Bishop Alberto Ramento of Tarlac in the Philippines, former Prime Bishop of the Philippine Independent Church, or Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI), was found stabbed to death at his rectory on the morning of October 3.
The initial police report said that he may have been killed by robbers, but others suspect Ramento, an outspoken critic of the Philippine government, could have been the victim of a political killing, the Manila Times reported.
"The true circumstances are still unknown though the initial report describes it as a robbery with homicide," according to the IFI website.
Those who knew Ramento and his advocacy work for peace and human rights joined in mourning his death, while vigils have been planned in Tarlac and at the cathedral in Manila.
The Rev. Winifred Vergara, missioner for Asian American Ministries in the Episcopal Church, was a priest in the IFI and remembers Ramento as "a prophetic voice in the Philippines" even after his retirement.
"He remained a committed nationalist, devoted to the cause of the Philippine Independent Church," he said. "He was very bold and always standing up for the oppressed and struggling for a free, humane and just Philippine society."
"We at the Episcopal Church Center were shocked to receive this horrible news," said Canon Margaret S. Larom, director of Anglican and Global Relations. "How terrible that this bold church leader should lose his life as a victim of a crime. But if his death is attributable to the foes of justice, how much worse.
"Our prayers are with the faithful members of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, and all people in the Philippines who looked to him as a voice of conscience in the wider society. May his soul rest in peace, and all who loved him find strength and patience at this time."
The Student Christian Movement of the Philippines recalled his last public speech at an Interfaith Rally on June 12, this year's National Independence Day, when he voiced strong objections against the country's political killings and corruption, as well as the government's move to amend the Philippine Constitution. "We have lost again a voice of conscience."
Mervin Toquero of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines said that Ramento's death is a big loss to the ecumenical movement in the country.
The Ecumenical Bishops' Forum, which Ramento co-chaired, has called for "an immediate and thorough investigation because Bishop Ramento was a staunch peace and human rights advocate" and had received death threats in connection with his advocacy, Toquero said. "A fact-finding team is now on its way to Central Luzon to investigate."
Ramento's death is the latest in a string of killings of Christian leaders in the Philippines. On June 17, Tito Marata, provincial officer of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines and a member of the Farmers for Agrarian Reform Movement, was gunned down by passing motorcyclists, taking the death toll of Christian activists to 17 in less than two years.
Ramento was also the chair of the Supreme Council of Bishops of the IFI as well as a convener of the Pilgrims for Peace, an alliance of peace advocates in the Philippines.
A Concordat of Full Communion that commits to mutual mission and ministry between the U.S.-based Episcopal Church and the IFI was first signed in 1961.
At the 75th General Convention, an updated version of the Concordat was signed by its current Obispo Maximo, the Most Rev. Godofredo David, and Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, as part of a June 19 reception for ecumenical and interfaith guests. Vergara noted that Ramento had been instrumental in the drafting process.
David will partake in the Thanksgiving Day Mass at the Silver Anniversary of Aglipay Central Theological Seminary (ACTS) on Saturday, October 7. A posthumous plaque and speech will be presented as recognition of Ramento's involvement in the re-opening of the seminary and his "unwavering support."