Are priests no longer safe in Duterte's Philippines?

By On June 17, 2018

Are priests no longer safe in Duterte's Philippines?

Father Richmond Nilo was the third priest killed in the Philippines six months, and the fourth targeted for assassination.

Father Richmond Nilo was about to say Sunday Mass at the Our Lady of the Snows chapel in Zaragoza, Nueva Ecija, when the shots rang out. The assassin, stationed by a window, fired at least seven times; at least four bullets hit Richmond.

He died on the spot, in front of about 60 horrified churchgoers, at the foot of a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Unlike the venerable legend after which the chapel was named, it wasn’t unseasonal snow but a shower of blood that filled and marked the ground on which he had stood just moments before.

Richmond was the third pries t killed in six months, and the fourth targeted for assassination. On April 29, in Gattaran, Cagayan, Mark Anthony Ventura was killed after saying Sunday Mass. He was with a group of children, blessing them, and talking to members of the local choir, when a lone gunman on a motorcycle rode up to him and shot him in the head and the chest. Death was immediate.

On Decmber 4 last year, in Jaen, also in Nueva Ecija, Marcelito Paez was ambushed by motorcycle-riding gunmen. Earlier that day, the longtime activist-priest had helped secure the release of a political prisoner in Cabanatuan City.

The fourth assassination attempt took place only a few days before the attack on Father Richmond. On June 6, Fr Rey Urmeneta, driving his car, was also ambushed in Calamba, Laguna. The former chaplain of the Philippine National Police sustained two wounds, but was later reported in a stable condition in hospital.

Priests have been killed before, but four assassination attempts and three deaths in six months? These are highly unusual, and require urgent attention. This is the most number of priests killed in recent memory.

Despite the growth in other religions, and the new respect for Islam as the faith of millions of Filipinos, Catholicism remains by far the country’s largest religion. Catholic bishops retain a residual reservoir of goodwill and influence. And priests remain respected pillars of their communities. For Filipino families, then, the murder of a priest remains doubly shocking.

At the least, these acts of violence against priests show a deterioration in peace and order, under the most peace-and-order-oriented administration since 1972. They are an indictment of the administration’s competence in, and capacity for, crime fighting.

At worst we must raise questions about President Rodrigo Duterte administration’s complicity in the culture of impunity which enables motorcycling gunmen to assassinate priests at will. When Duterte kissed a married woman in Seoul, South Korea for the entertainment of his audience earlier this month, what was she doing on stage in the first place? She and another overseas Filipino worker had been invited to receive copies of a book the president was giving away: the late journalist Aries Rufo’s “Altar of Secrets”. The book is an investigation into different aspects of corruption in the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines, including violations of the vow of celibacy. Why would the president, visiting another country, give copies of such a book away?

For that matter, why would the president repeat accusations against the church in his various speeches, or respond to the killing of Father Mark Anthony not with anger but rather with a licence to impute all sorts of allegations against him?

In an anguished open letter writ ten after Father Richmond was killed, the clergy of the archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan asked the administration to stop the “verbal persecution of the Catholic Church” â€" because such verbal attacks can lead “unwittingly” to physical ones. Wittingly, too.

Source: Google News Philippines | Netizen 24 Philippines

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