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Former priest shot dead in Philippines

The killing of a former priest has sparked an outcry over the culture of extrajudicial executions in the Philippines. The Covid-19 pandemic continues to cast a long shadow over Asian nations while people strive for democracy and rights in repressive regimes.

Published: June 04, 2021 11:54 AM GMT

Updated: June 04, 2021 03:31 PM GMT

In the Philippines, a former priest and chief negotiator for a rebel group has been shot dead at his home in Cebu province. 80 year old Rustico Tan was shot several times while he slept in a hammock at his home in the town of Pilar in the central Philippines on May 28.

Tan left the priesthood several decades ago and joined the National Democratic Front of the Philippines or NDFP, a coalition of left-wing groups. He served as a negotiator for communist rebels in peace talks during the administration of President Corazon Aquino and was still serving the rebels as a peace consultant.

A police spokesman in Cebu denied rumors police may have been involved in the shooting due to Tan’s links to the rebels and their armed wing, the New People’s Army.

The Communist Party of the Philippines blamed Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, saying Tan’s murder was part of an orchestrated campaign against senior rebel figures as several senior NDFP leaders have been killed in recent years.

Former priest shot dead in Philippines

Rustico Tan, 80, was murdered while sleeping in a hammock at his home in Cebu on May 28. (Photo supplied)

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Cardinal Cornelius Sim, the bishop of Brunei, died following a cardiac arrest on May 29 at the age of 70 barely seven months after Pope Francis made him a cardinal last November. He had been undergoing treatment for cancer since May 8.

Cardinal Sim’s appointment to the College of Cardinals was seen as part of Pope Francis' thrust to "go to the peripheries" to recognize that all communities are important in the Church’s life, however small. Cardinal Sim was born in Seria, Brunei, on September 16, 1951.

Cardinal Cornelius Sim, DD (Photo: Apostolic Vicariate of Brunei)

He studied engineering in Malaysia and Scotland, and worked in Brunei and Holland for Shell, one of the world’s leading energy and petrochemical companies, until 1985. He then quit his job and began priestly formation. He was ordained a priest in November 1989, becoming the first native priest and the second priest ordained in Brunei.

He became vicar general in 1995. He was appointed bishop of Brunei in 1997. Last December he was named a member of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy.

Thousands of Catholics in Nepal joined prayers, penance and fasting on Monday for the end of Covid-19 as the pandemic wreaks havoc in the Himalayan nation. Due to a strict lockdown, Catholics participated in a live Mass broadcast from the bishop’s house, virtual Divine Mercy adoration, rosary recitation and Eucharistic adoration from their home.

The day-long prayer and fasting for divine deliverance were in response to an appeal from Bishop Paul Simick, the apostolic vicar of Nepal, on May 18. 

People ride their bicycles during a lockdown imposed to curb the spread of Covid-19 in Kathmandu on May 31. (Photo: Prakash Mathema/AFP)

The Hindu-majority nation has been hit hard by a second wave of the pandemic largely due to spillovers from neighboring India and its fragile healthcare system. Nepal has recorded 567,000 coronavirus cases and 7,454 deaths, while hospitals have been struggling to get beds, oxygen and medical staff for the overwhelming number of patients.

At a daily rate of 6.51 deaths per million, Nepal has the worst Covid-19 death scenario in South Asia. 

In India, an elderly activist Jesuit priest who has been in jail for nearly eight months on charges of sedition, has tested positive for Covid-19. 84-year-old Father Stan Swamy was moved to church-run Holy Family Hospital in Mumbai city on May 28 following a court order after his health deteriorated.

Father Swamy has been imprisoned since October 9 last year. He is one of 16 accused in a sedition case and was arrested from his residence in eastern India. The priest has denied all allegations against him and accused investigators of framing him and others because they had criticized the federal government. He has been denied bail. 

Father Stan Swamy was moved to Holy Family Hospital in Mumbai city on May 28. (Photo: YouTube)

Father Swamy suffers from Parkinson’s disease, hearing impairment and other age-related ailments that require him to seek help even going to the toilet. He also requires assistance with eating and drinking because of his Parkinson’s disease and advanced age.

Meanwhile, India continues to reel from Covid-19. The nation has recorded about 28.3 million infections and 335,000 deaths.

Police in Muslim-majority Indonesia have arrested 10 suspected Islamic terrorists and foiled a plot to attack several churches in Christian-majority Papua province. Police said the extremists belong to Islamic State-affiliated terrorist outfit Jamaah Ansarut Daulah popularly called JAD and were arrested from several districts in southern Papua on May 28.

They allegedly plotted to carry out suicide bombings at several churches in Merauke, Jagebob, Kurik, Semangga and Tanah Miring. They allegedly admitted they also planned to assassinate Sacred Heart Archbishop Petrus Canisius Mandagi of Merauke in Papua twice this year at his residence and the cathedral by blowing themselves up.

