Priest accused of rape relieved of duties
BUTUAN CITY—The parish priest of Tubay, Agusan del Norte, who was accused by a 17-year-old girl of rape and other sexual abuses has been relieved of his duties and placed under the custody of his superior, a women’s group said.
Atel Hijos, Gabriela spokesperson for Caraga, said they learned that Fr. Raul Cabonce of the St. Anne Parish had been reassigned to the Bishop’s Palace here by Butuan Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos.
He has been placed under Pueblos’ custody, Hijos said.
But Lina Linaban, secretary general of Gabriela in Caraga, said that removing Cabonce from the Tubay parish was not enough.
“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 ordeal of the victim, who was 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 in a statement.
The alleged victim filed on Thursday rape, acts of lasciviousness and child abuse charges against Cabonce before the Agusan del Norte prosecutor’s office.
She claimed that Cabonce abused her on five different occasions since September last year.
Cabonce has repeatedly denied the allegations during radio interviews, dismissing them as “trumped–up” charges concocted by his detractors.
He did not elaborate, saying he would answer the allegations in due time.
Linaban said that based on the account of the victim, 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 ordeal.”
Linaban said Cabonce also “made sure that his guns and bladed weapon were in plain sight of Leah while he violated her in his room.”
Despite Cabonce’s denial, Hijos said it was unlikely the girl would make up stories that would sully her reputation.
“(She has) a strong case and sufficient evidence for Fr. Raul Cabonce’s conviction,” she said.
Hijos told the Inquirer their group had taken 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 had 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 coverup to protect Father Cabonce,” Hijos said.
Linaban said the victim’s ordeal could just be the tip of the iceberg. With a report from Jeffrey Tupas, Inquirer Mindanao
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