Tolling of bells baffles Duterte
ILOILO CITY — President Duterte was talking about his campaign promise of killing tens of thousands of drug users and pushers when suddenly church bells rang.
“Is that the Angelus or they are just ringing for me?” President Duterte asked, interrupting his speech to 3,000 agrarian reform beneficiaries at the multipurpose gym in Cabatuan town, Iloilo province, on Wednesday evening.
The town’s Catholic church is located just meters from the gym, and the bells were ringing for the Angelus prayer.
But churches had been tolling their bells in recent days to mourn three priests who had been killed over the last six months.
Previously, bells at churches across the country tolled early evening to demand justice for the thousands of people killed by police and unknown assailants in Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs.
President Duterte paused and invited the Catholics in his audience to pray.
“The priest might get angry,” he said.
Then he continued his speech, saying he had documents on a “priest who was shot.”
“You will surely die if you are having an affair with the wife of a vice mayor or a wealthy businessman,” he said.
President Duterte did not name the priest, but he said earlier that Catholic priest Mark Anthony Ventura was killed for his illicit affairs with the wives of prominent men, including a police official, a businessman and a vice mayor.
Ventura was shot dead inside a chapel after saying Mass in Gattaran town, Cagayan, on April 29.
On June 10, gunmen fired through the window of a chapel in Zaragoza, Nueva Ecija, killing Fr. Richmond Nilo, who was preparing to say Mass.
On Dec. 4 last year, motorcycle-riding men gunned down retired priest Marcelito Paez, in Jaen, Nueva Ecija.
‘Verbal persecution’ of Church
Catholic Church leaders condemned the killings, some of them calling on President Duterte “to stop the verbal persecution” of the Church that may have inspired the attacks on priests.
In a speech at the convention center in Iloilo City later that night, Mr. Duterte said he respected the Church and that he had no policy against priests.
The President appealed to the clergy to stop linking his administration to the attacks on priests.
“There are a few bishops who are linking the government to these. In all honesty, I cannot bear to order the killing of priests, women and children,” he said.
President Duterte claimed that he had a “matrix” of the preliminary findings on the killing of the three priests but he would not release it for now because it would “not be good for the Catholic Church.”
But if the Church leadership wanted it, “I will make it public,” he said.
“There’s a matrix there and you can choose your conclusion whatever it is. There seems to be something like an undercurrent going on. I do not want it for after all, the Catholic Church is not a political party. I have nothing to do with you so I suppress it for now,” he said. —WITH A REPORT FROM JULIE M. AURELIO
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