Philippines trial over, but doubts linger in chicago priest`s
The trial of Sagin Munday, accused of murdering Rev. Carl Schmitz, a Chicago native, drew to a close last week in a small, noisy courtroom in southern Mindanao, 650 miles south of Manila.
Although the presiding judge has 90 days to announce his decision-there is no jury in Philippine criminal cases-the expectation among most observers, including Special State Prosecutor Aurelio Trampe, is a murder conviction.
The courtroom was crowded with American missionary priests, nuns and local townspeople.
According to witnesses, Father Schmitz, 70, was shot to death last April 7 at about 9 p.m. on the steps of his mountain mission in Bulol, 10 rugged miles north of the provincial capital of Koronadal. The man who fired the gun was Munday, 28, a tribal villager who graduated from the mission school.
Munday admits to the killing but pleaded innocent to murder, hoping for a lesser conviction on homicide.
”I did it, I should be punished-but I didn`t mean to,” says Munday, who speaks and understands English well.
Why did Munday, a clean-cut, slender man, and a father of four, kill Father Schmitz?
There is no clear answer.
There are, however, a number of unproven but credible stories circulating besides Munday`s statement that he believed Father Schmitz was ”collaborating with communists.”
Many think Munday did not act alone.
The unproven conspiracy theories point to the military, businessmen involved in logging, the village leader, and even the Communist Party itself. It seems one pious man, committed to serving the poor, was able to make plenty of enemies.
”The quick and unfounded accusation of `communist` against anyone serving the poor and working for a more just distribution of national wealth and human rights . . . is a technique of the antireformists,” says Rev. Rex Mansmann, interviewed in his bamboo and thatch home in Lake Sebu, a nearby tribal community. Father Mansmann, who has worked here for 25 years, has himself received death threats in the last year.
Antireformists, according to Father Mansmann, include big landowners and old-style politicians who have contacts with corrupt and criminal elements.
”It used to be unthinkable to shoot a priest,” says Father Mansmann,
”but in the last eight years, four priests have been murdered in Mindanao.”