Bishop Of Philippine Independent Church Found Stabbed To Death In Rectory

2006-10-03 00:00:00

A bishop of the indigenous Philippine Independent Church found stabbed to death Oct. 3 had led ecumenical movements and fought for human rights, particularly of sugar-plantation workers.

Bishop Alberto Ramento died from stab wounds during what is initially being described as a robbery with homicide, according to the Church´s official announcement. The "true circumstances" of the bishop´s death in his convent in Tarlac City, 105 kilometers northeast of Manila, are "still unknown," it said.

Father Wilfredo Ruazol, executive assistant to Obispo Maximo (supreme bishop) Godofredo David of Iglesia Filipina Independiente (Philippine Independent Church, IFI) went to Tarlac from the Church´s national headquarters in Manila on Oct. 3 afternoon. While traveling, he told UCA News that Bishop Ramento, 70, who headed the Tarlac IFI diocese, was serving as chairman of his Church´s Supreme Council of Bishops at the time of his death.

The priest said the Tarlac church´s caretaker found Bishop Ramento dead with stab wounds at around 7 a.m. Priests of his diocese contacted the Manila office and Father Ruazol was sent to inquire into the killing. He said the national police provincial director, mayor and other government officials went to the Tarlac church hours after reports of the bishop´s killing circulated.

"It is regretful because Bishop Ramento is one of the high-profile bishops of our Church," Father Ruazol told UCA News. The bishop´s death is "one big loss for our Church, for the ecumenical movement as well as for people´s organization," the IFI priest added. He noted that Bishop Ramento had served as co-chair of the Ecumenical Bishops´ Forum and was an active member of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) and Bishops-Ulama Conference.

As bishop of Tarlac, the prelate usually stayed in the parish of San Sebastian in Tarlac City. From 1993 until 1999, the late bishop served as IFI obispo maximo, the Church´s spiritual head, chief pastor and chief executive officer.

Father Ruazol described Bishop Ramento´s parish as largely composed of hacienda, or plantation, workers. The priest said the slain bishop used to visit rural parishes to minister to their members. He estimated his Church´s Tarlac diocese has about 18 priests. Father Ruazol recalled the late bishop "wanted to organize the community there and accompany the Hacienda Luisita workers in their struggle."

In November 2004, hundreds of plantation workers went on strike at Central Azucarera de Tarlac, the Luisita sugar mill, after more than 300 workers, including their union president, were retrenched. The strike ended 13 months later, in December 2005, when the sugar estate´s two labor unions signed memorandums of agreement with management. The latter agreed on a 40-million peso settlement to cover one union´s claims of unpaid wages and a financial package for a new collective bargaining agreement with the other.

Father Ruazol said, "We aren´t blaming anyone yet, but we consider Bishop Ramento´s involvement in social issues as a possible factor in his killing."

One reason why Church members and friends of the bishop "could not believe this was a plain and simple robbery," he said, "is because we know the mentality of Filipinos when it comes to Religious," referring to the respect accorded to priests and bishops in the predominantly Christian country. He added that the bishop´s wallet and other items were left "intact."

The priest described Bishop Ramento as "an outspoken critic of (President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) when it came to human rights violations and the issue of political killings." The IFI lost not only a bishop, but also "a prophet who will speak for the Church and for the nation," he said.

Father Ruazol recalled Bishop Ramento mentioning about five years ago that he was included in an "order of battle" of the armed forces´ Northern Luzon command. He had been part of the monitoring group for peace talks between the Philippine government and the communist National Democratic Front, and a member of various sociopolitical movements in Tarlac, so many are asking about these involvements, the priest continued.

Bishop Ramento also had reported that his church was under surveillance and that he noticed people were monitoring him, according to Father Ruazol.

The priest said he would meet with Tarlac IFI clergy in the afternoon to discuss the killing and how to call on the local government of Tarlac for a thorough investigation of the killing, and to plan Bishop Ramento´s wake.

Catholic Bishop Florentino Cinense, who heads Tarlac Catholic diocese, told UCA News he feels "very bad" about the killing and wants "to know the truth behind all these allegations."


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