30 Years On: Remembering the Negros Nine

17th July 2014 - by Ellen Teague

The thirtieth anniversary of the release of the ‘Negros Nine’ is being marked in the Philippines. The Nine were three missionary priests and six lay leaders who were accused on trumped up charges of killing a municipal mayor and his companions on the island of Negros during the Marcos dictatorship in the ’80s.

In 1983, three priests – including Australian Columban Brian Gore and Irish Columban Niall O’Brien – and six lay workers on Negros Island, the Philippines, were falsely charged with multiple murders.

At that time, the nine were serving as voices of the poor communities against military oppression and for social justice. The authorities hoped to silence them. Over the next fourteen months of trial and imprisonment they become known worldwide as the Negros Nine. Their ordeal gained international attention, which helped secure their release in July 1984.

The exonerated Negros Nine became a voice for the poor, as encouraged by Pope John Paul II in 1981 when he said “the church should not hesitate to be the voice of those who have no voice.”

The Negros Nine Human Development Foundation was set up in 2000 on Negros to continue the work of human development started in the dark years of the Marcos dictatorship and in the memory of all those who suffered and died in the course of justice.

The vision of the foundation – where Fr Brian Gore is a trustee  – is to promote the non-violent transformation of society through total and integral human development.

One of their goals is to promote sustainable agriculture through organic farming, and an organic farm of crops, goats, chickens and tilapia is being developed. Adjacent to the site is a reforestation project for a 70-hectare denuded watershed.

The foundation also has a nutrition program for 174 pupils at the nearby elementary school, where pupils are given nutritious lunch by eight teams of parents who prepare, cook and serve the food. Recently, the foundation started a weaving project, with five full-time weavers. Their products, ranging from scarves to shawls, are largely exported to Australia to contacts of Fr Brian Gore, and to ensure steady supply of raw materials the foundation planted abaca locally.

The Foundation is also involved in the campaign against human trafficking in southern Negros. So far, it has filed two cases in courts and is producing a book on the relevant laws against trafficking, copies of which will be given to local governments and concerned government agencies.

The days of the Marcos dictatorship are long gone, but for the five Negros Nine survivors, their work with poor communities and for the exploited Earth has never ended.

Find out more about the Negros Nine Foundation

Read a tribute to Columban missionary Fr Niall O’Brien who died in 2004