KARAPATAN: Killings of priest, peasant leader indicate worsening impunity

Church people mobilize against extrajudicial killings of priests and peasants. Photo from https://www.veritas846.ph/pagpaslang-sa-pari-ng-diocese-san-jose-kinondena/

Human rights group Karapatan strongly denounces the killing of Fr. Mark Ventura at a gymnasium in Brgy. Pena Weste, Gattaran, Cagayan. The 37-year-old priest had just finished celebrating mass when armed assailants arrived and shot the victim twice. He was gunned down in front of children and choir members. Fr. Ventura heads the Migrants Desk of the Diocese of Tuguegarao. He was known for being an anti-mining advocate and for supporting indigenous communities in the area.

“When the Church stands up for the poor, its people become targets,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay, referring to the killing of priest Fr. Mark Ventura in Cagayan on April 29, 2018. Palabay added that the brutality with which the killing of Fr. Mark Ventura was executed ia a reminder of the thousands of Filipinos extrajudicially killed by the Duterte regime.

Fr. Mark Ventura, 37, headed the Migrants Desk of the Diocese of Tuguegarao. He was killed after celebrating mass, in front of children and choir members. File photo.

“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. 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,” said Palabay.

“Though investigations are still ongoing, we 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,” Palabay added.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines in a separate statement also denounced the “evil act” and called for justice. CBCP president Archbishop Romulo Valles said they are  in disbelief at Ventura’s death. “We make our appeal to the authorities to act swiftly going after perpetrators of this crime and to bring them justice,” the CBCP statement read.

The rights group also documented the killing of a peasant leader in Moises Padilla, Negros Occidental on April 29. Jerry Turga, 56, was the vice chairperson of Guinpanaan Farmers Association – Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas. He was shot to death by four assailants. KARAPATAN believes that like many leaders and members of KMP who have advocated for land rights, Turga has been killed because of his work. Before Fr. Ventura and Turga, another priest was killed in Nueva Ecija on December 4, 2017. Father Marcelito “Tito” Paez, 71, was murdered hours after providing assistance in the release of a political prisoner. He was a member of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines and of the Promotion of Church Peoples Response (PCPR).

Last December 2017, 71-year-old Fr. Marcelito Paez was also gunned down after he helped facilitate the release of a political prisoner in Nueva Ecija.

“We demand justice for the killing of Fr. Ventura, Jerry Turga, and the many others who were killed under this fascist regime. There is no doubt that there is a disturbing trend of church people being persecuted for their stance and involvement in human rights. Peasants, too, have been killed throughout regimes for organizing among their communities, and for actively struggling for genuine agrarian reform. We demand an end to these killings, as well as to the system that have made it ripe for such murderers to exist without fear of accountability nor regard for people’s rights,” concluded Palabay.

KARAPATAN Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights is an alliance of human rights organizations and programs, human rights desks and committees of people’s organizations, and individual advocates committed to the defense and promotion of people’s rights and civil liberties.  It monitors and documents cases of human rights violations, assists and defends victims and conducts education and training. www.karapatan.org for updates.
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