MANILA, Philippines — “When the Church stands up for the poor, its people become targets.”
This was how human rights group Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay lamented the killing of Catholic priest Fr. Mark Ventura in Cagayan last Sunday, April 29.
Ventura, a known anti-mining and indigenous people’s rights advocate, just finished celebrating a mass at a gymnasium in Barangay Peña Weste, Gattaran, Cagayan, when unidentified assailants shot him twice.
The 37-year-old priest, who also heads the Migrants Desk of the Diocese of Tuguegarao, was gunned down in front of children and choir members.
“The brutality with which the killing of Fr. Mark Ventura was executed reminds us of the thousands of Filipinos extrajudicially killed by this murderous regime. The scene with the lifeless body of Fr. Ventura on the floor, in front of the altar, with children having witnessed his cold-blooded murder, is indicative of a heinous, evil and wicked crime that highlights the cowardice of men in masks who thrive in the context of this fascist regime,” Palabay said in a statement on Monday.
“The denial of people’s right to due process and blatant disregard for people’s lives is a trait consistent with the fascist character of this government and system,” she added.
Last December 2017, the 71-year-old priest, Fr. Marcelito Paez, was also gunned down after he helped facilitate the release of a political prisoner in Nueva Ecija.
Though investigations are still ongoing, Palabay said they “cannot help but cast a doubt about the possibility that Fr. Ventura might have been targeted because of his stance as an anti-mining advocate and his work in indigenous communities.”
“After all, these are among the reasons why people such as Fr. Marcelito Paez and many others from the church sector were targeted,” she pointed out.
The rights group also said that yesterday, a peasant leader was killed in Moises Padilla, Negros Occidental.
Jerry Turga, 56, and vice chairperson of Guinpanaan Farmers Association-Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) was shot to death by four assailants.
Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao also condemned the brutal killing of Ventura, saying “the culture of impunity knows no boundary or sector.”
“The culture of impunity knows no boundary or sector. Church peoples who have been at the forefront of championing the welfare of the poor and marginalized are being targeted by those who wanted their advocacy to stop,” he said.
The lawmaker also urged the Duterte government to use everything in its disposal to go after Ventura’s killers, as he hoped that this murder “will not be just another figure in the long statistics of extra-judicial killings in this country.”
“Anakpawis is urging the public to join us in calling for justice for Fr. Mark Ventura, Fr. Tito Paez and all other church people that have been victims of extrajudicial killing and persecution. We should also fight impunity and demand accountability to those who attack church people in the name of law and order and sham concept of sovereignty,” he added. (davaotoday.com)