Surveillance of UCCP Pastor in Laguna, Philippines

Two unidentified men on a motorcycle went to the house of UCCP member Deborah P. Olarte, in Brgy. Masikap, Mabitac, Laguna on August 20, 2013 between 10:00  to 11:00 a.m. Olarte’s residence was  three houses away from the UCCP chapel where Pastor June Ver F. Mangao is assigned. Olarte is a younger sister of UCCP Bishop Eliezer M. Pascua.

The men did not introduce themselves but one of them said that he is a resident of Barangay Paagahan.
One of the men told Olarte they knew  she has the keys to the chapel. Olarte asked the men what they wanted from the chapel. One of the men said he planned to have a baptism in the chapel. He also asked for the cost of the service. The men asked for the pastor’s name and if he is available. Olarte answered “Pastor June Ver” and that he is not in the chapel. One of the men asked if the pastor will be available on Saturday. Olarte answered she did not know.

The two men then proceeded to the residence of Arsenia Agira in Brgy. Paagahan. Agira is also a UCCP member and UCCP-Mabitac Council chairperson. One of the men asked if Agira is a “born-again” christian. Agira answered that she is a UCCP member.

The other man introduced himself as a member of the CAFGU (Civilian Auxiliary Force Geographical Unit).  He added  his wife is a UCCP member in Infanta, Quezon and would like to attend church service in Mabitac. Agira explained there are other UCCP churches in various municipalities and villages in Quezon and Laguna. She also advised them to attend church closest to where they live.

The CAFGU member asked questions about the pastor in Mabitac such as his name, the province he came from and, where he and his family live. Agira said all she knew was that the pastor is from Mindanao.

Later, the two men in motorcycle visisted the house of Susana Palentinos, a deacon of the UCCP in Mabitac. Palentinos owns apartment units for rent. The two men claimed they were policemen and were looking for an apartment to rent.  The men said a local police man directed them to her. The men asked whether Palentinos is also a UCCP member and if she attends church service at the UCCP in Mabitac. The men also asked her if she knew the pastor incharge of the church. The men gave a description of the said pastor. Palentinos said she did not know the pastor. One of the men even asked if she has a picture of the pastor that made Palentinos suspicious.

On the same day, Pastor June Ver was in a gathering at the UCCP in Luisiana, Laguna. At past 6:00 in the evening, an unregistered number called him on his cellphone. Pastor June Ver answered the phone and asked who the caller was. The male voice on the other line replied, “Why? Who are you?” Pastor June Ver told the caller, “Kayo po ang tumawag kaya gusto kong malaman ang pangalan nyo!” (“Since you called up my number, I want to know your name.”. The male voice replied, “That is not important. Aren’t you Pastor Mangao?”

Becoming apprehensive, Pastor June Ver ended the call.

On August 22, Susana Palentinos and her husband visited Pastor June Ver and informed the pastor of the two unidentified men who asked for him. She also expressed fear for the safety of the pastor and advised him not to go out of the chapel. In the evening, Pastor June Ver visited Olarte to inquire if she encountered a similar incident as Palentinos. The pastor took note of Olarte’s accounts of the men’s visit.

On the same night, Pastor June Ver called Rev. Victor Paller, Minister for Northeast Southern Tagalog Conference of the UCCP to inform of what happened. That night, members of the UCCP did not leave the pastor to ensure his safety. Early morning of the following day, August 23, Rev. Paller accompanied Pastor June Ver to a safer location.

On the evening of August 23, Olarte’s husband, Fedi, noticed a blue motorcycle stopped in front of the chapel. Onboard the motorcycle were two men whose faces were covered with the helmets they wore. The motorcycle, a bluish Kawasaki Barako had a plate number with the sign “for registration”. The motorcycle did not stay long. Fedi remembered  it was the same motorcycle used by the men who were looking for Pastor June Ver on August 20.

On August 25, the UCCP Mabitac church members noticed an unidentified male at the chapel. At first, the man sat on the front row pew but later moved to the back row as church goers were coming in. The man was seen using his cellphone, and left when the church service started.

On August 29, UCCP pastors, lead by Bishop Arturo Asi and Conference Minister Rev. Victor Paller, conducted a dialog with Mabitac Mayor Ronald Sana. The UCCP delegation narrated the incidents involving Pastor June Ver and the unidentified men who alternately claimed to be members of the Police or CAFGU.

Mayor Sana summoned Mabitac police Chief Supt. Sonieza. Sonieza confirmed that the two men were intelligence agents of the 1st Infantry Battalion, under the command of Col. Jose Augusto Villareal. Another police named Jackie Bartolome added that these intelligence agents were verifying the pastor’s "connections with  leftist groups.” The Mayor and police refused to give the names of the two military intelligence agents.

Meanwhile, a delegation of pastors and interns from the UCCP National Office left the compound of the South Luzon Jurisdiction (UCCP-SLJ) to return to Quezon City. One of the delegates reported via text messages that two men riding-in-tandem on a bluish Kawasaki were following them until they reached Antipolo.

The pastors believed that the men followed the vehicle of the UCCP National office, thinking that Pastor June Ver is also onboard.  That time, Pastor June Ver, who did not participate in the dialog with the Mayor, was with other UCCP members in a secured place.

Several times in 2011, unidentified persons believed to be military intelligence agents, were also reported to be looking for Pastor June Ver.

Other related cases

The UCCP in Mabitac was the former assignment of Pastor Rodel Canja who was also subjected to military harassment in 2010. Pastor Rodel was forced to admit by soldiers that Pastor Berlin Guerrero had connections with the NPA. In May 2008, Pastor Rodel was abducted by soldiers in Pililla, Rizal while on his way to an annual gathering of UCCP Northeast Southern Tagalog Conference.

Pastor Berlin Guerrero was abducted by armed men on May 2007 in Biñan, Laguna after he attended a UCCP church service with his wife and children. He was tortured to admit  he was a high-ranking official of the Communist Party of the Philippines in Southern Tagalog. He was detained in Cavite and charged with inciting to sedition and murder. The cases were dismissed on September 2008.

Similarly, the Very Rev. Eleuterio J. Revollido of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) and the community of Aglipay Central Theological Seminary (ACTS) in Urdaneta City, Pangasinan were harassed through surveillance.

Since 2001, Rev. Revollido, former chairperson of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) and the Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR), has been a target by the military for supporting people’s issues in the Central Luzon Region, specially Pangasinan; and, his active opposition against the spate of killings and other human rights violations in the region.

From January to June 2013, Rev. Revollido and other seminarians of ACTS noted several incidents of surveillance and attempts to break-into the seminary compound.

On June 15, an unidentified man was seen at the seminary gate, pulling out a rifle from a sack. The man sped off on a motorchycle, leaving the sack behind when he saw a seminarian approached the gate.