This article appeared in Far East Magazine November 2014 issue and Columbans Ireland website
It is hard to believe that it is thirty years since the story of an Irish Missionary priest facing death in the Philippines hit the headlines in Ireland. It was a story that captured the headlines not only in Ireland but also, in many other countries around the world, especially Australia and the United States. Lots of things have happened in the intervening period for the Catholic Church, not all of them positive stories, but the story of the Negros Nine should not be forgotten and for all the right reasons.
I was a young reporter in RTE (Ireland’s National Radio and TV Station) when the story broke. Two Columban missionary priests, one secular priest, and the six lay leaders had been arrested and charged with the murder of a local Mayor on the island of Negros in the Philippines. I can vividly recall Niall O’Brien being interviewed on RTE Radio from his prison-cell in a place called Bacolod, telling how he and his two fellow priests, Australian, Brian Gore and secular priest Vicente Dangan, along with six lay leaders, were facing a possible death sentence on a trumped-up charge.
In essence this was a simple story of priests siding with the local sugar-workers on the island of Negros, helping them in their struggle to get better conditions. For their efforts, they were framed with the murder of the Mayor of Kabankalan, Pablito Sola. Even though the Mayor had been killed by members of a rebel group called the New Peoples Army, it suited the local ‘sugar barons’ to accuse them of the murder.