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5 Religious People Who Were Detained in Their Fight for Human Rights

In the past, even priests, nuns, seminarians, and lay workers were detained, tortured, and killed in their fight for human rights. 

In a June 17 webinar organized by the Management Association of the Philippines, retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio declared that if the pending Anti-Terrorism Bill becomes law, “it is as if the Philippines is permanently under a situation that is worse than martial law. I am objecting to the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 because several provisions are unconstitutional,” he said. 

Among those provisions is Section 29, which allows the arrest and detention of suspected terrorists by the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC), a group made up of cabinet secretaries. This, Carpio said, goes against the Constitution, which recognizes a judge as the only person who can issue warrants of arrest.

“The ATC can issue an arrest order even without probable cause,” he added. “Section 29 does not create standards or limitations to the power of the ATC.” (Read: What Will Happen If The Anti-Terrorism Bill Gets Signed Into Law?)

As groups hold protests against the controversial bill (which awaits the signature of President Rodrigo Duterte), we recall five religious personalities who were detained, tortured, and killed by Marcos-era troops in their fight for people’s rights. 

Fr. Rosaleo Rudy Romano

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Photo from Baclaran Church Facebook; Background photo from Martial Law Chronicles Project

Executive Secretary of the Cebu-based Coalition against People’s Persecution and National Vice-President (Visayas) of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, Fr. Romano was sympathetic to the plight of Cebu’s laborers. In the mid-‘80s, he spoke on their behalf during transport strikes, and provided victims of military harassment with shelter and refuge. (Read: Church Leaders Unite To Take Stand Against Anti-Terrorism Law)

Twice arrested and briefly detained himself, Fr. Romano was leaving a convent in Cebu City via motorcycle on July 11, 1985, when a government car and two motorcycles blocked his way. Armed men from the car then accosted him into their vehicle and sped away. The priest has never been seen or heard from again. Since then, people pay their respects to Fr. Romano through a symbolic tombstone found outside Cebu’s Redemptorist Church. 

Trifonio Andres 

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Photo from Bantayog ng mga Bayani; Background photo from Martial Law Chronicles Project; Background photo from Martial Law Chronicles Project

Fondly known as Ponyong, the seminarian from Davao City visited political prisoners and detainees in his hometown’s jails as a volunteer of Task Force Detainees of the Philippines. A staunch advocate for human rights, he championed the causes of such marginalized groups as indigenous communities, dispossessed farmers, and lowly paid workers.  

Ponyong was attending a wedding in Libungan, North Cotabato, when soldiers, who were supposedly looking for communist guerillas, barged into the event and arrested him and 14 others. He was tortured and shot before he was executed in the Davao Metropolitan District Command Center in Digos, Davao del Sur, on August 17, 1983.  (Read: Caritas PH on Anti-Terror Bill: ‘Activism is not Terrorism’)

Sr. Mariani Dimaranan

these-5-religious-personalities-were-detained-tortured-and-killed-in-their-fight-for-human-rights
(Photo from Human Rights Update / Task Force Detainees of the Philippines / Global Sisters Report); Background photo from Martial Law Chronicles Project

For 21 years, the petite Franciscan nun headed Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, the group formed to document human rights abuses and fight for the release of political prisoners and the illegally detained. 

Her suspected involvement in subversive activities in 1973 led to her own detention for six weeks at Camp Crame and Fort Bonifacio. There, she learned of the struggles and torture endured by illegally detained individuals. Sr. Mariani continued to run Task Force Detainees of the Philippines long after martial law’s lifting and President Ferdinand Marcos’ reign. She died in 2005 at the age of 81. 

Inocencio Ipong

these-5-religious-personalities-were-detained-tortured-and-killed-in-their-fight-for-human-rights
Photo from Bantayog ng mga Bayani; Background photo from Martial Law Chronicles Project

A lay worker of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), Inocencio, or Boy, as he was called by friends and family, was also actively involved with Khi Rho and the Federation of Free Farmers. Abucted and illegally detained at Camp Catitipan, Davao City, in 1982, he was tortured and forced by his captors to admit he was someone else. He was eventually freed after family and members of RMP found him 10 days later and negotiated for his release. 

Boy and other religious and lay people were en route to Cebu for a seminar on the M/V Cassandra, when poor weather sank the ship. More than 200 passengers, including Boy and his group, perished in the waters off Surigao. 

Fr. Nilo Castillejos Valerio Jr. 

these-5-religious-personalities-were-detained-tortured-and-killed-in-their-fight-for-human-rights
Photo from Bantayog ng mga Bayani; Background photo from Martial Law Chronicles Project

Even as a seminarian, he already had a heart for rural and indigenous folks. Thus, in his first assignment as parish priest of Abra, Fr. Valerio openly supported farmers who were protecting their land from the takeover of a company that was a known crony of President Marcos. 

Government soldiers suspected the priest of being one of the farmers’ leaders. On August 24, 1985, Fr. Valerio and two others were killed and beheaded by military troops. Soldiers placed the severed heads of the priest and his companions on poles and displayed them around town, much to the horror of villagers. (READ: Get to know St. Lucy, the light that shone bright during Christianity’s darkest days)

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