Hontiveros urges Senate inquiry into killing of 3 priests
Are Catholic priests now the target of “tokhang” operations?
Sen. Risa Hontiveros raised this question on Wednesday as she sought a Senate inquiry into the killing of priests amid President Rodrigo Duterte’s verbal attacks on Catholic clergy critical of his war on drugs and other abuses.
The President has accused priests of hypocrisy and corruption for supposedly seeking favors from politicians.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, however, said the President “never incited these killings.”
The President was even alarmed by the killings and ordered an “intensified” campaign against crime, he added.
“We join the Catholic bishops and faithful in condemning the murder of Catholic priests — Fr. Mark Ventura, Fr. Tito Paez and Fr. Richmond Nilo,” Roque said.
Three priests had been gunned down over the past six months, and a fourth was seriously wounded.
The latest victim, Nilo, was shot dead as he was preparing to say Mass on Sunday in Zaragoza town, Nueva Ecija province. Paez was ambushed last December, also in Nueva Ecija, while Ventura was gunned down in April in Cagayan province.
Ventura, 37, was known for his antimining stance and for being close to indigenous communities. Paez, 72, was an activist and human rights defender.
On June 6, Fr. Rey Urmeneta, 64, a former police chaplain, was shot and wounded in Calamba City, Laguna province.
“Are Filipino priests now the subject of tokhang? Are they being ranked with the suspected drug users and pushers who are being listed and targeted?” Hontiveros said at the Kapihan sa Senado.
“Tokhang” refers to the police campaign to target drug dealers and users, which human rights groups say has led to thousands of suspects killed during police operations.
“Is this the result of the President’s repeated attacks against the Catholic Church leaders and the Church itself, especially since the Church is taking the lead in speaking up against the President’s violent war on drugs?” she added.
The killings “reinforce the culture of impunity to silence valid Church-led criticisms on state policies, particularly those with respect to human rights and due process,” Hontiveros said.
Chief Supt. Amador Corpus, Central Luzon police director, said investigators were looking into three possible motives in Nilo’s murder—his involvement in land disputes in the province, his support for rape victims and abused children and filing of cases against the suspects, and his staunch criticism of other religions.
Corpus said closed circuit television footage showed at least five people were involved in the attack—two gunmen and three lookouts.
The killers were spotted 2 kilometers away riding on a motorcycle and transferring to a car with the lookouts.
Police have not established the identities of the assailants.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.