“The UCCP, along with other churches, have already sacrificed many of its fine sons and daughters, those who champion the rights of the disadvantaged. Despite the attacks, the UCCP and other churches and church organizations have never wavered in accompanying the poor and the oppressed.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – “Stop persecuting our prophets!”
This is the call of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) after the arrest Pastor Nathaniel “Dodo” Vallente and Carmilo Tabada, Farmers Development Center’s (FARDEC) program coordinator for Bohol last week.
In a virtual press conference on June 30, the UCCP decried what they describe as an attack on the church and its prophets.
“This is a fascist scheme of shaming people and our task as prophets of the church,” said Rev. Ray Gelloagan of the Promotion of Church Peoples’ Response (PCPR) in Cebu City.
Under the Duterte administration, ten UCCP members have been arrested and slapped with trumped up charges. This includes five pastors – Vallente, Pastor Jimmy Teves, Pastor Benjie Gomez, Pastor Dan Balucio, and Pastor Dan San Andres. The case of the latter was dismissed by the court.
Even UCCP Southeast Mindanao Jurisdiction Area Bishop Hamuel Tequis and Rev. Daniel Palicte along with three other staff are also slapped with criminal charges for housing displaced Lumads in Mindanao.
“People are oppressed and what our church can extend to them, as what (is) preached in the gospel of Luke 4: 18-20, as much as possible, is our hand. Making them feel that the Good News of Jesus Christ is answering their clamor, that God is not closing his eyes amid their situation and that we are with them through the church ministry as prophet and witness,” Gelloagan added.
‘Servant-prophet to the people’
West Visayas Jurisdiction-Area Bishop Feliciana P. Tenchavez also condemned the arrest of Vallente whom she described as an active and humble church worker of the UCCP.
“Pastor Dodo, as he is commonly known by his fellow church workers, faithfully uphold and live in praxis the mandate of Jesus Christ to serve the least and the marginalized, ensuring that the church will be a loving, caring, and sharing faith community learning and living out Jesus’s example as a servant-prophet to the people,” said Tenchavez.
Vallente is an advocate of peasants’ rights. According to the Farmers Development Center, he is an active council member of the Nagkahiusang Mag-uuma sa San Jose (NAMASAJO), one of its peasant partners in Bohol.
Tenchavez said that as members of the church they have a mission called the prophetic ministry, which is focused on their collective response to societal issues and concerns.
“We are not blind. We are all aware of what is happening in our country and world, as well,” she said.
For her, the attacks on church workers is an impediment to its duties that affects their work because even lay leaders of local churches are being slapped with trumped-up charges.
“This is alarming for us in this administration of Duterte. We call on all members of the UCCP to act on this so that the mission of Christ will not be halted,” she said.
Pastor Edwin Golosino, conference minister of the UCCP in Bohol, said that Vallente continues to spread the word of Christ even inside the prison.
“The prisoners ask why he was arrested and he would just respond that he cannot say anything about it, that he is just doing his duty as a prophet,” Golosino said.
Golosino was able to visit Vallente before he was transferred to Panglao Police Station. The station is a hundred kilometers away from his family according to Humabol-Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas in Bohol.
Golosino said that while his arrest has a huge impact to their community, this is not a reason for them to stop serving. “Patuloy lang tayong pagsilbihan ang mga nangangailangan dahil yan ang ugat ng ugat ng ating pagsagot sa tawag ng Panginoon. I thank Pastor Dodo who stood firm in his commitment to serve the church and the people in need,” he said.
Meanwhile, the National Council of Churches in the Philippines also expressed their condemnation over what they call as illegal arrest and harassment against Vallente.
Bishop Reuel Norman Marigza, NCCP general secretary lamented, “We ask the government, what is so fearful with church workers when they begin to exercise our prophetic ministries?”
He said that the arrests of UCCP pastors are reminiscent of the administration of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo when church people, many of them from UCCP, were arrested or killed for being vocal in their ministries for the poor and the marginalized.
“Are these arrests of UCCP church workers and the freezing of the account of Haran indicative that the state is targeting UCCP and its ministry?” Marigza asked.
“The UCCP, along with other churches, have already sacrificed many of its fine sons and daughters, those who champion the rights of the disadvantaged. Despite the attacks, the UCCP and other churches and church organizations have never wavered in accompanying the poor and the oppressed,” Marigza added.