Church leaders are coming under attack in the Philippines.A lay minister of the Philippine Independent Church (PIC) was shot dead by motorbike-riding assassins while walking home from church.
Church officials claim the shooting of Brother Maximo Bernardo, in Malabon City on Sunday, is part of a systematic attempt by the Filipino authorities to target human rights workers.
Human rights groups claim the government’s ongoing counter insurgency operation is failing to distinguish armed combatants from civilians who are committed to improving the welfare of the country’s poor.
The Revd Fr Jonash Joyohoy, of PIC, said Brother Maximo was the third PIC lay minister to be assassinated.
He said: ‘Brother Max was a soft-spoken, kind-hearted, a good neighbour, church worker and community leader. He had no known enemies and it was not heard about him receiving any death threats.’
The lay minister was ambushed close to his home shortly after the early morning Eucharist, at around 7 in the morning.
‘He had no weapons to defend himself but prayers.' said the Revd Fr Jonash. 'This was utter treachery. The shots fired to his head tell us that the operation was deliberate and carried out by professionals in a similar fashion with previous killings.’
More than 1,200 killings since 2001
Earlier this year, the Philippine Independent Church (PIC) and the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) issued a statement decrying the extra-judicial killings of more than a 1,200 human rights workers since 2001.
The statement read: ‘The statistics are not mere figures. The victims are farmers, workers, community leaders, indigenous people, Muslims, activists, students, health workers, church workers, lawyers, journalists, human rights defenders and party-list organisers and volunteers.’
It continued: ‘To this day not a single perpetrator of these killings and violence to human life has been convicted. It is a chilling indictment on a government which claims adherence to democracy. It breeds righteous indignation and fuels further discontent.’
USPG Regional Desk Officer Rachel Parry said: ‘It is hard to believe these things keep happening, and under a new president who has promised to clean up the corruption and killings in the Philippines. It is so important that we speak up in solidarity with our partners in the Philippines.
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