Philippine military accused of smear campaign

A group of Lumad indigenous people from Mindanao march in Manila in 2016. File photo UCAN/Joe Torres
A group of Lumad indigenous people from Mindanao march in Manila in 2016. File photo UCAN/Joe Torres

MANILA (UCAN): A Catholic priest, Father Raymond Montero Ambray of the Diocese of Tandag, accused the Philippine military of mounting a smear campaign against him by falsely branding him as an active supporter of communist rebels.  

Father Ambray said that he came across Facebook posts on May 10 with his picture labelling him as a “priest-bringer of evil.” He said he was being targeted for helping the Lumads, the largest indigenous group in the Philippines, who rights groups say are victims of land grabbing by big business and scores of extrajudicial killings at the hands of the military and paramilitary groups.

The Lumads live in Mindanao in the south and are often accused by the military of harbouring and supporting communist insurgents. Hundreds have been reported killed over the past few decades, prompting mass protests, including one in Makati, Manila’s business district, in 2017, against the killing of tribal leaders that allegedly caused the displacement of thousands of people.

Father Ambray said his work with the Lumads included teaching them about their rights set out in the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997, which aims to protect their claim to ancestral domains or ethnic lands. The law says that no indigenous people can be relocated without their consent.

“The education I equip them with is so they can assert their rights… The help that I am offering them is small when compared to the enormous scale of their fight. Yet I am being accused of being an influencer or manipulator of them,” Father Ambray said in a social media post.

He also claimed his efforts were not political but theological in nature. “As a priest, I consider it my duty to bring about the integral salvation, bought by Christ on the Cross, among Lumads. It means leading them to their full potential as people or persons. It means dialoguing with them or learning from them.”

Father Ambray said he can think of no other suspect behind the social media posts calling him evil except the Philippine military.

“They are trying to besmirch my work as ideological and reduce my apostolate with the Lumads as a front of CPP-NPA (Communist Party of the Philippines-New Peoples Army)” he said.

The military could not be reached for comment on the priest’s claims.

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