Catholic, Protestant bishops express support for ‘red-tagged’ Negros prelate

March 6, 2023

A group of Catholic and Protestant bishops has expressed support for Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos in the province of Negros Occidental who was “red-tagged” in a television program in February.

“The Ecumenical Bishops Forum fervently supports Bishop Alminaza’s peace advocacy,” read a statement signed by Philippine Church leaders, adding that they also support the call for the resumption of peace talks between the government and communist rebels.

“The call towards peacemaking is an action that is most needed in our society, most especially when people’s safety and lives are at stake,” read the statement signed by Methodist bishop emeritus Ciriaco Q. Francisco, Bishops Emelyn Gasco-Dacuycuy and Dindo de la Cruz Ranojo of the Philippine Independent Church, Bishop Emeritus Joel E. Tendero of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, and Catholic Bishop Emeritus Deogracias S. Iniguez Jr..

“We vehemently denounce the bedeviling and outright irresponsible and malignment by SMNI television hosts … Jeffrey Celiz and Lorraine Badoy in their program ‘Laban Kasama ng Bayan’ on February 22, 2023,” read the bishops’ statement.

The television hosts tagged the bishops’ peace advocacy and appeal for the resumption of the peace talks between the government and the rebels “diabolical and demonic.”

“These utterances are not only malicious but are utterly despicable and malevolent,” read the prelates’ statement.

The Church leaders said “peace advocacy is integral in the ministry of the Church.”

“The call for the resumption of the [peace talks] is a Christian imperative with the end in view of resolving the roots of armed conflict and ushering just peace in our land,” read the bishops’ statement.

They said Bishop Alminaza’s call to peace-making and ministry “is something that the people of the land needed.”

The bishops said “no amount of red-tagging and badmouthing will deter peace advocates to pursue the path that shall make for peace.”

Television commentators Jeffrey Celiz and Lorraine Marie Badoy came out strongly against Bishop Alminaza who earlier issued a statement calling for the release of political prisoners, among them former priest Frank Fernandez.

In an earlier statement, the prelate said the release of political prisoners should be on top of the list of concerns of the government.

“Excuse me, Bishop Alminaza, Frank Fernandez had ordered the killing of many soldiers, policemen, and civilians when he headed the Negros island [communist rebels] with his wife, Cleofe Lagtapon,” said Celiz in Filipino over the SMNI News Channel.

He assailed the prelate over the latter’s claim that there are 200 political prisoners in Negros island alone.

“Where is your proof, bishop?” Celiz asked, adding that the bishops’ statement “is dangerous” because “while you are destroying the image of the military and the police you are praising (communist) killers.

“You copied it so well, bishop, this is the line of the Central Committee of the [Communist Party of the Philippines], the one you are yapping about,” Celiz said.

Bishop Alminaza, however, said that as the program “continues to malign and even invoke vicious threats against the work of church-people, bishops and pastors, dedicated activists, and ordinary persons — we should never be afraid, but rather be brave in speaking for the truth on behalf of the victims of injustice.”

“With this commitment to taking the side of the victims of injustice, I am comforted by the words from the scriptures ‘Lord, you establish peace for us,’” said the prelate in a statement.

He said the Church “cannot continue the fake model of peace that is one-sided — using pseudo development, militarized and highly politicized.”

“We want a peace that is integral and inclusive, benefitting the common good — that uplifts the poor and promotes authentic development,” said the bishop.

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