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Thousands march to back Philippine Church leaders

MANILA (UCAN): About 3,000 people in the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan took to the streets on July 31 to show their support for Archbishop Socrates Villegas and other Church people accused of conspiring to overthrow Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte (Sunday Examiner, July 28). 
Church workers, students, and parishioners carried placards with messages of support even as the Justice Department is set to start a preliminary investigation into sedition allegations.
Aside from Archbishop Villegas, Bishop Honesto Ongtioco of Cubao; Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan; and Bishop Teodoro Bacani Jr., retired bishop of Novaliches, are also charged with sedition and cyber libel as are Divine Word Father Flaviano Villanueva, Jesuit Father Albert Alejo, Father Robert Reyes and La Salle Brother Armin Luistro.
At least 36 other people have also been charged for allegedly orchestrating a series of online videos alleging that Duterte and his family members are involved in the illegal drugs trade.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has called the allegations “beyond belief.”
Speaking during a Mass before the July 31 prayer march in the city of Dagupan, Auxiliary Bishop Fidelis Layog called on Catholics to stand up for truth, justice and human rights.
“We are doing this not only for (them) but also for others who are maligned and persecuted, whose human rights are crushed to the ground,” said the bishop.
“(We) fervently stand with Archbishop Villegas and other bishops who are being persecuted and falsely accused for standing up against malicious insults to truth, justice, and freedom,” read a statement released by the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan. The archdiocese appealed to Catholics across the country to offer their support.
The protesters later called on the police to drop the charges as they lit candles in front of the city’s St. John the Evangelist Church where they celebrated a Mass.
In a personal statement read by Monsignor Manuel Bravo, Archbishop Villegas thanked Catholics in his archdiocese for their love and prayers. “Your love is so powerful,” he said.
The archbishop said that while he always knew and understood that the priesthood is a sacrifice, he never imagined that he would be accused of a crime like sedition.
“The good Lord knows I am innocent of the crime they charge me with,” Archbishop Villegas said.
“Thank you for the many assurances that you believe me when I say so. If the process will be fair and truthful, I know the authorities will see it too,” he added.
“My fire comes from the spirit of the gospel not from a subversive heart,” said the prelate. “I am not a political troublemaker; my duty is to disturb cold consciences,” he said.
On August 1, Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle of Manila, issued a call to the clergy and Catholics in Manila to offer Masses and prayers on August 4 for those suffering because of “persecution and false accusations.”
In a circular to the clergy and religious of the Archdiocese of Manila, he said, “Let our prayers be the best expression of our solidarity and fraternal support for them.” 
Father Reginald Malicdem, the archdiocesan chancellor, said Cardinal Tagle is urging everyone to be “aware and discerning” of the “many disturbing issues” in society.
Attached to the circular was a Prayer for the Nation, which Cardinal Tagle asked to be recited during Sunday and Saturday Masses for the whole month of August.
“The prayer will take the place of the Prayer of the Faithful of the Mass and will be prayed standing,” Father Malicdem said. 

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