Bishop confirms he has custody of priest accused of rapeBy Franklin Caliguid
BUTUAN CITY, Philippines—Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos confirmed Saturday that he has transferred a parish priest in his diocese who has been accused of raping a 17-year-old girl to the Bishop’s Palace in Butuan City but declined to comment at all on the case.
Word that the Rev. Raul Cabonce of the St. Anne Parish in Tubay, Agusan del Norte, had been transferred came first on Friday from the Caraga regional chapter of the women’s group Gabriela, which is assisting the girl in pursuing her charges against the priest.
“He is under my custody,” Pueblos said in a return call to the Inquirer. But he declined to discuss the case beyond confirming that the priest had been reassigned.
Lina Linaban, secretary general of Gabriela in Caraga, said in a statement on Friday her group was not satisfied with the removal of Cabonce from Tubay.
“It is not enough to transfer the erring priest to another parish where he can still violate other girls. He should be made accountable (for his acts) under the State’s laws as well as Church laws,” she said.
Linaban said the experience of the girl, identified only as Leah, showed “that exploitation and abuse occur even in places that seem safe.”
“We are saddened that the crime happened within the very institution that is supposed to uphold morality. The priest exploited Leah’s trust and violated her despite her young age,” Linaban said.
The alleged victim filed charges of rape, acts of lasciviousness and child abuse against Cabonce at the Agusan del Norte prosecutor’s office last Thursday.
She claimed that Cabonce abused her on five different occasions since September.
Cabonce repeatedly denied the allegations in radio interviews, dismissing them as “trumped–up” charges concocted by his unidentified detractors.
He would not elaborate, however, saying he would file his answer to the charges in due time.
Linaban said based on the account of the girl, Cabonce had initially molested her by touching her private parts.
“Subsequent molestations, the last one ending in rape, happened on March 3 and 14,” Linaban said.
She said the girl “was threatened with a curse and an end to her scholarship to prevent her from telling anyone about her sexual ordeal.”
Linaban said Cabonce also “made sure that his guns and bladed weapon were in plain sight of Leah while violating her inside his room.”
Atel Hijos, Gabriela spokesperson for the Caraga region, said that despite Cabonce’s denial, it was unlikely for the girl to make up stories that could soil her reputation.
“(She has) a strong case and sufficient evidence for Father Raul Cabonce’s conviction,” she said.
Hijos told the Inquirer their group took custody of Leah, who “is now undergoing counseling for the severe emotional and psychological trauma resulting from Father Cabonce’s abuses.”
“Leah was greatly affected by her traumatic experience. She could not imagine that this could happen to her considering that she trusted the priest as a man of God,” Linaban said.
She said Gabriela has urged Pueblos not to protect Cabonce and not cover up for the priest’s alleged misdeeds.
“Bishop Pueblos should be an instrument of justice and equality rather than engage in a cover up to protect Father Cabonce,” Hijos said.
“Like Leah, there may be other girls, who are not given the opportunity to finish their studies because of lack of resources. And often, like Leah, they are exploited because of their poverty,” she said.
With a report from Jeffrey Tupas, Inquirer Mindanao