Iglesia Filipina Independiente’s Statement on the Harassment of Bishop Antonio Ablon of Pagadian Diocese
The Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) is gravely concerned and alarmed following the break-in at the office and residence of Bishop Antonio N. Ablon, Bishop of Pagadian Diocese, at the Pro-Cathedral of Tubod on October 7, 2015. This was not the first time that Bishop Ablon became a target of ransacking and threats as alleged military operatives broke into the Bishop’s House at Pagadian Cathedral in 2013.
The CPU of the bishop’s computer was missing and in its place was found a small piece of paper with the phrases “Pagbantay2x ha!” and “Andam2x Ha!” which means “Be watchful! Be ready!” There were no other valuable items taken from the place. Days before the ransacking, some men came looking for Bishop Ablon but fled away when asked who they were.
We see this recent incident as a form of harassment aimed to intimidate Bishop Ablon, and to instill fear among the clergy and the faithful of Pagadian Diocese. We suspect that this is deliberately undertaken by state agents to deter our bishop from his involvement with people’s organizations taking a critical stance against the role of the military in the war in Mindanao. Bishop Ablon, who is presently the Chairperson of the Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights – KARAPATAN Western Mindanao, is an outspoken critic of the ongoing heavy militarization of peasants’ and indigenous peoples’ communities and the atrocities committed by the military through its counter-insurgency operation scheme Oplan Bayanihan.
Bishop Ablon is a staunched human rights, peace and environmental advocate. He was part of the Fact Finding Missions (FFM) to Zamboanga del Sur that investigated the large-scale mining operations in Midsalip and Bayog in 2013. In 2014, he actively led his diocese in the People’s Initiative against the Pork Barrel campaign against corruption and plunder in the government. He is also the Head Convenor of the Patriotiko Mindanao which opposes US military presence in the country and Mindanao region, and calling for the abolition of military agreements between the Philippines and the USA.
We become more fearful for Bishop Ablon’s safety after this housebreaking incident. In 2006, Bishop Alberto Ramento was found dead from stab wounds inside his room in San Sebastian Parish in Tarlac Diocese. Bishop Ramento was also actively engaged with people’s organizations, an outspoken critic of the government and an advocate of peasants’ struggle in Hacienda Luisita. Prior to his murder, there were two recorded incidents of housebreaking at his Church while he was away. The third time it happened, the bishop was sleeping in his room. We, then, lost Bishop Ramento.
Being the Secretary of the Supreme Council of Bishops (SCB), Bishop Ablon represents the voice of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente. He is known to us as a fiery prophet who cannot hold his peace when he sees that the people’s interest is compromised in one way or another. He is a bishop whose moral integrity is beyond reproach and whose deep compassion for the poor, deprived and oppressed is known far and wide.
We, therefore, strongly denounce this attack against Bishop Antonio Ablon. We can only ask ourselves why Bishop Ablon is now being put under harassment and intimidation. Is it a crime to work for the common good, promote the well-being of people created in the image of God, and protect the integrity of creation? It is clear to us that the recent incident is part of the elaborate effort of the state to silence opposition and people who are critical of the present dispensation.
We express support to Bishop Ablon as we pray for him that they may never waiver from his commitment to work for just peace and to serve our people. May his commitment to the message of the Gospel of Christ continue to be the source of his joy as he endures trial and persecution. Let his courage inspires us as he lifts high the torch of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente and confronts the darkness that seeks to engulf Mindanao and our entire nation.
Let us, finding encouragement from the words of the Scriptures; “Stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong.” (1 Corinthians 16.13), continue to pursue the historic mission of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente in serving the poor, deprived and oppressed.
† Most Revd Ephraim S. Fajutagana