Second time armed men came for Father Roda

“He struggled and resisted being taken away, and explicitly said that he preferred to be killed right there and then. A witness said that he was beaten and then shot dead. The armed men also took some valuables from his office before fleeing, taking with them also a male teacher of Notre Dame of Tabawan who happened to be there,” Father Ramon Bernabe, provincial of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI), said in an e-mailed letter to fellow Oblates and friends.

The teacher has been identified as Omar Taup of the Notre Dame of Tabawan and President of Voices that Care.

Chief Supt. Joel Goltiao, ARMM police director told DZBB radio that elements of the provincial mobile group and municipal police station are pursuing the perpetrators.

Maj. Eugene Batara, Jr., spokesperson of the Western Mindanao Command said the armed men are “believed to be Abu Sayyaf members.”

Father Roda,  director of the Notre Dame school and head of mission, was the third OMI member to have been killed by armed men in 11 years. Jolo Bishop Benjamin de Jesus was gunned down in Jolo, Sulu on February 4, 1997 and Father Benjamin Inocencio was gunned down near where the Bishop was killed in Jolo, on December 28, 2000.

Father Roda’s remains are now in the capital town of Bongao, some eight hours travel by boat from Tabawan. Father Roberto Layson, head of the OMI’s Inter-Religious Dialogue, said reports from Bongao said the Holy Rosary Church “is full of people, Muslims and Christians. Even the Muslims brought food, according to the parish priest.”

Father Jonathan Domingo, chief executive officer of Mindanao Cross and executive director of the Oblate Missionary Foundation, said Father Roda’s remains will be brought to Cotabato City “by Saturday or Sunday.”

Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo said the burial is set for January 23 at the Oblates’ Cemetery in Tamontaka, at the outskirts of Cotabato City, after the 8 a.m. mass.

Father Roda’s killing drew condemnation from various groups.

The website of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), reported that Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, CBCP president, was “deeply saddened” by what happened and “condemn the violence and pray for a just solution.”

The MILF’s website, quoted Sheikh Mohammad Muntassir, head of the MILF Da’wah (Call to Islam) Committee, as saying they “condemn this killing in the highest possible terms and the killers deserve hell for this barbaric act.”

Muntassir said the lives of non-combatants, including priests, are held inviolable in Islam even in combat situation.  He said the killing of Father Roda “is an indication of the worsening situation in the Philippines that spares no one from the scourge of violence.”

Milet Mendoza of Tabang Mindanaw, wrote the Pagtabangan sa BaSulTa (Basilan Sulu Tawi-tawi) e-group that Father Roda “had big dreams and hope for the people.”

Tabawan, like the rest of the areas in Tawi-tawi province, is predominantly Muslim.

The priest, also head of mission of the OMI in Tabawan, pursued programs for education and health. “He had in fact held a meeting with his convenors last Friday to plan out the activities and preparations,” Mendoza wrote.

“We had been working together since 2003 during the height of the deportation of Filipinos from Sabah – building core shelters, day care, feeding program for children and recently, the rehabilitation of classrooms. In our forthcoming undertaking, we were to expand to four more communities. He had assembled his Notre Dame of Tabawan teachers to become core convenors for peace and development work. Governance was a problem he was always grieving about,” Mendoza said.

Mendoza added that Father Roda “did not want to leave Tabawan yet because he still had more projects in the pipeline. He knew that when it was time to leave, the new leaders would have taken root.”

Andri Atmaka, OMI provincial in Indonesia, who met Father Roda when the latter visited them in 1993, said he still remembers his discussion with him “on the meaning of our vocation as Oblates. Now, he makes his whole life really as an Oblation to God.”

Veronica Villavicencio, executive director of Peace and Equity Foundation, wrote the OMI that while they “lost a brother and  faithful missionary, Pagtabangan BaSulTa has also lost a bridging leader and advocate for the poor of Tawi-Tawi.”

“We deplore the brutal killing of one who has done only good for the people of Tabawan. There is no plausible nor remotely acceptable explanation for this atrocity,” she said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)