ON JULY 31, the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan, the Philippines, organized a Mass and a candle-lighting ceremony to express solidarity with the Church leaders who have been accused by the government of inciting sedition, cyber libel, libel, and obstruction of justice. Facing charges are the vice president of the Philippines and 35 others, including four bishops and several priests. The bishops charged include Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, the president of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN)-Philippines and a member of the organization’s Supervisory Board, as well as Bishop Teodoro Bacani, Bishop Honesto Ongtioco of Cubao, and Bishop Pablo David of Caloocan.
Held at the Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist in Dagupan, hundreds of people marched in prayer after Mass in support of Archbishop Villegas and the other three bishops charged. All have proclaimed their innocence.
The sedition charged filed July 18 by the Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection was Group (PNP-CIDG). This was in connection to the “Ang Totoong Narco List,” a video series produced by a man named Peter Joemel Advincula, more widely known as “Bikoy.” The videos link President Rodrigo Duterte, a few family members and numerous constituents to alleged involvement in illegal drug syndicates. “Bikoy” also confessed that he was a former member of a large syndicate himself. But on surrendering to police, the man retracted his statements and claimed that everything in the videos was scripted and orchestrated by the opposition Liberal Party in connivance with religious leaders. He cited Archbishop Socrates Villegas and Bishop Pablo David as among those behind a plot to oust the President.
Jonathan Luciano, the director of ACN-Philippines, said: “Around the world, cases of religious persecution continue to rise. Ambushes, murders, bombings—these are only a few of the violent means used by persecutors. A subtle yet even more dangerous method, however, is political persecution, now directed at innocent servants of the Catholic Church.”
“We continue to pray and hope that the government and all the officials involved will wield justice with truth and integrity. As the preliminary investigations against the accused commence on Aug. 9, we call for vigilance. Let us stand in solidarity and unity in our prayers. We pray for the safety of the bishops and all those wrongfully charged, that they might find strength in these trying times,” concluded Jonathan Luciano.
In a statement of support, the leadership of Aid to the Church-Philippines called the charges against the prelates “devoid of truth and justice, decency and respect for their human dignity…The bishops unjustly accused of sedition are exemplars of dedicated humble service to the well-being of the Filipinos as well as to so many humanitarian causes, proof of their undeniable love for the country.” The statement called on authorities to “wield justice with truth, the practice of law with integrity.”