2000-01-06 00:00:00

A parish priest who became a rebel during the rule of the late president Ferdinand Marcos was killed in his family home in the northern Philippines by a communist guerrilla group led by his younger brother.

Police reports said Conrado Balweg was having coffee inside his family home in Malibcong, Abra, 275 kilometers north of Manila, when he was shot at 4 a.m. Dec. 31. Abra is one of the five provinces in the mountainous and predominantly tribal Cordillera region in northern Luzon.

His brother Juvencio told a Jan. 3 press conference near Abra that the communist New People´s Army (NPA) command he leads was behind the execution, but he denied firing the bullets, which hit Conrado´s right arm and jaw.

Guerrillas of the Chadli Molintas Cordillera Region Command met with villagers after the killing and told people Balweg "deserved to die" for his "crimes against the Cordillera people and the revolutionary movement."

An NPA press statement cited "the long list of crimes of Conrado Balweg against the people of the Cordillera and the revolutionary movement (that) involved blood debts and cried out for capital punishment."

Balweg, 57, a member of the Tinggian tribe, was ordained a priest in the Divine Word Society by Pope Paul VI during his 1970 visit to Manila.

He told UCA News in 1987 that the killing of tribal leader Macli-ing Dulag in 1979 while Dulag led opposition to government plans to build a hydroelectric dam in the Cordillera inspired him to leave the rectory and defend the region´s people by armed force. He joined the NPA in 1979.

In the early 1980´s Balweg became the military´s most wanted man with a 200,000 peso (US$20,000) price on his head.

In 1986 he broke from the NPA and formed the Cordillera People´s Liberation Army (CPLA) with the late Father Bruno Ortega.

Former president Corazon Aquino recognized Balweg as chief spokesperson for the Cordillera region in September 1986, but he and a majority of the people in the region later rejected the government´s regional autonomy offer.

He narrowly escaped death in a June 1987 ambush by the NPA, which accused him of stealing arms, abduction, killing, and treason after forming the CPLA.

Conrado, who confessed to a retaliatory killing, said the ambush was a declaration of war against his army, eight of whose members were killed in the encounter, but Juvencio said it was directed at the military.

Cooperation with the military´s anti-NPA operations had led some to regard the CPLA as an anticommunist vigilante group, and it split in 1993.

Edicio de la Torre, a former Divine Word priest who taught Conrado theology, told UCA News Jan. 3 that he was shocked by news of the death of Balweg, whom he said he met in Manila Dec. 10 concerning a government project in Abra.

De La Torre, director general of the government´s Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, said that the NPA "should have gone beyond whatever mistakes they accused Balweg of committing. Balweg´s worth should have been weighed more carefully, since he also gave so much for the revolutionary movement."

He noted that Conrado was the only one among three brothers who entered the Divine Word Society who was eventually ordained a priest.

Services for Balweg are set for Jan. 8 at the Bangued diocese cathedral before his interment at the public cemetery in Bangued town, Abra. Bangued Catholic diocese covers the civil province of Abra.


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