Groups call for justice for killed priests

Fr NIlo
Photo from cbcpnews.net

Part of groundwork for tyranny? The Church historically played a role in the people’s struggle against tyranny and dictatorship.

By MARYA SALAMAT
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – “Killing a man of the cloth inside the church highlights the unfettered disregard for life under the current administration.”

The Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR), in a statement, strongly condemned the killing of Fr. Richmond Nilo of the Diocese of Cabanatuan. Fr. Nilo was killed around 5 p.m. June 10 in the chapel of Maymot village in Zaragoza, Nueva Ecija. He was preparing to officiate a mass.

He was the fourth church people killed under the watch of President Rodrigo Duterte. Different from other presidents, Duterte has been delivering tirades against the Church. In the week that Fr. Nilo was murdered, he had just renewed his tirades against the church after some brief period of silence.

“President Duterte’s words that attack the church as well as individuals whom he does not agree with expose them to possible harm rather than protect their democratic rights. These induce and encourage extremist and rightist forces to kill even church personnel,” Rev. Irma Balaba of PCPR said.

“They are killing our flock. They are killing us the shepherds. They are killing our faith. They are cursing our Church. They are killing God as they did in Cavalry,” said Archbishop Socrates Villegas, speaking on behalf of the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Pangasinan.“They kill in the streets. They kill inside homes. They kill in tricycles and jeeps. They kill in the malls. They kill in the chapels.”

Part of groundwork for tyranny?

The Church has historically played a role in the people’s struggle against tyranny and dictatorship. At the start of the Duterte administration, the Church has been vocal in calling attention to respect of human rights as the number of victims of the drugs war started to escalate. The church people are advocates of peace.

Progressive elements in the Church have also been outspoken against mining-related desecration of environment and communities, land grabbing, low wages, among others. The Church (and the mosque for Muslims, also) as an institution and a place is perceived by many as inviolable. But under Duterte, mosques have been bombed. A priest was killed inside a Church.

“These killings of clergy and religious leaders expose the vulnerability even among church people to the prevailing atmosphere of killings and impunity in our country,” Rev. Balaba of PCPR said. Since 2001, she said, no cases of extrajudicial killings and other highlighted cases of killings have been resolved.

Under the Duterte regime, the following church people have been killed:

Pastor Lablito Quiñonez of the Guardians of the Truth Church Mission International, Inc. was killed in Mindoro on December 3, 2017, by AFP elements who accused him as a member of New People’s Army.

Fr. Marcelito “Tito” Paez was shot by motorcycle-riding gunmen after he accompanied a released political prisoner and was driving through Sitio Sangalang at Barangay Lambakin in Jaen town Nueva Ecija.

Fr. Mark Ventura of the Diocese of Tuguegarao was killed by men in masks after presiding over a mass in Gattaran, Cagayan.

The environmentalist group Kalikasan PNE also condemned the killing of Fr Mark Ventura last April. The group said Ventura is known for his advocacy against destructive mining and the rights of indigenous people in Cagayan Valley.

“He served under Archbishop Sergio Utleg, a recent Gawad Bayani ng Kalikasan awardee who has also been recently subjected to vilification and harassment from the military for his advocacy,” said Leon Dulce, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE. The green group expressed fears that big business and their interests could well be behind Fr. Mark’s killing.”

Where Fr. Mark was killed, the landscapes are known as rich in magnetite black sand, nickel, gold, and chromite. Cagayan Valley has at least six approved Mineral Production Sharing Agreements (MPSA) and at least 14 pending MPSA applications. Fr. Mark was among those who opposed black sand mining in the northern coasts of Cagayan saying it posed a threat to the livelihood of the people living there and a threat to coastal ecosystems.

Another priest, Reverend Rey Urmenta of the Diocese of San Pablo, survived an attempted killing by men riding-in-tandem while Urmenta was on his way for a meeting with his secretary last week in Calamba, Laguna.

The PCPR called for an immediate resolution of the case of Father Nilo and other victims of murder. “We pray and encourage the faithful to stand firm, to defend the sanctity of life and basic human rights, and to come to the aid and accompaniment of the many survivors and victims’ families in seeking the truth, justice, and accountability,” Rev. Balaba said.

“Is this the change you want? Are these the changes you dream of? Are you still saying ‘There are some good things happening! Focus on the good?’,” asked the priests of the Archdiocese of Lingayen in another statement.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines also condemned the murder of Fr. Nilo. They described it “outrageously evil.” ()

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