A Catholic bishop in the central Philippines condemned what he described as “unstoppable murders” in his diocese following the assassination of a rural doctor and her husband this week.
Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos in Negros Island said the killing of Dr. Mary Rose Sancelan and her husband, Edwin, “is unwelcoming of the spirit of the Season of Christmas.”
Still unidentified gunmen shot and killed the doctor and her husband while they were on their way home in the city of Guihulngan, Negros Oriental province on December 15.
Human rights group Karapatan said the doctor, who served as the city’s health officer, was earlier “red-tagged” and was on a “hit list” of an anti-communist vigilante group in the province.
The killing of Sancelan and her husband came hours after the release of the International Criminal Court’s “Report on Preliminary Examination Activities 2020.”
The report said it has found “reasonable basis” to believe that President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-narcotics campaign spawned crimes against humanity, including killings.
“Dr. Sancelan was branded, vilified, red-tagged, and now, executed, by the ruthless pawns of the enablers of ‘systematic killings’ in this country,” said Bishop Alminaza in a statement.
In a statement, Karapatan “the incident clearly shows how relentless vilification leads to merciless death.”
Initial police reports said Sancelan and her husband were shot to death by motorcycle-riding gunmen while on their way home in Poblacion village in the city.
They were brought to a local hospital, but were declared dead on arrival.
“Their killing reveals that the threats of tagging individuals as part of the New People’s Army are real and certainly not contrived,” said Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general.
Palabay said the incident was the latest in the spate of killings in Negros, including the assassination of human rights worker Zara Alvarez this year.
“How many more people need to suffer the fate of the dozens of individuals killed, red-tagged as terrorists, and then end up dead?” said Palabay.
“Health frontliners like them who rendered invaluable service and sacrifice especially during the pandemic were not only exposed to a deadly virus but to a dangerous political environment,” she said.
Bishop Alminaza said Sancelan’s “only crime, much like the soon-to-be born-infant Jesus in a manger, was her unselfish service to the poor people of Guihulngan—both as a ‘barrio doctor’ and as ‘defender of the poor.'”
The prelate said the doctor’s life and her commitment to true government service deserved a worthy recognition, but the government failed to protect her.
“If the government cannot protect us, who else will?” asked the bishop. “If the government cannot protect us, how are we ordinary citizens to be expected to trust this government?”
He expressed hope that there will be a swift and determined investigation into the couple’s death as he asked everyone to pray for an end to the killings.
“Join me in prayer in the face of unstoppable murders in our Diocese. Join me in hope that these killings will soon end,” said the bishop.
“But join me, too, in condemning, in the strongest possible terms, the senseless murder of helpless civilians and dedicated servants of government,” he added.
“Today, more than ever, the Filipino families do not deserve this senseless gift of violence,” said Bishop Alminaza.