PHILIPPINES: Bishop is latest victim of extrajudicial killing

A prominent critic of the wave of extrajudicial killings that have swept the Philippines under the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has himself become a victim of these killings. Bishop Alberto Ramento of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI), or Philippine Independent Church, was awakened and killed in his room at about 4:00 a.m. on October 3 on the second floor of the convent where he stayed in Tarlac City. The 69-year-old bishop was fatally stabbed seven times.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) joins others in his country and around the world in condemning this most recent killing in the Philippines. This brazen killing of a bishop indicates an escalation in the surge of violence that has engulfed the Philippines under the Arroyo government. If a bishop can be killed in his room in a convent, is anyone safe in the country?

Like most of the other victims of extrajudicial killings before him, Bishop Ramento was a champion of the poor and publicly criticised the Arroyo administration for failing to stop the killings in the country and to launch a genuinely independent investigation into them.

In an open letter to President Arroyo on September 7, 2006, the IFI Executive Commission, of which Bishop Ramento was a member, called on the president to voluntarily step down because of the failure of her government to stop the increasing number of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.

Bishop Ramento also openly opposed the attempts by Arroyo to amend the country’s Constitution to change the political structure of the Philippines from a presidential system to a parliamentary model of government.

In addition to being the diocesan bishop of Tarlac Diocese, he was the chairman of the IFI’s Supreme Council of Bishops and a co-chairperson of the Ecumenical Bishops’ Forum, a fellowship of bishops of the Roman Catholic Church and several Protestant denominations that has called for an independent investigation into his death. He also was the chairman of the National Council of Churches of the Philippines (NCCP); and from 1993 to 1999, he served as the Obsipo Maximo IX, the IFI’s spiritual head, chief pastor and chief executive officer. He also was a provincial leader of the human rights group Karapatan, served as a convener of Pilgrims for Peace and was the chairperson of the board of the Workers’ Assistance Centre, a labour group in Cavite Province. Similarly, he was a strong supporter of the farm workers of Hacienda Luisita who staged a strike that was violently suppressed by the police and military in November 2004, resulting in the death of seven striking farm workers on the picket line.

Prior to his death, Bishop Ramento complained that he had been receiving death threats because of his advocacy work.

The violent silencing of this moral voice in the Philippines indicates that either the perpetrators have no fear of being apprehended by the police or that agents of the state are, indeed, the perpetrators. The unwillingness or inability of the Philippine government to seriously respond to the hundreds of killings that have occurred in the Philippines since Arroyo came to power in 2001 has spawned a climate of impunity in the country. The people now live in fear, not the perpetrators of these violent acts.

Moreover, the failure of the Arroyo government to take adequate steps to eradicate the country’s extrajudicial killings, which Karapatan states is at least 763 deaths since 2001, is a repudiation of the Philippine government’s international obligation to protect the lives of its citizens.

Lastly, the killing of Bishop Ramento, a public critic of the government as previously noted, illustrates the lack of criticism permissible by the government. This abhorrence of criticism indicates the unhealthy state of democracy in the Philippines. Democracy is a political system based on respect for human rights and the protection of everyone’s right to voice their views. A government that does not defend its people’s rights, that, indeed, does not defend the people’s most fundamental right of all—its right to life—is a government that cannot maintain the trust of its people and can no longer claim that it represents its people. In short, it can no longer claim that it is a democratic government.

If the Arroyo government wishes to reclaim any pretence of legitimacy, it must take immediate action to bring to justice those who have violently taken the life of Bishop Alberto Ramento as well as hundreds of other unresolved extrajudicial killings in the country. If alive, Bishop Ramento would have uttered the same statement.


Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-234-2006
Countries : Philippines,
Campaigns : Stop extra-judicial killings in the Philippines
Issues : Extrajudicial killings,