Murder is murder, whatever the motive is.
That’s what Caloocan Bishop Virgilio David said Sunday as he called for justice for Father Mark Ventura, who was slain last month in Cagayan province—yet whose death was justified by President Rodrigo Duterte, who said the priest had several illicit affairs.
Ventura was killed by motorcycle-riding gunmen on April 29 as he was blessing children after a Mass in Gattaran, Cagayan. He was the second priest to be killed in the country in four months; last December, Father Marcelito Paez, 72, was slain in Jaen, Nueva Ecija, also by unidentified gunmen.
Police earlier said they were investigating “serious personal grudges” as a motive in Ventura’s murder. The news service of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines also said the priest was known for his anti-mining advocacies and for helping indigenous peoples in the province.
However, Duterte, who spoke in Tabogon, Cebu, on Sunday, linked the cleric to several supposed illicit affairs, even showing a matrix of the 37-year-old priest’s alleged involvement with at least four women.
The President did not name the priest in his speech but the title of the matrix he showed was “Shooting to Death of Father Mark Anthony Ventura.”
In reply, the bishop said: “If Fr. Mark’s case is a ‘DUI,’ i.e. a death under investigation, it remains unresolved for as long as the murderers are not being brought to justice.”
The Caloocan church leader, arguably the most outspoken bishop against extrajudicial killings during the Duterte administration, said he preferred to believe the testimony of Tuguegarao Archbishop Sergio Utleg—who supervised the area where Ventura served—and the people who knew the priest better.
“I will hold on to the words of the archbishop, priests, and lay people of Tuguegarao who have vouched for the integrity of Fr. Mark,” David said.
“I hope and pray that the Archdiocese of Tuguegarao can help in establishing the truth in the interest of justice, especially now that Fr. Mark is already dead and no longer has the capacity to defend himself against such serious allegations,” he added.
Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles, president of the CBCP, also condemned the “evil act” in a separate statement.
“We make our appeal to the authorities to act swiftly in going after the perpetrators of this crime and to bring them to justice,” added Valles.
In Cebu, the President said of the priest: “Look at the matrix. How could you not die? There’s the wife of the vice mayor, the wife of a policeman, the wife of a soldier, the wife of a big businessman. You will really die.”
Utleg described Ventura as a young, dedicated priest who asked to serve as a missionary to remote areas of Cagayan and was a cleric “who smelled like his sheep.”
Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle also denounced Ventura’s death, calling for the tolling of church bells every 8 p.m. to remember the priest.
“The bells beckon us to remember the dead, never to forget them, and to ask God to remember them,” Tagle said. “The bells haunt the perpetrators of violence and killing to remember their victims, never to forget them.”