Manicap observed that the same suspicious men were at a waiting shed near his house.

This tailing and surveillance of Fr. Manicap’s movement followed a series of threats via text messages. In June 2018, he received messages forewarning his death. Fr. Manicap is involved with several human rights organizations in Ilocos Norte, including Amianan Salakniban, Ilocos Human Rights Advocates – Karapatan, Ilocos Norte Ecumenical Group and the People’s Solidarity Against Large-Scale Mining – Ilocos Norte.

Apart from IFI, UCCP, and the church, other progressive organizations are also being surveilled and harassed. In Eastern Visayas, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, People Surge, Anakbayan, and Sinirangan Bisayas reported harassment against staff and leaders of said organizations. 

On February 1, Lex Mykha Bustillo, a staff of People Surge, was almost abducted by a man wearing a black outfit and a bonnet. Bustillo was on his way to the People Surge office in Bañezville, Tacloban City. According to the victim, the perpetrator attempted to grab her hand and even chased her for four hours as she was trying to escape. Other leaders in the region, including Bayan Eastern Visayas secretary general Joshua Sagdullas, was being falsely linked to illegal drugs. The staff of Bayan EV also reported a previous case of military men attempting to raid their office last year. 

“As there is an escalation in the cases of threat, harassment, and intimidation across sectors, the victims become more vulnerable to other forms of rights violations. We have noted that many of those red-tagged by the Duterte government often end up being charged with trumped-up charges, or killed by riding-in-tandem assailants. This pattern reveals a systematic and targeted attack against activists, rights defenders, church workers, and community leaders – all of whom are considered “enemies” by this vindictive and murderous regime,” Palabay explained.

“The human rights situation in this country has rapidly deteriorated under the leadership of a monster whose bloodlust led to the killing of thousands.  We take caution at every threat that this government, along with its extensive wing of equally bloodthirsty minions, hurls at its citizens. We have seen how this regime is capable of acting on its threats. Regardless, just as we had with other avowed fascists, we will overcome,” Palabay concluded. 

Reference: Cristina Palabay, Secretary General, +639173162831 

Karapatan Public Information Desk, 0918-9790580