On October 23, 2023, Fr. Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) Commission on Public Affairs, announced that their panel had withdrawn from the executive committee of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).
“Our engagement remains, but we are no longer in the Executive Committee,” he said. “It is better that we preserve our independence, if we are actually going to engage with them.”
The announcement came after CBCP President and Kalookan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David clarified that the entire bishops’ conference is not involved with the NTF-ELCAC. David said joining the task force was a decision only by the CBCP Commission on Public Affairs, one of the 31 bodies within the bishops’ conference. “It’s not exactly CBCP as a conference but the Commission of Public Affairs that is there as a private sector representative,” the bishop said.
Various human rights groups mounted protests when news broke that the CBCP joined the executive committee of NTF-ELCAC. The party-list group Kabataan was one of the first to criticize the CBCP’s membership in the NTF-ELCAC. Citing human rights violations by the NTF-ELCAC, Kabataan said “Clearly, the ELCAC and what it stands for goes against the basic teachings of the Catholic faith.”
The Facebook poll of the National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA) or Caritas Philippines revealed that 90% of respondents were against the CBCP Public Affairs Commission’s involvement with the NTF-ELCAC.
The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) called for the withdrawal of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ (CBCP) engagement as private sector representative to the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).
“While the CBCP has clarified that only its Episcopal Commission on Public Affairs is engaging with the NTF-ELCAC to ‘address some Church issues vis-a-vis government’, the NTF-ELCAC’s gross record of human rights violations should be enough reason for the CBCP to cease any form of involvement with them,” said ICHRP Global Council Chairperson Peter Murphy.