What greater duty does any person of integrity have than to speak the truth about that which is morally wrong, unjust and despicable? To speak one’s mind, to challenge injustice, abuse, exploitation, torture and the unlawful taking of life is a serious obligation. It is a constitutional right to do so supposedly without fear of retaliation and persecution. There is always the threat, fear, and acts of retaliation against those brave and courageous people who speak the truth to power. History is full of heroes who were arrested, tried in a court, condemned, and put to death for speaking the truth, challenging injustice and oppression, taking a stand against what is clearly wrong and immoral.
When we look upon a crucifix we see there an innocent man that believed and practiced the great values of equality, rights of all, justice, truth, freedom and dignity of women and children. We see there a person who stood his ground. He taught the truth, healed the sick, championed the poor and challenged corrupt oppressive authorities. He was plotted against, betrayed, falsely accused of subversion, libel, and blasphemy. He was arrested, jailed, tortured and put on trial, wrongly condemned, and given the death penalty.
He is a person we can admire and imitate and those who are true believers in the values he taught and lived and died for will do likewise. They will proclaim the truth and oppose wrongdoing by individuals, groups, institutions or government. This is to follow that example and live out a courageous unselfish commitment.
Hundreds of people living out that commitment to justice have suffered. Many had their lives taken away or destroyed by the forces they challenged, questioned, and opposed while working for human rights and social justice. It is a privilege and honor to fight for justice and defend the right to life and dignity and to be persecuted for it.
So the four Philippine bishops, several priests, a religious brother and laypeople who are being charged with sedition and libel by the authorities can count themselves blessed and privileged to follow in the footsteps of Jesus of Nazareth.
The National Catholic Reporter wrote, “Philippine authorities have filed sedition, cyber-libel, libel, and obstruction of justice charges against 36 people including the country’s vice president and members of the opposition. Church leaders charged include Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, Bishop Honesto Ongtioco of Cubao, Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan, Divine Word Fr. Flaviano Villanueva, Jesuit Fr. Albert Alejo, Fr. Robert Reyes, and Lasallian Br. Armin Luistro, the former education secretary.”
They are all seen to have advocated the right to life and security and have spoken out in protest at the killing of many people by death squads and police raids on suspected drug users and dealers. However, they are being charged with sedition, more or less as Jesus was.
He said to his disciples, “If the world hates you, you must remember that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, then the world would love you as its own. But I choose you from this world and you do not belong to it, this is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you, ‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you too.” Gospel of John 15:18-20
The charges, however, are for libel, cyber libel, and sedition. This is how UCAN news reported it. “The charges stem from the release of a video that went viral on several social media platforms early this year that linked President Rodrigo Duterte and his family to the illegal drug trade. A certain Peter Joemel Advincula claimed on a video and in a media briefing early this year that Duterte’s son, Paolo Duterte, and presidential aide Bong Go were involved in drug syndicates.”
Weeks later, however, he was presented at a press conference by the Philippine National Police where he claimed Vice President Leni Robredo, opposition members, and several church people were behind a plot against the president. The complaint of obstruction of justice, which was filed, was supposedly based on information about a meeting between Advincula and the accused “despite them being clearly aware of Mr. Advincula being a fugitive from the law.”
As UCAN reported: “The complaint alleged that the crimes of inciting sedition, libel and obstruction of justice were committed inside Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila University “wherein they planned to spread false information” against the president’s family and administration officials. It said the accused aimed to “agitate the general population into staging mass protests with the possibility of bringing down the president.” Opposition senator Francis Pangilinan of the Liberal Party said the complaint smacked of “political harassment and persecution.” The other accused are mostly staff members of the Liberal Party, lawyer Theodore Te of the Free Legal Assistance Group, and officials of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines,” UCAN said.
All the accused have filed their affidavits in response to the charges denying anything whatsoever to do with that video and the allegations it proposed. Other commentators observe that it is an attempt to silence the criticism from the critical dissenting voices.
The presidential palace has distanced itself from the police action. “We have nothing to do with this case. Not at all,” said Salvador Panelo, Duterte’s spokesman. Others observe that the police charges brought before the prosecutor is ill-advised, as it will only hurt the president and his family by continually bringing before the public the baseless allegations by playing the outrageous videos over social media.
Whatever the outcome of the charges against the Church people, the outspoken bishops, priests and laity- one shocking thing is clear: there are so few bishops, priests and laypeople speaking out. Many are asking, who else is standing up for human rights, besides these people and brave media people and rights advocates? Surveys show that the president is receiving 80 percent approval rates in surveys.