A Catholic bishop in the central Philippines has condemned the killing of a human rights worker and called for an end to a wave of "barbaric and calculated assassinations." Bernardino Patigas Sr., 72, was shot dead by a lone gunman in Negros Oriental province on April 22, three weeks after masked policemen gunned down 14 farmers
in the same province. Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos
described the slain human rights worker a "martyr of the sugar workers
’ struggles" on the island of Negros. "In sadness, we all are crying out: End the Killings! These barbaric and calculated assassinations must end! We should not tolerate this kind of crime," the bishop said in a statement. Aside from his human rights work, Patigas was a mission partner of the Carmelites in the city of Escalante and was president of the Parish Pastoral Council.
"His faith moved him to serve his poor brothers and sisters and he was admired by locals because of his humility and simplicity," Bishop Alminaza said. Patigas survived a 1985 massacre in Escalante when government paramilitary forces gunned down and killed 20 civilians who joined a rally to mark the anniversary of the declaration of martial law. "That harrowing experience … emboldened him to work more for the cause of workers," said the prelate. The bishop said Patigas "has joined the death list of a lurking evil in our midst, though often admired among our fellow Filipinos." Human rights group Karapatan said Patigas’ killing was the latest in a "string of attacks against activists and human rights defenders." On the island of Negros, at least 50 farmers and human rights workers, accused by the military of being rebels,
have been killed since 2016 when President Rodrigo Duterte came to power. Roneo Clamor, Karapatan’s deputy secretary-general, said Patigas fell into the pattern of being subjected to threats prior to his killing. Although he was an elected city councilor in Escalante, the slain human rights defender was among several people featured on a poster of individuals supposedly having links with communists. Another was human rights lawyer Benjamin Ramos, who was killed in November 2018. "The poster circulated in various areas of Negros is turning out to be a de facto hit-list, brazenly targeting leaders of progressive organizations and activists," said Clamor. Bishop Alminaza said he is praying that, "the growing death list disturbs the consciences of the murderers." "It is my ardent prayer that instead of perpetrating violence, they may open their eyes to the reality of truth — that life is precious, that it is a sin to kill," said the bishop. He said Patigas' dedication to his work for social justice is "highly commendable as he selflessly gave his life serving the oppressed and exploited."
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