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Service of Remembrance and Commitment to Work for Justice

December 8, 2009

Third Anniversary of the Death of Bishop Alberto Ramento

Prayer for the victims of Typhoon Ondoy or Tropical Storm Ketsana

(Silence)

We lift up our prayers to you, Lord, for the victims of Typhoon Ondoy in the Philippines. We grieve with those who have lost family members and friends in this violent storm, and we ask for the necessary shelter, clothes and medicine that those who have survived the storm need. May your healing power touch those who are in mourning and those who are injured, hungry, and desperate. Lead them to a new future where today there seems to be no future. May your compassion comfort them and keep their spirits warm.

We pray too, Lord, for a government in the Philippines that seeks to serve its people instead of seeking to serve the personal interests of its political leaders. May your love seep into the empty hearts of the president and those of her administration. May she and her officials come to know the true joy of your love and of your power instead of the shallow pleasure of worldly power and greed.

We lift all of these prayers up to you, Lord, for our sisters and brothers in the Philippines. Amen.

Remembering Bishop Ramento

Yesterday was the third anniversary of the extrajudicial killing of Bishop Alberto Ramento of the Philippine Independent Church. We have come here this evening to honor and remember the bishop's life and to not forget the way he died and why he died.

There is much that we should remember and honor this evening about the bishop's life. The list of senior church positions that he held throughout his life is long. He was the national leader of the Philippine Independent Church from 1993 to 1999 and was the diocesan bishop of Tarlac Diocese when he was killed. He was also the chairman of the Philippine Independent Church's Supreme Council of Bishops and a co-chairperson of the Ecumenical Bishops' Forum that brought together both Catholic and Protestant church leaders. In addition, he had been the chairman of the National Council of Churches of the Philippines (NCCP).

As much as we respect Bishop Ramento for holding these posts, this is not really what has gathered us here this evening, for Bishop Ramento was not just a church leader but was a Christian who sought to put his faith into action, to make Christianity meaningful and relevant to himself and meaningful and relevant to others.

It is appropriate that we hold this service on the street—this "Temple of the Street" if you will—for it was on the streets of the Philippines where Bishop Ramento carried out much of his ministry as a leader of the Philippine Independent Church. He stood, for example, with the striking farm workers of Hacienda Luisita in November 2004, seven of whom were shot dead on the picket line by the police and military. He supported the struggle of the workers in Cavite as the chairman of the Workers Assistance Center. He was a provincial leader in Tarlac of the human rights group Karapatan. He was an independent observer of the Joint Monitoring Committee of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), a mechanism that sought to protect the lives and the rights of civilians who might innocently find themselves on the front lines of the fighting between the government and the New People's Army (NPA). He was also the convener of Pilgrims for Peace and chaired the Promotion of Church People's Response (PCPR) in Central Luzon. Peace, human rights, social justice—these are the values of his Christian faith that he sought not just to champion in a Sunday sermon but to make real in the lives of the Filipino people.

When I heard about the death of Bishop Ramento and learned a bit more about his life, he reminded me very much of Oscar Romero, the Catholic archbishop of El Salvador, who, like Bishop Ramento, was killed because he stood with the oppressed of his nation. Both men saw themselves, not so much as leaders of their churches, but as servants of their people.

As I said earlier, we have gathered here this evening to remember and honor the life of Bishop Ramento as well as to never forget his premature death.

It is for this reason that we recall that he was fatally stabbed seven times at 4:00 a.m. on Oct. 3, 2006, in his convent room in Tarlac City in Central Luzon. Almost immediately the police said that the bishop's death was a homicide that occurred during a robbery.

Is this true?

Known as the Bishop of the Poor Peasants and Workers, what did this bishop of the poor have that others would want to steal, and was it necessary to kill this sleeping, 69-year-old man in order to take it?

Yet the police have maintained for these past three years that this was a robbery. They have even arrested several men they claim robbed and killed the bishop, although they have never been tried in court yet.

Did they rob and kill the bishop? Maybe.

Were they the masterminds of this violent crime? I doubt it.

What the police conveniently forgot, and continue to forget, is that Bishop Ramento was a vocal critic of the president. He opposed her attempts to amend the Constitution of the country to cling to power. He chastised President Arroyo for her failure to stop the extrajudicial killings and disappearances in the country she governed and to launch independent and credible investigations into them. As a member of the Philippine Independent Church's Executive Commission, he had signed, in fact, an open letter to Arroyo on Sept. 7, 2006—less than a month before he was fatally stabbed—calling on the president to voluntarily step down because of her failure to stop the increasing numbers of extrajudicial killings in the country.

What the police conveniently forgot, and continue to forget, is that many critics of the government, like Bishop Ramento, and champions of the poor, like Bishop Ramento, had been extra judicially killed in the Philippines for years, especially in Central Luzon where Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan had been the commander until his retirement on Sept. 11, 2006—again, less than a month before Bishop Ramento's murder.

What the police conveniently forgot, and continue to forget, is that Bishop Ramento had received death threats before he was killed, like so many other victims of extra judicial killings and disappearances in the Philippines. He had even told his family before his death: "I know they are going to kill me next but never will I abandon my duty to God and my ministry to the people."

Why then do the police continue to maintain that Bishop Ramento was killed during a robbery? Do they really want to solve this violent crime? Do they want to uphold the law? Do they want justice? Only they can answer this question.

Although I do not believe that Bishop Ramento was killed during a robbery, I do believe that a robbery has taken place. Bishop Ramento has been robbed of his life, his family has been robbed of a husband and father, the Philippine Independent Church has been robbed of a leader, the nation has been robbed of a prophet. What has been stolen is his compassion, his love for justice, his integrity, his voice.

What has been taken from us is something very rare and precious today—a man of conscience. We though need to continue his witness, to follow his example, to be his conscience in the world today, to continue to seek justice for his death and for the more than 1,000 people who have been extra judicially killed and disappeared in the Philippines in the past eight years. This is the challenge he has left to us.

The Bible says in John 15:13 that "greater love has no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends."

Friends, Bishop Ramento has heeded these words, and that is why we're here this evening. Amen.

Bruce Van Voorhis

(Bruce Van Voorhis works in Hong Kong for Interfaith Cooperation Forum [ICF], a regional network of young Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim and indigenous activists working for justpeace at the grassroots level in South and Southeast Asia. ICF is a joint program of the Asia and Pacific Alliance of YMCAs [APAY] in Hong Kong where Bruce is based and the Christian Conference of Asia [CCA] located in Chiang Mai, Thailand.)

 

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