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MANILA, Philippines – The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) public affairs commission confirmed on Monday, October 23, that it has withdrawn its membership from the Philippine government’s controversial anti-insurgency task force.
Father Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the CBCP Commission on Public Affairs, said their panel has withdrawn from the executive committee (ExeCom) of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). The withdrawal was first reported by PhilStar.com, citing an anonymous source, on Thursday, October 19.
“Our engagement remains, but we are no longer in the ExeCom,” Secillano said in an interview with Teleradyo Serbisyo on Monday morning. “It’s better that we preserve our independence, if we are actually going to engage with them.”
Secillano emphasized the importance of the CBCP giving the NTF-ELCAC an outsider view, an independent assessment of its activities. He said this will allow the CBCP to “tell them the issues on the ground” and “be somehow honest with them” even outside a formal setting.
The issue of “strength in numbers” was also a factor in the CBCP’s decision, Secillano said. “If we will be the lone voice in the body, making all these claims, making all these suggestions, our inputs might get diluted,” he explained.
“Even without that membership, we continue to have engagements with them, because we are able to relay to them our concerns, when for example there are churchpeople who are allegedly red-tagged. We are grateful because they take notice of it, and they do something about it,” added Secillano.
The CBCP drew flak after news broke on August 31 that it joined the NTF-ELCAC, a government body condemned by many bishops and priests for red-tagging activists, including church workers.
The CBCP is led by Kalookan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, 64, one of the most prominent critics of human rights abuses by the military and the police. This body of 88 active Catholic bishops, which helped topple the Marcos dictatorship in 1986, is seen as one of the few remaining institutions that have not been coopted by government under Rodrigo Duterte and later Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
On September 1, David said joining the task force was a decision only by the CBCP Commission on Public Affairs, one of the 31 bodies within the bishops’ conference. “It’s not exactly CBCP as a conference but the Commission of Public Affairs that is there as a private sector representative,” the bishop said.
David told Rappler the commission did not seek clearance from the CBCP leadership. – Rappler.com