The recent murder of Philippine Independent Church (Aglipayan) bishop Alberto Ramento in his Tarlac cathedral-convent has sent a chill through the ecumenical community. The good bishop was once the Supreme Bishop of his church and was vocal for support of human rights and opposition to Mrs Gloria Arroyo's plan of changing the Philippine constitution.
Police investigators say that the motive for the crime was robbery. Aglipayans, Catholics, Protestants and the Left believe that the motive was political.
According to these parties, "They are killing bishops now"
Bishop Ramento was not just an ordinary cleric. He was once the head of the Independent Church and headed a flock of 5 million people. If we use an analogy that refers to the most numerous church, it was if the most senior Catholic cleric, Cardinal Rosales of Manila was murdered in his cathedral.
The murder was serious enough for the Catholic Bishops Conference to issue a statement of ecumenical concern and condemned the murder and called for justice. Catholic bishops have stood in solidarity with Aglipayan bishops on many human rights issues.
The Aglipayan Church has a nationalist and pro-poor heritage. When the Philippine Revolution was betrayed and the elite decided to collaborate with the occupuying Americans, many of the elite who joined the Aglipayans rejoined the Catholic Church. The poor on the other hand remained Aglipayan. The Catholic Church at that time still represented foreign domination since it was only after World War II that a Filipino Archbishop of Manila was appointed. The Aglipayan Church was way beyond its time. It celebrated the Mass in Tagalog more than 50 years before the Catholics replaced Latin with the vernacular.
My family especially the Ilocano side have remained loyal and faithful Independientes. Over the years especially after Vatican II the theological and practical differences between the Aglipayans and Catholics "Romanos" as they used to call us have narrowed and a common understanding has been reached. This is where we are now.
We have seen an escalation of violence in the last year against those who witness for what is true. It would serve President Arroyo well if she sends the murderers to justice. If she reads her history, the most famous murder of a bishop happened in England's Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. Archbishop Thomas Becket was assasinated by a group of knights that took the words of the English King Henry literally "Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?"
Becket died a martyr to the Church for his opposition to the King's abuse of the people. Three years later Becket was popularly canonized as a saint. Miracles were reported due to his intercession. The King had to seek forgiveness from the Pope and do public penance. After all who can win against the Holy?
Mrs Arroyo would be well served if she reads her TS Eliot. "Whenever a martyr's blood is spilled there is holy ground" So many priests and ministers of the Gospel have been killed in the Philippines that the whole country should be holy by now.