Manila (AsiaNews) - Christian and Muslim leaders have condemned the killing of Universidad de Zamboanga (UZ) president Arturo Eustaquio III, calling on the authorities to stop the spate of killings in the southern Philippines city. Two suspects, reportedly on motorcycles, shot to death the 69-year-old Eustaquio, a Muslim, on Sunday in Santa Maria village.
An active member of the Inter-Religious Solidarity Movement for Peace (IRSMP), Eustaquio was laid to rest the next day on the grounds of the university, founded by his family. The college serves at least 8,000 students, both Christians and Muslims, and over the years has become one of the most prominent centres of higher education in the region. Its main campus is in Zamboanga City and Ipil, but plans are on the drawing board to start another branch in Pagadian City, Zamboanga del Sur.
The Eustaquio family also owns one of the main private hospitals in the city.
According to police, one motive for the murder was that the university was getting too big. In recent months, the victim had received death threats, the latest on 21 March. Police had warned him that he might be abducted for ransom.
In a press statement signed by IRSMP secretary Fr Angel Calvo and other Christian and Muslim religious leaders, the organisation described the slain educator as a peace advocate who helped students from poor families.
The group complained about the violence that is sweeping the city, with killings and kidnappings. Increasingly, residents are concerned and fearful about their safety.
"If an assassin can kill with impunity a man of stature like Eustaquio, who then in this city can be safe from a similar attack?" IRSMP leaders asked.
The IRSMP appealed to President Benigno Aquino III to exercise his extraordinary and special powers to order appropriate officials, agencies and sectors to restore and preserve peace and order and the rule of law in Zamboanga City and the rest of the island.
After 40 years of fighting between the Filipino military and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Mindanao has become one of the most dangerous places in the Philippines and the world. Abductions, attacks and killings are everyday occurrences, and most go unpunished.
During his election campaign, President Aquino promised to change direction from that taken by her predecessor, Gloria Arroyo. The latter is currently on trial on corruption charges and has been accused of protecting friendly businessmen involved in brutal murders.