Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila on Monday condemned the murder of a priest on Sunday in the Archdiocese of Tuguegarao in the Philippines.

Father Mark Ventura was gunned down in front of parishioners after celebrating Mass in Gattaran, Cagayan. Reports said the priest was beginning to celebrate a baptism ceremony when the assailants attacked.

Speaking during the ordination of Bishop Bartolome Santos, Jr. in Malolos City on April 30, the cardinal said it was “sad” the priest was killed, noting it was a sign that people no longer value life as a gift from God.

“And even if he’s not a priest… a person. Isn’t he a gift from God? Is it that easy nowadays to just kill and throw someone away?” Tagle said.

Archbishop Romulo Valles, the president of the Philippines bishops’ conference, issued a statement shortly after the murder saying the bishops were ”totally shocked and in utter disbelief” after hearing about the attack, calling it “an evil act.”

Karapatan, a human rights organization based in the Philippines, said Ventura may have been killed for his anti-mining advocacy and for supporting indigenous communities in the area.

“When the Church stands up for the poor, its people become targets,” said Cristina Palabay, the Karapatan secretary general on April 30.

“There is no doubt that there is a disturbing trend of Church people being persecuted for their stance and involvement in human rights,” she said.

“Peasants, too, have been killed throughout regimes for organizing among their communities, and for actively struggling for genuine agrarian reform. We demand an end to these killings, as well as to the system that has made it ripe for such murderers to exist without fear of accountability nor regard for people’s rights,” Palabay concluded.

In a statement, Archbishop Sergio L. Utleg of Tuguegarao called Ventura “zealous and dedicated, one who smelled like his sheep.”

The archbishop called on the authorities “to act swiftly in going after the perpetrators of this crime and to bring them to justice.”

“There have been too many murders already done with impunity in our country by assassins riding in tandem. May this be the last,” Utleg said.

Ventura is the first priest to be murdered in the Philippines in 2018, although Father Marcelito Paez was shot dead in December 2017.

The Justice and Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission of the Carmelite order in the country blamed the murders on a “culture of impunity” in the Philippines.

The statement signed by Carmelite Fathers Marlon Beredo and Gilbert Billena, said this culture “does not exempt Church people and those who are genuinely serving the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, and the rejected. In fact, in the last four months we have seen a crackdown on people whose heart is only to do God’s will in serving those who are in need, people whom even the government has forgotten to serve.”

The funeral for Ventura was held on Tuesday.