Posted on August 15, 2018


The creation of a small but highly active organization of Roman Catholic priests and nuns that has worked to help the New People’s Army, the military arm of the Philippine Communist Party, has caused a serious rift in the church here.

There are no nationwide figures on how many priests and nuns are sympathetic to the Communists or belong to an outlawed group called Christians for National Liberation, which is part of the Communists’ united front organization, the National Democratic Front.

But in this nation that is 85 percent Roman Catholic, church leaders agree that a number of pro-Communist clergy have infiltrated local Catholic organizations and set up what amounts to a secret church within the church.

”I wouldn’t mind so much if they just came out openly,” said Bishop Francisco Claver, who for many years worked in Mindanao, the large island in the southern Philippines that has been a center of guerrilla activity. ”But they are so secret about it, forming their own church within the church, and then trying to manipulate us.”

Church Programs Infiltrated

Bishop Claver, who himself was accused of being a leftist by the Government of former President Ferdinand E. Marcos because of his activities on behalf of poor farmers, charged that some Communist priests and nuns in his diocese had used church-run programs like public health care to give propaganda lectures on behalf of the guerrillas. ”They would be 10 percent about health and 90 percent about colonialism,” the Bishop said.

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Two years ago Bishop Claver was forced to dissociate himself from the Mindanao-Sulu Pastoral Conference, a large church group he headed that worked with the poor, because he believed ”it had been too thoroughly infiltrated” by pro-Communist clergy.

”We couldn’t fire them all, because it is hard to prove someone is a Communist, and we were afraid if we did the military would seize them, so we just removed church sanction from the group,” he recalled. ”We left them the offices and office equipment.”

The situation was complicated because one of the other bishops in the group, from the city of Iligan, had a brother who was the local guerrilla commander, Bishop Claver said. Activism Under Marcos Rule

The problem has been particularly troublesome for the church because as the Marcos Government became more corrupt and oppressive and the living standard of many Filipinos fell, large numbers of priests, nuns and senior church leaders, including Jaime Cardinal Sin, the Archbishop of Manila, became more active in the opposition.

”Undoubtedly there is a substantial group, especially among the sisters, who developed links to the left or the Communists because they saw no other alternative to Marcos,” said the Rev. John J. Carroll, director of the Institute on the Church and Social Forces at Ateneo de Manila University.

”They are idealists, and feel this is the best way to serve the people, but they are also naive and simplistic,” said Father Carroll.

”They are told armed struggle is the only way out, then they get pulled into seminars, and pretty soon you see a whole new subculture emerging among them,” he said. ”They begin to see God as a historical process, Christ as a liberator and faith becomes commitment to the Communist Party. ‘They Are Being Used’

”Often they are the most lively, attractive people in their congregations, and they become very dedicated to their new cause without realizing they are being used,” Father Carroll said.

With Mr. Marcos replaced by President Corazon C. Aquino, a moderate with close ties to the church, Father Carroll is optimistic that some of the more radical clergy will sever their loyalty to the Communists.

As one indication of this, officers in the new Defense Ministry said Friday that they had received feelers from the Rev. Conrado Balweg, a Catholic priest who has led a guerrilla group in the mountains of Luzon. The sources said Father Balweg, a member of the Igorot ethnic minority, had indicated he was prepared to surrender now that Mr. Marcos had been ousted.

Such reports of impending surrender by New People’s Army officers, however, were commonplace during the Marcos years and often proved false, breeding skepticism among Filipinos. The Revolutionaries’ View

On the other side, a priest on Negros who admits he is a member of the Christians for National Liberation still feels a need to ”transform our liturgy into a liturgy of liberation.”

”The condition of poverty and oppression among the people here is an undisputed fact,” he said, looking out of his parish church at a row of squatters’ huts. The small huts, with walls of palm mats and thatched roofs, have been built on land owned by a wealthy sugar cane planter. Most of their occupants are unemployed and live on rice donated by the church.

”We have had to develop a new justification for armed struggle,” said the priest, who has a library shelf crowded with books on Marxism which, he said, he began to read when he was still a seminary student in Manila.

”It used to be the church said killing could only be justified in self-defense,” the priest said. ”But in our case, where there is what we call structural injustice, we believe you don’t have to wait for the other person to kill you first before you kill them.”

Bishop Claver, who himself is a member of the Igorot minority, strongly disagrees. ”The N.P.A. has this romantic image – people like to say the initials stand for ‘Nice People Around’ or ‘New Pastoral Approach.’ But the fact is, they kill people.” In one of his parishes on Mindanao, with a population of 10,000 people, there were 60 killings last year. ”I was very surprised when the priest came to tell me about it, because he said there were more done by the left than by the army, and he was sympathetic to the N.P.A.”

The violence revolted him, the Bishop said, adding that the military had arrested three of his priests in recent years and executed one, as well as closing his newspaper and a radio station.

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