A Bishop of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente – the Philippine Independent Church (IFI) – who has been held in custody since his arrest in May 2017, has been released. Church leaders in the Philippines, throughout Asia, and the wider world condemned the arrest of Bishop Carlo Morales, describing it as an “illegal act.” The IFI is in full communion with the Episcopal Church in the Philippines – the Anglican province in the country. Bishop Carlos had been arrested with his wife, driver and a companion at a checkpoint in the village of Gango in Ozamis City in the Philippines. He was released last month after a judge ruled that “the prosecution’s evidence presented at the bail hearing is not strong enough to convict accused Bishop Carlo Morales of the charge against him.” Despite this, he has been released only on bail; and still faces potential charges.
He had been arrested on the charge of charge of “illegal possession of firearms and ammunitions” for refusing to leave the side of a human rights activist who had been wrongfully arrested by the police, the mission agency USPG said. The police also arrested the bishop’s wife and drive; but they were released the following day. The activist, Rommel Salinas remains in custody at the BJMP Ozamiz City Jail.
The presiding bishop of the IFI, Rhee M Timbang, explained Bishop Morales’ release, saying: “Bishop Morales through his lawyers filed a motion to fix bail. There were four hearings held and after 10 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 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 National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).”
The Presiding Bishop described the incarceration of Bishop Carlo and other political prisoners as “unjust and a violation of human rights.” And he said that the regime of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was “liable of the violation of human rights and he must be judged according to law of God.”
He said: “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.”
He called for the resumption of peace talks between the Philippines government and the NDFP Peace Panel to “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.”
And he thanked people within the IFI together with ecumenical and overseas partners “for their continuing, resolute and unwavering support to the campaign to free Bishop Carlo Morales and all political prisoners.”
The director for Mission Engagement with USPG, the Revd Richard Bartlett, visited Bishop Carlo in jail in November. On hearing the news of his release, he 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.