Red tribute to Msgr. Ireneo Amantillo, beloved bishop of the people of Surigao del Sur

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines-North Eastern Mindanao Region (NDFP-NEMR) and the entire revolutionary movement in the region, join the people in Surigao del Sur, especially those deprived and oppressed, in their sorrow for the death of beloved bishop Msgr. Ireneo Amantillo, CSsR, D.D. The revolutionary movement in the region renders high red tribute for a member of the church who sincerely served the people of Surigao del Sur.

Msgr. Amantillo became the bishop of the Tandag Diocese in 1978 under the brutal martial law of the Marcos dictatorship, until 2001. While bishop, he defended the rights of the poor, deprived, oppressed, exploited and struggling people of Surigao del Sur.

Under his leadership, the diocese effectively implemented the Catholic church’s Rome Vatican II and the Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP) II documents which encouraged the formation of Basic Ecclesiastical Communities (BECs). Catechists, lay ministers and the faithful of the Diocese actively joined and helped their fellowmen especially the poor and powerless. The Diocese of Tandag joined the people in the struggle for their interests by establishing and strengthening the different diocesan apostolates that served the people, especially the Lumad and farmers. Some of the services rendered were education, health and livelihood. It played a big role in organizing and strengthening progressive organizations that advocated for the interests of the basic masses. This made the Diocese of Tandag truly a Church of the Poor.

Bishop Emeritus Ireneo Amantillo of Tandag (in blue shirt) poses for a photograph with tribal leaders who visited him in Cebu in 2015. (Photo courtesy of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines)

He bravely stood for the rights of the people of Surigao del Sur and contributed in uniting them to gain strength to struggle for their rights. The people of the province will not forget his going to the communities, talking with the victims of abuses and providing them sanctuary and help. Most of all, the Diocesan Pastoral Center in Tandag and the different parishes of the diocese were the first refuge of victims of militarization, killings, torture, harassment, forcible evacuations and other human rights violations under the Marcos dictatorship and the subsequent Cory Aquino, Fidel Ramos and Joseph Estrada regimes. The people knew their bishop will never turn them away.

They will always remember Bishop Amantillo joining their commemoration of the International Human Rights Day every December 10, his birthday. He always took time from his special day, to speak, support and demand with the people, respect for human rights.

The CPP-NPA-NDF in the province highly respects Bishop Amantillo. He sincerely served the people of Surigao del Sur and was able to unite the faithful in the diocese towards serving and taking on the causes of the oppressed in the face of harassments and brutality of the mercenary military. He supported the progressive priests who joined the people’s struggle and were attacked by the reactionary regime. He respected the principles of his priests and diocesan workers, supported them in their struggle for the welfare of the basic masses despite their imprisonment, amidst the accusations and vilification. He respected the decision of one of his priests, Fr. Frank Navarro when he joined the New People’s Army (NPA) and he understood that it was done because he wanted to serve the people through armed struggle.

Bishop Amantillo was peace loving. He opened the doors of the Catholic church for peace talks under the Cory Aquino administration and took up the role of third party facilitator between the two parties in conflict. Despite the failure of the talks, he continued to push for peace talks under the subsequent Ramos and Estrada administrations. The church also promoted the Joint Declaration for Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and the International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) and other completed agreements. He facilitated the release of prisoners of war of the New People’s Army and without hesitation, went to the mountains and talked with the representatives of the CPP-NPA-NDF in the province.

Bishop Amantillo defended the environment. He mobilized the entire Diocese of Tandag in educating the people on the destruction of the exploitative Mining Act of 1995. The diocese started opposing large scale mining operations that would destroy the mountains and environment of the province.

Even in retirement, he continued to support the people of Surigao del Sur, gave them strength and supported their causes.

His led a commendable life, worthy of emulation by the faithful especially under the current state brutality.

Ka Maria Malaya
Spokesperson
NDFP-NEMR