Masses and prayers in Manila for priests and bishops accused of sedition

The Duterte administration is set to investigate scores of churchmen and opposition figures who, according to police conspired to overthrow the government. Four prelates, three priests and a religious stand out. For the Bishops' Conference, the charges are “beyond belief". In Dagupan City, 3,000 Catholics take to the streets to defend the local archbishop.

Manila (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Starting on 4 August, Catholic parishes in capital will offer Masses and prayers for the Churchmen accused of sedition by the government of President Rodrigo Duterte. This follows an order from Card Luis Antonio Gokim Tagle, Archbishop of Manila.

On 9 August, the Philippines Justice Department will open a preliminary investigation into scores of priests, bishops and opposition figures, who, according to the Philippines National police, have conspired to overthrow the government.

Those under scrutiny include bishop Socrates Buenaventura Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, Bishop Honesto Ongtioco of Cubao, Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan, and Auxiliary Bishop Teodoro Cruz Bacani Jr of Novaliches. To these must be added several priests: Fathers Flaviano Villanueva, Albert Alejo, Robert Reyes and Brother Armin Luistro.

Together with Vice President Leni Robredo, the Catholic clergymen are part of a group of 36 people accused of posting videos online claiming that Duterte and his family are involved in drug trafficking.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has come to the defence of the priests and bishops involved, stating that the accusations are "beyond belief".

“These are individuals whose love for country and dedication for the welfare of our people I cannot doubt,” said CBCP president Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao,

Yesterday, in Dagupan City about 3,000 Church workers, students and parishioners took to the streets in a "prayer march" in support of their pastor, Mgr Villegas (pictured).

As one of the most outspoken critics of extrajudicial killings in Duterte’s war on drugs, the archbishop said that it was never his intention to create political controversy.

“I always knew and understood that the priesthood is sacrifice but frankly I never imagined I would ever be accused of a crime like sedition and even to receive a subpoena to explain why I should not be charged with this crime,” the prelate said.

Still, “The good Lord knows I am innocent of the crime they charge me with,” Villegas added.