A Catholic bishop in the central Philippines condemned what he described as the “senseless murder” of human rights lawyer Rex Jesus Mario Fernandez last week.
Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos called on authorities to investigate the incident and end the killings in the country.
“We join the call for a speedy investigation of his murder,” said the prelate in a report posted on CBCP News on Tuesday.
Bishop Alminaza said Fernandez, a former Redemptorist seminarian, “had a heart for the people and had touched so many lives.”
Fernandez had actively supported the advocacies of the local Churches on labor rights, urban poor welfare, environment protection, and good governance.
Bishop Alminaza said that when the clergy, religious, and lay people in the Visayas region needed legal assistance, Fernandez readily offered his time and expertise.
“We pray that Attorney Rex did not die in vain,” said the prelate, adding that the lawyer’s sacrifice “should lead us to a conversion of heart and mind to that of Jesus.”
“In effect, we can courageously and consistently pursue efforts to address the roots of sinful social structures and evil practices,” added the bishop.
Fernandez, 62, was on board his car when he was attacked by a gunman in Cebu City on August 26.
The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) decried the killing of Fernandez who was a founding member of the group in 2007.
He was also counsel for human rights group Karapatan.
“No words, indeed. Another colleague has fallen with his boots on. We had lost count. It has not stopped and every lawyer is a sitting duck,” said lawyer Edre Olalia, NUPL president.
Olalia described Fernandez as “passionate, intense and brave, even as he was unique in many ways.”
In a statement, the NUPL in Cebu said Fernandez was the 57th lawyer killed in the country since 2016 and the eleventh in Central Visayas during the same period.
Lawyer Jacqueline de Guia of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said the human rights body would probe the killing of Fernandez.
“CHR decries the brazen assault against a person’s right to life. No reason can ever justify any act that will arbitrarily deprive a person of their life,” said De Guia.
The CHR called on the government to act swiftly on Fernandez’s death, noting that “the list of unsolved cases of killings and violations of rights continue[s]” to rise.