Bishop calls slain Escalante councilor a ‘martyr,’ seeks end to killings
BORACAY ISLAND, AKLAN — San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza has called slain human rights activist and Escalante City councilor Bernardino ‘Toto’ Patigas Sr. “a martyr of the sugar workers’ struggles in the island of Negros.”
In a statement issued on Thursday, Alminaza offered condolences to the family of Patigas and called for justice.
“In sadness, we all are crying out: End the Killings! These barbaric and calculated assassinations must end! We should not tolerate this kind of crime. Tay Toto was a dedicated human rights worker who himself became a victim by these uncontrolled killings of Filipinos,” the prelate said.
Motorcycle-riding gunmen shot Patigas dead on April 22 as he was driving his motorcycle on his way home to Barangay Washington in Escalante City, 93 kilometers from Bacolod City.
Patigas, 72, and former secretary general of the North Negros Alliance of Human Rights Advocates was running for re-election as a city councilor.
He was a survivor of the infamous Escalante Massacre wherein 20 mostly farmers and farm workers were gunned down by soldiers and paramilitary men while they were holding a protest on September 20, 1985, against the Marcos dictatorship.
Alminaza paid tribute to Patigas as a “devoted church worker.”
He said the victim was a mission partner of the Carmelites in the city and was the president of the Parish Pastoral Council of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Old Escalante.
“He tirelessly worked for the Basic Ecclesial Communities program of the parish. His faith moved him to serve his poor brothers and sisters and was admired by the locals because of his humility and simplicity,” Alminaza said.
“He was a veteran grassroots activist, an active campaigner against coal in Northern Negros, and it was ironic that he was mercilessly killed on Earth Day!” he said.
Patigas’ experience in surviving the massacre moved him to work for the cause of the workers.
“His dedication to social justice is highly commendable, as he selflessly gave his life serving the oppressed and exploited sugarcane workers of Negros Island. With his untiring commitment to the cause of the poor, he received numerous death threats and harassment,” Alimaza said.
He said Patigas earned the affection of Escalante residents due to his service and elected him city councilor.
“As a city councilor, he amplified the voices of the toiling sugarcane workers, fisherfolk and urban poor; and organized mass actions, such as the annual commemoration of the Escalante Massacre,” the prelate said.
“He showed us the way to care for the oppressed. The life of Tay Toto is telling us not to forget our sugarcane workers but to continue working with them,” Alminaza said.
The bishop called for a stop to the killings.
“May the growing death list disturb the consciences of the murderers. It is my ardent prayer that instead of perpetrating violence, they may open their eyes to the reality of truth–that life is precious, that it is a sin to kill,” he said.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.