Cardinal and Bishops Conference condemn killing of priest
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has condemned the murder of Fr. Mark Ventura who was shot dead by an unknown gunman on 29 April. Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao, the president of the Philippines bishops’ conference, issued a statement shortly after the murder saying the bishops were ”totally shocked and in utter disbelief” after hearing about the attack. “We condemn this evil act!” said Archbishop Valles. “We are totally shocked and in utter disbelief to hear about the brutal killing of Fr. Mark Ventura.”
Father Mark Ventura was gunned down in front of parishioners after celebrating Mass in Gattaran. The priest was blessing children and talking with the choir members when an unidentified man wearing a motorcycle helmet emerged from the back of the gym where the Mass had been held and shot the priest twice. Fr Ventura sustained gunshot wounds to the head and chest and died at the scene. Philippine National Police chief Oscar Albayalde said the suspect ran towards the highway and rode on a motorcycle driven by another unidentified companion and fled towards Baggao. The Philippine National Police ordered the creation of a special investigation task group to look into the killing of Fr Ventura.
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila on Monday condemned the murder of a priest, stating it was a sign that people no longer value life as a gift from God. “And even if he’s not a priest… a person. Isn’t he a gift from God? Is it that easy nowadays to just kill and throw someone away?” the Cardinal said. In a statement, Archbishop Sergio L. Utleg of Tuguegarao called Ventura “zealous and dedicated, one who smelled like his sheep.” He called on the authorities “to act swiftly in going after the perpetrators of this crime and to bring them to justice. There have been too many murders already done with impunity in our country by assassins riding in tandem. May this be the last,” Utleg said.
Karapatan, a Philippine human rights organisation, said Fr Ventura may have been killed for his anti-mining advocacy and for supporting indigenous communities in the area. “When the Church stands up for the poor, its people become targets,” said Cristina Palabay, the Karapatan secretary general. “There is no doubt that there is a disturbing trend of Church people being persecuted for their stance and involvement in human rights,” she said.
“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 has made it ripe for such murderers to exist without fear of accountability or regard for people’s rights,” Palabay added.
Fr. Ventura was the director of San Isidro Labrador Mission Station, a post he assumed early this month, in Mabuno village in Gattaran. Prior to that, he was rector of the St. Thomas Aquinas Major Seminary in the town of Aparri. A priest for almost seven years, he was also known for his opposition to mining and for helping indigenous peoples in the province.
The Justice and Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission of the Carmelite order in the country blamed the murders on a “culture of impunity” in the Philippines. A statement said this culture “does not exempt Church people and those who are genuinely serving the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, and the rejected. In fact, in the last four months, we have seen a crackdown on people whose heart is only to do God’s will in serving those who are in need, people whom even the government has forgotten to serve.”
The priest’s killing “set a new high to the epidemic of impunity and barbarity that has been set upon the country,” read a statement from activist group Makabayan.
The opposition Liberal Party also condemned the killing and called on authorities to “capture and prosecute” the killers and not treat the priest’s death as “just another death under investigation.”
Fr. Ventura is the second priest killed in the past four months. In December 2017, Fr. Marcelito Paez, 72, was shot dead by 2 unidentified gunmen after he facilitated the release of a political prisoner in Jaen, Nueva Ecija, in central Luzon region.