Philippine bishops seek forgiveness for silence on concerns about Duterte

Catholic Archbishop of Davao, and president of Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), Romulo Valles (C) with fellow bishops Pablo Virgilio David (L) of the archdiocese of Manila, and Antonio Ledesma of the archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro (R) at a press conference in Manila on Jan. 28, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 29 January 2019
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Philippine bishops seek forgiveness for silence on concerns about Duterte

  • The church is highly influential and an important source of moral guidance in the Philippines
  • It is known for speaking out in times of crisis and to rebuff doctrinal challenges

MANILA: In a rare move, the largest group of Catholic bishops in the Philippines has sought forgiveness for its lengthy silence over “disturbing issues,” such as the president’s bloody war on drugs and his attacks on the church and its doctrines.
The church is highly influential and an important source of moral guidance in the Philippines, where about 80 percent of a population of 105 million are Roman Catholic.
Although known for speaking out in times of crisis and to rebuff doctrinal challenges, the bishops’ silence over President Rodrigo Duterte’s lambasting of the church and God, as well as his bloody crackdown on drugs, have raised questions about their unity and commitment to values.
“Forgive us for the length of time that it took us to find our collective voice,” the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said in a pastoral letter, issued late on Monday.
“We too needed to be guided properly in prayer and discernment before we could guide you.”
In the letter headlined, “Conquering Evil with Good,” the bishops admitted silence over “disturbing issues about which you may have felt you urgently needed our spiritual and pastoral guidance.”
It was not immediately clear why the CBCP issued the letter, which followed a plenary assembly.
It opposed efforts led by Duterte’s allies to lower the age of criminal liability for children, and said it had seen a “culture of violence has gradually prevailed in our land,” referring also to a deadly church bombing on Sunday.
The popular Duterte’s tirades against the Catholic church are now famous. A self-confessed victim of sexual abuse by a priest, Duterte has called God “stupid,” characterised as “silly” the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and accused bishops of concealing their homosexuality.
The bishops said they understood the need to fight crime and drugs, but were concerned “when we started hearing of mostly poor people being brutally murdered on mere suspicion of being small-time drug users and peddlers,” while bigger players were left alone.
Police say they have killed more than 5,000 people, all in self-defense, while trying to arrest drug dealers and deny that any were executions, as alleged by human rights groups.
Some bishops have taken individual stands against the crackdown, denouncing it in sermons, issuing pro-life statements and supporting marches and calls for church bells to be rung in protest, but these remained sporadic efforts within the church.
Asked about the letter, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said Duterte was serving and protecting the people.
“Rather than attack the president ... I’d rather they issue a statement that they are praying for the president to succeed in his endeavour,” he said.


FBI arrests leader of US ‘patriots’ stopping migrants at border

A group of about 30 Brazilian migrants, who had just crossed the border, get into a US Border Patrol van, taking them off the property of Jeff Allen, who used to run a brick factory near Mt. (AFP)
Updated 15 min 21 sec ago
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FBI arrests leader of US ‘patriots’ stopping migrants at border

  • John Hopkins leads the UCP, which describes itself as a “patriot group” helping deal with a surge in undocumented migrants
  • The American Civil Liberties Union accuses UCP of being a “fascist militia organization” illegally detaining asylum seekers

LAS CRUCES, US: A New Mexico man belonging to an armed group that has detained Central American families near the US-Mexico border was arrested Saturday in a border community on a criminal complaint accusing him of being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition, authorities said.
The FBI said in a statement it arrested 69-year-old Larry Mitchell Hopkins in Sunland Park with the assistance of local police. New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said in a separate statement that Hopkins was a member of the group that had stopped migrants.
Hopkins was booked into the Dona Ana County detention center in Las Cruces and it wasn’t immediately known whether he has an attorney who could comment on the allegations.
The FBI statement did not provide information on Hopkins’ background, and FBI spokesman Frank Fisher told The Associated Press that no additional information would be released until after Hopkins has an initial appearance Monday in federal court in Las Cruces.
The FBI said Hopkins is from Flora Vista, a rural community in northern New Mexico and approximately 353 miles (572 kilometers) north of Sunland Park, which is a suburb of El Paso, Texas.

Hopkins,  also known as Johnny Horton, represents himself as commander of the United Constitutional Patriots (UCP), a small volunteer group camped out near Sunland Park since late February.
The UCP describes itself as a “patriot group” helping over-stretched US Border Patrol agents deal with a surge in undocumented migrants.
The American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday accused it of being a “fascist militia organization” illegally detaining and kidnapping asylum seekers.
Jim Benvie, a spokesman for the UCP, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Hector Balderas, New Mexico’s attorney general, described Hopkins as “a dangerous felon who should not have weapons around children and families.”
“Today’s arrest by the FBI indicates clearly that the rule of law should be in the hands of trained law enforcement officials, not armed vigilantes,” Balderas said in a statement.
Horton was previously arrested in Oregon in 2006 on suspicion of impersonating a police officer and being a felon in possession of a firearm, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Mexico’s government on Saturday said it had “deep concern” about armed groups that intimidate migrants.
US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said it did not support citizens taking law enforcement into their own hands but encouraged the public to be its eyes and ears on the border.
“Border Patrol welcomes assistance from the community and encourages anyone who witnesses or suspects illegal activity to call 911, or the US Border Patrol,” CBP said in a statement.
One UCP member, who declined to be named, said the group are US military veterans who carried weapons for self defense but that they never pointed guns at migrants, as has been reported.
“People misconceive what we are doing,” the UCP member said. “All we’re down there to do is back up Border Patrol. They’re so thinned out with all these people coming in.” 

Armed civilian groups have been a fixture on the border for years, especially when large numbers of migrants come. But, unlike previous times, many of the migrants crossing now are children.
In the Border Patrol’s El Paso sector, which has emerged as the second-busiest corridor for illegal crossings after Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, 86% of arrests in March were people who came as families or unaccompanied children.