Fr.Peter Geremia speaks to the group of protesters outside the Spotswood Methodist Center shortly they were before allowed to enter the compound on Tuesday. KEITH BACONGCO

Fr.Peter Geremia with farmers at the Spotswood Methodist Center (foto Keith Bacongco)

A Philippine Church leader has warned against “ideological groups manipulating hungry farmers” following the violent dispersal of protesters who barricaded a major highway in Mindanao on April 1.
“We should not use [farmers and tribal people] to advance any ideology,” said Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato, in an interview on April 6.
At least three protesters were reported killed, 116 wounded, and 89 reported missing when police dispersed some 6,000 farmers and tribal people who were seeking government help to get them through an ongoing region-wide drought.
Cardinal Quevedo also reminded church people “not to use [the church’s] influence and resources” to favor the “political interest” of any group.
“The church has no ideology. It is faith above any ideology,” the prelate told
“We should serve the poor in the church way and not in any ideological way,” said Cardinal Quevedo, adding that the “church’s way of serving the poor is through the way of the Gospel.””We fight for the social teachings of the church,” he said. “Fighting for justice has to be based in the social teachings of the church.” Father Peter Geremia of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, told that contrary to reports, the local Catholic Church was not behind the protest action.”I wasn’t behind the protests, and I wasn’t even aware of the purpose of the rally,” said the priest, who has been serving in the area for decades. In 1992, Geremia was arrested after being accused of supporting a raid staged by farmers and tribal people in his parish who were demanding the release of food aid to villagers affected by drought.
The 76-year old Italian missionary said he advised protest leaders last week to allow vehicles to pass because traders and commuters were already complaining.
“I also told them that they have already drawn so much attention,” he said. The priest said the protesters ignored his appeal.
Tension in Kidapawan City eased on April 6 after church leaders convinced the government to remove police and soldiers who surrounded a Methodist church compound where some 3,000 of the protesters sought refuge after the April 1 dispersal.
“After the withdrawal of troops, the protesters also agreed to confine themselves inside the compound and keep the national highway open,” said Father Carlito Garcia, administrator of Kidapawan Diocese.
The priest said “the church will perform its duty to the people,” adding that the “diocese doesn’t want to be associated” with either the protesters or the government. “The diocese is not taking sides but will serve the people in a non-political way,” said Father Garcia.
Cardinal Quevedo emphasized that “all help that the church can provide to ease the suffering of the victims of drought shall be brought directly to the poor and not through ideological groups.”