Isabela, Basilan. Father Rhoel Gallardo, C.M.F., a Claretian missionary in the Basilan region of the Philippine Islands, became a modern-day martyr on May 3, 2000 when he was murdered by Islamic rebels. He was 34.

He was executed by members of an Islamic separatist group that has been clashing with the Philippine government in recent years.

Also slain with Father Gallardo were one male and two female teachers at the Claret School in Tumahubong where they had been captured on March 20 and held hostage for six weeks. They had been abducted with 52 others, including teachers and school children.

During negotiations in April, some of the hostages were released by the rebels, and others were freed later by Philippine military forces. However, Father Gallardo, who was director of the school, and the other teachers were shot execution-style after the Muslim insurgents holding hostages were engaged by the troops searching for them.

The four had been tortured and forced to march barefoot through jungle paths by cover of darkness.

The national newspaper, The Philippine Daily Inquirer, ran Father Gallardo” picture on its front page with the caption, “Fr. Rhoel Gallardo: Requiem for A Martyr of Peace.”

Fr. Rhoel Gallardo

A Philippine native who was ordained a Claretian priest in 1994, Gallardo suffered three gunshot wounds in his head, shoulder and back, and the nails of his index finger and on his toes had been pulled out two or three days before he was shot at close range.

Archbishop Jaime Sin celebrated a requiem Mass for Father Gallardo on May 9 at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Manila where the Claretian missionary lay in state.

During his homily, Cardinal Sin said that “like a martyr, Father Gallardo willingly offered his life as a testimony of faith for all.

“He gave his life like Christ without discrimination. Forty-one Claretians have been beatified by the pope. There will be another one to be beatified soon.”

The slain “martyr for peace” was laid to rest in a cemetery near the Claretian Formation Center in Manila.

It was reported that Gallardo was beaten by his captors while leading the rosary among male hostages every evening at six o’clock, or whenever he would ask about the situation of other hostages who were separated from them.

Father Gallardo had volunteered to go to Mindanao when the priest who had been assigned there fell ill in June 1999. In addition to serving as director of the Claretian school, he also fulfilled his duties as a parish priest in Sumislip, Basilan.

In May of 2005, to commemorate the fifth anniversary of his death, a group of Father Gallardo’s friends began to compile testimonies and documents to support his beatification as the first Filipino martyr and saint of the new millennium.