The trial of 10 Roman Catholic priests, a nun and 197 lay church workers on charges of aiding the Communist Party has heightened the long-festering hostility between the church and the Philippine government.
The 206 defendants, who include two American priests, are being tried is a military court in the southern city of Davao.
A military spokesman would not elaborate on the charges but said the case against the church workers is based on a 100-page affidavit by Lilia Judilla, 25, a former member of the Philippine Communist Party. Her testimony is said to allege that there is widespread cooperation between Communist cadre and church workers in the countryside.
The current tensions between the church and the government were sparked by a round of arrests and deportations of lay workers late last year.
Sixty-six of the country's 83 bishops responded by issuing a strong pastoral letter in early February complaining about government interferences in the church's work of evangelization. The strong response by the normally passive church hierarchy caught the martial-law government off-guard, and officials in this predominantly Catholic country have since gone out of their way to talk with the bishops.
President Ferdinand E. Marcos met with 12 bishops, including the country's two cardinals, at the presidential palace last week. The bishops and the president did not issue a statement but informaed sources said that Marcos opened the meeting by telling the prelates he "regretted" that their pastoral letter had been played up by the Western press as evidence of confrontation between church and state.
The president also cautioned the bishops not to speak against government programs or otherwise engage in civil disobedience.
The bishops reportedly countered by saying they are duty-bound to speak out against injustice, even if it means attacking government programs or policies, as they did in their pastoral letter. Both sides agreed to meet again.
In the Davao trial of church workers, the testimony by former Communist Judmilla is said to charge that for the past two years, millions of dollars in cash and material has flowed into Communist coffers through church channels.
Judilla's affidavit reportedly charges that the funds come from seven countries, including the United States. The U.S. funds come from the Filipino community there and church groups, the affidavit said.
A prominent nun, Sister Christine Tan, is accused of "sanctioning" the donation of $400,000 to the Communist Party in October 1975. Sister Tan has denied the charge.
The lengthly affidavit was not prepared by Judilla herself but by government officials "in collaboration with" her, as she carefully points out. In addition to the military, the government agency most involved in the case is the presidential office on national minorities, known as Panamin. Judmilla now works for Panamin.