During this Easter season, we remember again the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross so that others may have new life.

During this Easter season, we remember again the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross so that others may have new life.

It is thus an appropriate time to also remember the sacrifice of Fr. William Tadena of the Philippine Independent Church and the Rev. Edison Lapuz of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) who were both crucified by an assassin’s bullet. Fr. Tadena was shot on March 13, 2005, on his way home after mass by two unidentified gunmen, and the Rev. Lapuz was killed about two months later on May 12 in a similar fashion while attending the burial rites of his father-in-law. Fr. Tadena was apparently killed because he supported the striking farm workers at the Hacienda Luisita, a sugarcane plantation on the island of Luzon owned by the powerful Cojuanco family that is related to former President Corazon Aquino. More than 5,000 workers had gone on strike for higher wages and their land rights in November 2004. Ten days after they launched their picket at the front gate of the plantation the police and military fired on their picket line on Nov. 16, killing seven workers, severely injuring 10 others and hospitalizing a further 200 protestors.

Meanwhile, it is believed that the Rev. Lapuz was killed in the Eastern Visayas region of the country because he had been a vocal proponent for justice for the family of human rights lawyer Felidito Dacut who was killed on March 14, 2005. The Rev. Lapuz had also assisted the victims of other human rights violations and their families and had criticized the harassment of human rights activists in the area.

Sadly, Fr. Tadena and the Rev. Lapuz are not the only cases of systematic killings in the Philippines. The country’s Commission on Human Rights reported that more than 50 church workers, lawyers, journalists, peasants and others were killed in similar circumstances to those of Fr. Tadena and the Rev. Lapuz in the first five months of 2005 alone, thus triggering memories of the unrestrained violence of the martial law era of President Ferdinand Marcos in the 1970s and 1980s.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) in Hong Kong where I serve sent urgent appeals by e-mail to thousands of people around the world in response to the killing of Fr. Tadena and the Rev. Lapuz calling for an investigation of their murders and the prosecution of those responsible as well as efforts by the government to prevent further needless deaths and to promote dialogue to peacefully settle the Hacienda Luisita labor dispute.

This Easter, as we once again remember the sacrifice of Jesus for others, let us also remember the sacrifice of his faithful followers today, Fr. Tadena and the Rev. Lapuz, whose lives were violently taken from them because they simply wanted a better life for Filipino farm workers and justice for slain human rights defenders.

With Peace,

Bruce Van Voorhis

Bruce Van Voorhis serves as missionary with the Asian Human Rights Commission located in Hong Kong. He serves as a writer and editor with the Commission.