Catholic Church leaders have spoken out to condemn the brutal killing of a young priest, Father Mark Anthony Ventura, 37, from Gattaran town in the province of Cagayan on April 29, 2018. Father Mark was shot by an assassin on the outskirts of Gattaran town after celebrating the Eucharistic Mass. 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 8 o’clock in the morning 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. 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.
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. 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.
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.
Columban Fr. Shay Cullen lives and works in the Philippines.