In the early 1980s, the Philippines was still in the grip of the corrupt regime of strongman Ferdinand Marcos.
The Columban mission on the island of Negros, Philippines had drawn the ire of the government authorities. The Columbans there had encouraged workers’ rights on Negros and called out abuses of the Marcos administration.
In mid-1982, the Philippine Army filed false charges of murder and sedition against a group of nine men, including Columban Fathers Niall O’Brien and Brian Gore. This group became known as the “Negros Nine.”
Their trial started in May 1983, with a series of sham accusations. After interventions by Bishop Antonio Fortich of the Bacolod, Philippines Diocese, and Father Michael E. Murphy, the Columban District Superior for Negros, the court acquitted the Negros Nine on July 5th, 1984.
This trial marked the beginning of the end for the repressive Marcos regime. Later that summer, a group of Filipino Assemblymen filed impeachment charges against Marcos, and the anti-Marcos “People Power” Movement gained more strength.
Ferdinand Marcos later relinquished power and went into exile in early 1986.
Author Alfred W. McCoy told the story of the Negros Nine trial in his 1984 book Priests on Trial. Father O’Brien died in April 2004, but Father Gore continues his missionary service in the Philippines.
The suffering and imprisonment that these two Columbans endured with the Negros Nine influenced the political course of the Philippines and added another inspiring story of the Christian spirit of Columban prisoners of conscience.