Philippines: Church Leaders Condemn Killing Of Young Priest

Catholic Church leaders have spoken out to condemn the recent brutal killing of a young priest, Father Mark Anthony Ventura, 37, from Gattaran town in the province of Cagayan.

Father Mark was shot by an assassin at Barangay Piña Weste gymnasium on the outskirts of Gattaran town after celebrating the Eucharistic mass on the 29th April. He was blessing children and chatting to the members of the parish choir when he was shot dead. The gunman ran away and escaped on a motorcycle, driven by another man.

Archbishop Romulo G. Valles, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, said in a statement, “We are totally shocked and in utter disbelief to hear about the brutal killing of Fr. Mark Ventura, Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Tuguegarao. Right after celebrating the Sunday Eucharist at 8am today, he was shot to death by murderers riding in tandem. We offer our prayers for Fr Ventura, for his bereaved family and the lay faithful of Tuguegarao. We condemn this evil act! We make our appeal to the authorities to act swiftly in going after the perpetrators of this crime and to bring them to justice”.

Father Mark was outspoken in support of the rights of the indigenous people and was against the mining activities that are intruding into their ancestral lands. Father Mark is newly appointed director of the San Isidro Labrador Mission Station in Mabuno village, also in the town of Gattaran.

The indigenous people in the region are under great pressure from the local and international mining interests who are striving to get access to the rich mineral deposits in the ancestral lands of the indigenous people. Father Mark was said to have supported them in their struggle for justice. Some tribal leaders have been vilified as terrorists thus justifying military action against them. Liberal Party president Senator Francis Pangilinan also said his party “condemns the senseless killing” of Father Mark Ventura.

Hit men are also targeting supporters of human rights and political prisoners. Father Marcelito Paez, 72, was assassinated by unknown riding-in-tandem hit men on a motorcycle in Jaen, Nueva Ecija last December, 2017. He was helping a jailed political prisoner at the time of his brutal murder. The Italian priest, Father Fausto Tentorio, 59, was murdered in North Cotabato in October 2011 when he was leaving his rectory by a motorbike-riding hit man.

Father “Pops”, as he was called, was the third missionary priest of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) who was murdered in the Philippines. He died inside the compound of the Mother of Perpetual Help Parish church in Arakan, North Cotobato, Mindanao. When local mining firms backed by multinational mining corporations encroached into the ancestral lands of the indigenous people, Father “Pops” was there to help them fight for their The fellow missionaries of Father “Pops” were murdered also.

Father Tulio Favali was brutally killed on the 11th April 1985 in Tulunan, North Cotabato and Father Salvatore Carzedda was killed in 1992 in Zamboanga City. Recently, Sister Patricia Fox from Australia has been ordered to leave the Philippines for allegedly “engaging in activities that are not in keeping with the terms of her missionary visa”. She attended a rally for political prisoners and helped indigenous peoples also.

Mining corporations are desperate to develop the rich mineral deposits such as cobalt, nickel, gold and silver among others. The growing popularity and demand for electric cars, laptops, smart phones and other electronic gadgets that are driven by batteries is driving up prices of the minerals used to make them and mining corporations will not stop until they get what they want.

The Philippines is the sixth-largest cobalt producer in the world and is now producing 100 MT less in 2017 following a ban on open-pit mining imposed by President Duterte to his credit. He reportedly rejected a recommendation by the Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) to lift the ban because of environmental concerns.

But that is a small dent in overall production of Philippine cobalt. The value of shares has increased 100 percent in 2017. It is fast becoming a conflict mineral as the indigenous peoples are under increasing pressure from private armies and armed goons that brand the tribal leaders as terrorists and rebels and kill them with impunity. These violations are what the missionaries and brave Filipino rights advocates are opposing and getting killed for their stand.

That electric car or latest smart phone may not be produced under ethical or fair trade standards. Lives may be lost for us to have these gadgets. Every life is precious, of value, more especially those of the poor and the outcast. They have so much less in this world and deserve more dignity and equality especially those considered worthless and shot dead as suspects.

In commenting on the killings, former CBCP President Archbishop Socrates Villegas, speaking against such killings said, “We demand answers. Shepherds must sometimes raise their voices when wolves prey on God’s flock. Does the death squad, any death squad, own up to this latest travesty?” he said.

Such actions, Villegas said, is clear proof that the problem on unexplained killings remains. “It tells us, your bishops, that we cannot be reconciled with this situation. Silence in the face of this horrendous deed is complicity”, he said.

– Fr. Shay Cullen

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