‘Temporary liberty is not enough’: Philippines bishop released from jail

The head of the Philippines Independent Church has said that ‘temporary liberty is not enough’ following the release on bail of Bishop Carlo Morales, a peace advocate who was falsely imprisoned last year…

There are celebrations in the Philippines following the release from prison after 309 days of Bishop Carlo Morales, of the Philippine Independent Church (PIC).

Bishop Carlo (centre in purple shirt) with colleagues.

However, the release is temporary, pending further investigation, prompting the Most Revd Rhee M Timbang, Obispo Maximo of PIC, to call for Bishop Carlo’s full acquittal, as well as calling on the Philippines government to free all political prisoners and end the persecution of peace advocates.

Bishop Carlo was arrested on 11 May 2017 on the false charge of ‘illegal possession of firearms and ammunitions’.

The bishop, a peace advocate from Ozamiz, was jailed after refusing to leave the side of a human rights activist who had been wrongfully arrested by the police.

The arrests can be seen as part of a violent campaign by the authorities to destabilise the efforts of activists to win better conditions for marginalised communities.

The Revd Richard Bartlett, USPG Director for Mission Engagement, who visited Bishop Carlo in jail in November, said: ‘This is indeed good news, a marker on the road to justice for Bishop Carlo in this dreadful scenario of unjust imprisonment.

‘We at USPG rejoice with him, and with his wife Losaria and their two daughters, as they celebrate the reunification of their family.

‘We continue to pray for justice for Bishop Carlo and Rommel Salinas, the peace activist imprisoned with him, and for all political prisoners in the Philippines.’

In a phone call to colleagues shortly after his release, Bishop Carlo said he was well and ready to resume work, which began with him presiding over a Thanksgiving Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral Church, Ozamiz City.

USPG continues to support Bishop Carlos and the human rights advocacy of the churches in the Philippines.

Here is the full statement by the Most Revd Rhee M Timbang, Obispo Maximo of the Philippine Independent Church (16 March 2018), entitled ‘Temporary liberty is not enough’:

On 15 March 2018, Bishop Carlo Morales had gained a temporary liberty after Judge Edmundo Pintac of Ozamiz City Court ordered the granting of bail of an amount of Php 200,000 because ‘the prosecution’s evidence presented at the bail hearing is not strong enough to convict accused Bishop Carlo Morales of the charge against him’.

On 11 May 2017, Bishop Carlo Morales, his wife, his driver and National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) Peace Consultant Rommel Salinas were illegally arrested in Ozamiz City and accused of illegal possession of explosive.

His wife and his driver were released the following day but Bishop Morales and Rommel Salinas are being detained at BJMP Ozamiz City Jail.

Bishop Morales through his lawyers filed a motion to fix bail. There were four hearings held and after ten months the motion was granted on 14 March 2018. Bishop Morales is now temporarily free but Rommel Salinas remains in jail.

The freedom of Bishop Morales was appreciated by the leadership of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente [Philippine Independent Church] but the ordeal of Bishop Morales must be continually condemned.

The act of prosecuting a servant of God based on trumped-up charges is a big injustice made to a person and to the church that expressed solidarity in the struggle of the people and gave support to the peace talks between the Government and the NDFP.

The incarceration of Bishop Carlo Morales, the NDFP Peace Consultant and all political prisoners is unjust and a violation of human rights.

The Duterte regime is liable of the violation of human rights and he must be judged according to law of God.

As president, Rodrigo Duterte could not lead the people in this country in righteousness, impartiality and integrity. He has lost his moral authority to administer this nation.

While Bishop Morales is temporarily free, we cannot close our eyes to the continuing incarcerations of arrested social activists, intensified military operations in the countryside that displace thousands of national minorities, Bangsamoro, peasants, women and fisherfolk, and the persecution of activists tagged as terrorists.

We steadfastly call on our people to stand firm in the struggle for justice and lasting peace. We further call on our faithful to be in solidarity with the struggling masses and invoke the Holy Spirit to guide us in this struggle.

We ask the Duterte government, if it still desires to be relevant, to pursue governance that leads to peace and justice.

We continue to call for the government of the Philippines and the NDFP Peace Panel to resume peace talks and forge comprehensive agreements on socio-economic reforms and on political and constitutional reforms towards the end of armed conflict in the land and the reign of just and lasting peace in our nation.

We thank the bishops, clergy and people of PIC, together with the ecumenical and overseas partners, for their continuing, resolute and unwavering support to the campaign to free Bishop Carlo Morales and all political prisoners.

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