MANILA — A pastor who police claim to be a "supporter of the communist movement" was arrested in a raid inside his Mabini, Bohol residence, early Friday.
Nathaniel Vallente Bernales, also known as Pastor Dodo, was arrested around 3 a.m. in his house at Purok 5, Barangay San Jose. Police stormed his home by virtue of a search warrant.
The same method of serving search warrants at dawn raids was used on 2 dozen activists in the Calabarzon region leading to the so-called “Bloody Sunday” incident in March, where 9 progressive leaders were killed and several others arrested.
Police said their search yielded 4 .45 caliber pistols, 4 magazines for the firearm, live ammunition, and empty bullets. They also allegedly found a hand grenade and a bag which contained "subversive documents."
Bernales is a minister for the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) and a program coordinator for Bohol of the Farmers Development Center (FARDEC).
But according to police reports, the pastor is a member of the Tabada Crime Group who are engaged in gun running activities in Bohol. They were also said to be a supporter of the communist movement.
But FARDEC said the allegations against the pastor are not true and that he is an active councilor of their peasant community called "Nagkahiusang Mag-Uuma sa San Jose."
"This newest incident of attack on FARDEC staff impedes our operations toward truly eradicating poverty and hunger among farmers in Central Visayas. We call for their immediate release," said Marianne Tagalo of FARDEC.
Human rights group Karapatan likewise condemned the incident and said the arrest was part of a crackdown against UCCP.
"Church workers from the UCCP have been arrested in recent months such as Pastor Benjie Gomez and Pastor Dan Balucio, as well as the trumped-up charges against Bishop Hamuel Tequis and Rev. Daniel Palicte, and the freezing of the bank accounts of the UCCP Haran Center in Davao," Karapatan said in a statement.
The pastor is currently detained at the Mabini Police Station in Bohol and is scheduled to be charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
The police has been accused of "weaponizing" search warrants against human rights defenders and other alleged critics of the government.