An Indonesian anti-terror policeman gestures in this file photo. Police arrested 10 suspected terrorists in Papua on May 28. (Photo: Juni Kriswanto/AFP)

Police suspect that several of the arrested JAD extremists might have had links to a suicide bomb attack on a Catholic cathedral in Makassar in South Sulawesi on March 28. The JAD network is also accused of several attacks on churches in recent years.

Papua has been plagued by a low-level insurgency for independence from Indonesia for decades. Since the handover by Dutch colonialists in 1960s, thousands of people have died in clashes between the military and separatists.

In military-ruled Myanmar, thousands of Catholic villagers have been forced to flee their homes as the military escalated airstrikes and artillery shelling in Christian-majority Kayah state. They took shelter in forests and relatives’ homes as the military stepped up its offensive against the Karenni People’s Defense Forces in Demoso and nearby villages on Monday.

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The hostilities also prompted priests and nuns from at least seven parishes to flee to safety. Loikaw Catholic Diocese has established a response committee to help provide humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons.

People shelter in the jungle near Demoso, Kayah state, after they fled fighting between the Myanmar military and the Karenni People’s Defense Forces on June 1. (Photo: AFP)

Over 600 people including the elderly, pregnant women, children and new mothers have taken refuge in the compound of Christ the King Cathedral in Loikaw, capital of Kayah state. Between 85,000 and 100,000 people are estimated to have been displaced by fighting in Kayah state.

Tens of thousands have been displaced in the Kayin and Bago regions as well as in Chin and Kachin states. Decades-old conflict between the military and ethnic rebels has escalated in Christian-majority Karen, Kachin, Chin and Kayah states since the military coup in February and crackdown on anti-coup protesters.

Cardinal Andrew Yeom of Seoul Archdiocese in South Korea has sent US$200,000 in emergency aid to Burkina Faso to help Christians and other people amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Islamic terrorism and climate change in the West African country. The aid was delivered to Cardinal Philippe Ouédraogo, archbishop of Ouagadougou in the nation’s capital.

The donations were collected from local Catholics who contributed to charities to honor the late Cardinal Nicholas Cheong. Burkina Faso is facing acute food and nutrition insecurity resulting from climate change. It is also struggling to contain the spread of jihadists linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State who have killed thousands and displaced more than a million people.

Cardinal Andrew Yeom of Seoul blesses a new ambulance donated to the Archdiocese of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso. (Photo: Archdiocese of Seoul)

The pandemic has exacerbated chronic vulnerabilities in the region, having a devastating impact on children’s survival, education, protection and development. The archdioceses of Seoul and Ouagadougou developed fraternal solidarity following Cardinal Yeom’s visit to Burkina Faso in February 2018.

The Archdiocese of Seoul inked a pact with Burkina Faso to enhance cooperation in evangelization with an aim to promote sustainable development in medication and education and to help with the country’s financial situation.

China’s communist regime’s announcement on Monday that it will allow married couples to have up to three children signals a major policy shift for the Chinese Communist Party from its current two-child policy. The state-run Xinhua News Agency reported that the government seeks to ensure continued economic growth, national security and social stability with the policy.

The main driving force behind the change is a worrying decline in the birth rate in China. Data from China’s National Bureau of Statistics released in May showed the country recorded 12 million births in 2020, the lowest number since the 1960s. It was a significant decrease from 18 million births in 2016.

A clown makes balloon-shaped animals outside a shopping mall on International Children's Day in Beijing on June 1, a day after China announced it would allow couples to have three children. (Photo: AFP)

China now has a below-replacement-level fertility rate of 1.3 children per woman, down from the replacement level of 2.1. The demographic decline is a result of China’s repressive one-child policy from 1980 to 2016 that created a massive gender imbalance and female infanticides, while the high cost of living and education deterred many couples from having more than one child.

Critics claim the policy will fail without structural changes such as improved access to childcare, maternity leave and a significant reduction in education costs.

In politically volatile Hong Kong, Catholics joined special Masses in seven churches on Friday to pay tribute to hundreds of pro-democracy protesters killed in Tiananmen Square of Beijing in 1989. For years, up to 130,000 Hong Kong residents joined an annual candlelight vigil in Victoria Park to mark the anniversary.

However, police this year cancelled the event, citing social distancing measures to curb the spread of Covid-19. Critics say the measure has political dimensions as Hong Kong faces one of the most difficult periods in its history since the British handover of the territory to China in 1997. 

A woman places a candle on a railing during a candlelit remembrance at Victoria Park in Hong Kong on June 4, 2020, to mark the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. (Photo: AFP)

This year’s ban is believed to have stemmed from Beijing’s repressive national security law, imposed on Hong Kong last June, that prohibits acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. The legislation has sparked deadly protests and crackdowns.

Last year, despite a ban, thousands went to Victoria Park. Eventually, 26 people were charged with offenses including taking part in an unauthorized assembly and incitement. 

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