Gomez’s arrest is a “serious attack to the Church, grave insult to the Christian faith and sacrilegious assault against our God.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – The wife and colleagues of a Protestant pastor arrested for murder decried the charges as false and politically-motivated.
On June 6, police arrested United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) Pastor Benjie Gomez just after his worship services in Zamboanga del Norte. He was served a warrant of arrest for a murder that happened on Oct. 15, 2012, or nine years ago.
According to his wife, Jade, they were just checking the offering together with other members of the church when the police came, some in uniform and some were in civilian clothes.
“It was like a flashback for me when he was arrested in 2014,” Jade said during a video conference with the United Church of Christ in the Philippines Northwestern Mindanao Jurisdiction on June 9.
Gomez was first arrested on July 27, 2014 after 1Lt. Arlene Quijano Palafox of the Philippine Army 10th Infantry Battalion filed murder and frustrated murder him.He was implicated in the killing of Corporal Marwin D. Ybanez during an encounter between the Philippine Army and the New People’s Army on December 5, 2012. The case was eventually dismissed in May 2015 for lack of evidence.
At that time, Gomez was a local lay preacher of the UCCP in La Libertad, Zamboanga del Norte.
Aside from the one which was already dismissed, and the present charges against him, Gomez is also facing another murder charge for an incident that took place on Jan. 19, 2014.
His lawyer Claver Pajarin, however, said that they had answered all the allegations in court when Gomez was first arrested. He also added that they also filed a motion for re-investigation as well as motion to dismiss the case and submitted counter affidavits on these two pending cases in the Office of the Prosecutor in Zamboanga City.
Years passed and there was no movement on the two remaining cases against Gomez, Pajarin said.
Members of the church expressed strong condemnation over the second arrest of Gomez.
In a statement, Iglesia Filipina Independiente Supreme Bishop Rhee M. Timbang said that Gomez’s arrest is a “serious attack to the Church, grave insult to the Christian faith and sacrilegious assault against our God.”
Rev. Reinhard Nuena, Jurisdictional Area Ministries Coordinator of the UCCP Northwestern Mindanao Jurisdiction, said Gomez was local church chairperson of the UCCP La Libertad, Zamboanga del Norte from 2009 to 2011. Gomez then became a lay preacher of the said church, he added.
“As a community development worker, he closely worked with workers, peasants and Lumad in the area of Zamboanga del Norte. Thus, he is making life of what Christ Jesus is calling Christians to do, which is, to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth where love, justice, and peace prevail,” Nuena told Bulatlat through a text message.
Jade narrated that on June 7, when she was at the Hall of Justice when she chanced upon some soldiers who were looking for the case of Gomez. The soldiers belonging to the 44th Infantry Battalion told her that her husband should surrender as “the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict is rewarding P20,000 ($419) to a surrenderee.”
“They are insisting that my husband is an NPA, but he is not,” she told Bulatlat.
Meanwhile, human rights group Karapatan also called for the immediate release of another UCCP minister who was slapped with trumped-up charges.
Just last April, a warrant of arrest was also issued against UCCP Southeast Mindanao Jurisdiction Area Bishop Hamuel Tequis and Rev. Daniel Palicte along with other staff of the UCCP-Haran for child abuse cases.
In May, Pastor Dan Balucio of the UCCP and spokesperson of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-Bicol was also arrested.
“The continuing persecution and judicial harassment against UCCP show the contempt of the current administration against those who work for and minister to the rights and welfare of indigenous peoples and other disadvantaged groups,” Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general said in a statement.
“The immediate release of Pastor Benjie and Pastor Dan and the dropping of the trumped-up charges against them, Bishop Tequis and Rev. Daniel is imperative as the unjust acts against them are driven by lies and violations of their right to due process,” Palabay said.