Church Groups Decry Abduction of Another UCCP Pastor
Victim Tortured, Interrogated to Confirm Military Accusations vs Detained UCCP Pastor Berlin Guerrero Even as the family and co-workers of UCCP Pastor Berlin Guerrero continue to cry out for freedom and justice for Pastor Berlin, another UCCP worker, Pastor Rodel Canja suffered torture in the hands of military agents. For four days, armed men alternately interrogated him and pressed him to confirm that Pastor Berlin was a member of the “P,” apparently referring to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) which has been the allegation of those who abducted and detained Pastor Berlin on a trumped-up murder charge.
Victim Tortured, Interrogated to Confirm Military Accusations vs Detained UCCP Pastor Berlin Guerrero
Even as the family and co-workers of UCCP Pastor Berlin Guerrero continue to cry out for freedom and justice for Pastor Berlin, another UCCP worker, Pastor Rodel Canja suffered torture in the hands of military agents. For four days, armed men alternately interrogated him and pressed him to confirm that Pastor Berlin was a member of the “P,” apparently referring to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) which has been the allegation of those who abducted and detained Pastor Berlin on a trumped-up murder charge.
In a press conference at the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) today, church leaders expressed support to Pastor Rodel and hailed his courage to speak out on his ordeal despite threats of his abductors.
Mylene Guerrero, wife of Pastor Berlin lamented, “Nalulungkot kami na nadagdagan na naman ang mga biktima. Ramdam na ramdam namin ang paghihirap ngayon ni Pastor Rodel at kanyang pamilya dahil sa aming naranasan noong dukutin si Pastor Berlin isang taon na ang nakaraan.”
In a statement from the Cavite Provincial Jail, Pastor Berlin noted:
The recent abduction, torture and four-day involuntary detention of my co-worker UCCP Pastor Rodel Canja, which I vehemently denounce, only proves how stone-hearted the Arroyo Government remains. It has never abandoned its unjust annihilative war against its own people. Its rhetoric of peace and peace talks serve only to mask its beastly character.
Summary of Incident
On May 6, 2008, Pastor Rodel was about to attend the Annual Conference of the UCCP Northeast Southern Tagalog Conference. At past 9:00 am, while looking for a cellphone load station across the UCCP church in Tanay, Rizal, a van stopped in front of him. One man casually invited him to ride in the van and warned him not to ask any questions. Inside the van, another man pointed a gun at him while the man who invited him to ride in the van placed a handkerchief in his nose that left him unconscious.
When Pastor Rodel regained consciousness, he found himself in a room. His ordeal began. For four days, two to four men alternately interrogated him about Pastor Berlin and two other UCCP ministers. While clicking their guns, the men repeatedly asked Pastor Rodel to confirm that Pastor Berlin was a member of the “P.”
On the third day, May 8, one of his abductors grabbed his head and pointed the gun at his mouth while demanding him to admit that Pastor Berlin was a member of the “P.” At one point, he heard a gunshot and thought that he was finished. His abductors chorused in laughter while his mind went blank.
Pastor Rodel’s abductors also got his cellphone and wallet including all his money and pictures of his two siblings.
On the fourth day, May 9, Pastor Rodel’s abductors warned him that “many things can happen to his siblings” if he will tell his family and others about what they did to him. Then they blindfolded him as they set out for another psychological torture on the road. While inside the van, his abductors talked about plans to kill him instead of dropping him off alive somewhere. It was already dark when they finally released him. Before leaving, his abductors again told him to remember their warnings.
In those four days, Pastor Rodel feared that he would be shot dead. Though he was not severely tortured physically, he has to battle with deep psychological trauma and continuing fear for his life and the safety of his parents and siblings. The images of the men playing with their guns on him have been etched in his mind.
Pastor Rodel Canja was the former roommate and co-worker of Pastor Berlin. Even before the abduction of Pastor Berlin in May 2007, Pastor Rodel has also been a victim of harassment and interrogation about Pastor Berlin. It appears that the latest attack and continuing threats against him is a hint of devious schemes of military agents to continue detaining Pastor Berlin on patently false charges.
WHY ARE OUR PASTORS AND CHURCH WORKERS TARGETED?
The recent abduction of Pastor Rodel and the abduction of Pastor Berlin last year fall into the pattern of state-sponsored persecution against critics of government corruption and human rights violations.
Consistent with the document of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) identifying various groups, including media groups and church institutions as ‘enemies of the state,’ Pastor Berlin was abducted one-year ago on May 27, 2007. He was tortured and interrogated as an alleged member of the Communist Party of the Philippines. He was then turned over to the PNP Camp Pantaleon, Imus Cavite where a warrant for a trumped-up murder charge was presented.
Pastor Rodel was abducted in the interest of the military to continue their devious schemes to press charges against Pastor Berlin and other church workers whom they perceive to be “enemies of the state.”
With the hundreds of cases of abductions and extra-judicial killings in the country, the AFP mastered the scheme of identifying legitimate people’s organizations as ‘front’ of the CPP. The AFP insists on linking activist citizens to the CPP and its armed group to justify attacks on their lives and liberty.
OTHER CHURCH WORKERS HARASSED, ARRESTED, KILLED
From 2001 to present, 27 church people including Bishop Alberto Ramento of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) and 20 UCCP pastors and lay workers have been victims of extra-judicial killings. To date, none of the assailants have been brought to justice.
In March 2007, after a stinging criticism from the US Senate Committee that looked into the human rights record of the Arroyo administration, the government claimed that it is doing its best to address the issue. As expected, representatives of the Arroyo government boasted again at United Nations Universal Periodic Review last April on the ‘best efforts’ of the government to address the human rights crisis.
But in fact, the attacks on liberty, life and dignity of the Filipino people continue.
Pastor Berlin’s abduction and illegal detention since May 2007 is one of the glaring cases of continuing violence and injustice committed against human rights defenders and social activists. From May 2007 to May 2008, we have documented the following cases of human rights offenses against church workers which point to a continuing state policy of political persecution. The cases include:
- the killing of UCCP Pastor Filomeno Catambis, January 23, 2008 in Leyte
- the abduction and torture of UCCP youth and Bayan Muna member Ruel Muñasque, November 2007 in Pagadian
- surveillance and harassment on UCCP Pastor Joel Tendero, Pastor Edwin Egar and several other pastors
- harassment against members of 5 local churches of the UCCP in Palawan
- illegal arrest and detention on a trumped-up charge against United Methodist Pastor Melchor Abesamis, March-April 2008 in Mindoro
- threatened arrest against United Methodist Pastor Gregorio, Mindoro
- attempted killing of IFI priest Fr. Renato Respicio
- continuing surveillance and harassment against Fr. Terry Revollido and other activist IFI priests
We denounce the declarations of Mrs Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and new AFP Chief Alexander Yano to intensify the government’s war against ‘threat groups’ which translates to more brutal extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, unjustified arrests and detention against perceived critics of the corrupt government.
We demand the Arroyo government to rescind its official policy and operational plans that give rise to these human rights violations.
We continue to cry out for freedom and justice for Pastor Berlin and all victims of human rights violations.
Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR)
Reference: Ms Amie Dural, Secretary General