August 28, 2001, Inquirer, Attacked in Mindanao: Irish priest shot dead, by Edwin O. Fernandez, Inquirer Mindanao Bureau,
Posted: 11:54 PM (Manila Time)
COTABATO CITY—An Irish missionary priest was shot dead Tuesday by four masked men believed to be kidnappers in Malabang, Lanao del Sur, police said.
Fr. Rufus Halley, a Columban missionary in Malabang for 20 years, was heading for his convent after an inter-religious dialogue in nearby Balabagan town at 5 p.m. when he was attacked.
He was shot in the head and died on the spot, according to senior superindentent Akmad Omar, police chief of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao.
Cotabato Roman Catholic Archbishop Orlando Quevedo, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, strongly condemned Halley's murder and urged authorities to give justice to the fallen man of God.
"I'm very sad . . . I strongly condemn this act. (It's) very tragic," Quevedo said.
"We have this someone, a missionary at that, working for the people, for better understanding and love, is shot dead," he said. "What a great loss for people who are working for peace."
Omar said Halley was riding on his motorcycle when the gunmen flagged him down on a dirt road in Diamaro District. "He was supposed to be kidnapped but, according to witnesses, the priest resisted and he was shot," Omar told Church-run radio dxMS here late Tuesday afternoon.
"He died instantly," Omar later said in a phone interview from his base in Parang, Maguindanao.
He said the gunmen were armed with Armalite rifles and sporting ski masks.
Halley, who was in his late 40s, was assigned to the Our Lady of Peace parish, which is part of the Prelature of Marawi. He was active in peace advocacy in Malabang, a predominantly Muslim coastal town in Lanao del Sur.
A church worker in Malabang told the INQUIRER that parishioners had been reminding their priest to be extra careful in moving around since he was a foreigner.
Foreign priests working for a Christian minority in the province were previously harassed or kidnapped, according to the church worker, who requested not to be identified.
"He could speak practically all the local dialects in Malabang," the worker said.
In 1997, another Columban priest from Ireland, Rev. Msgr. Desmond Hartford, was kidnapped by former Muslim rebels in Kolambugan, Lanao del Norte, and eventually released. Hartford then served as apostolic administrator of the Marawi prelature.
Another Church worker, who is into catechism, said Halley "was well-loved by the people, both Muslims and Christians, because he was into peace advocacy and inter-faith dialogues."
"He was a very good priest," she added.
The two Church workers went to Cotabato City at eight o'clock last night to fetch an embalmer.
"We have no embalmer in Malabang," she said. Malabang is about 80 kilometers south of Cotabato City.
Omar said Marines and Malabang policemen had launched a joint pursuit operation following reports that the attackers were still in the town center.
"We have witnesses that could help us track down the assailants," he said.
Quevedo said he was hoping witnesses would come out and help give justice to Father Halley, whom he described as "a very dedicated priest and loved by many".
"He is a great loss to our people, a great loss to the Church and to our country," he said.
More than 40 Catholic bishops in Mindanao are expected to gather Wednesday in Cagayan de Oro City for peace dialogues.
Quevedo could not attend the Bishop Ulama Forum in Cagayan de Oro because he was to proceed to Manila on Wednesday.
"Archbishop Lito Lampon, OMI, of the Jolo Vicariate, who was in Cagayan de Oro, informed me of the incident," Quevedo said.
"It's very unfortunate that Church leaders of all faiths are gathered for peace advocacy when one of our priests was killed while performing his task of building peace," he said.
Informed that police reports showed that Halley was to be kidnapped for ransom when he was shot dead, Quevedo said the Church would not give ransom.
"The Church does not pay ransom for kidnapped priests and nuns because if we do, there will be more priests and religious getting kidnapped in the future," he said.