Priest bares threat from ‘death squad’
GENERAL SANTOS CITY—A Catholic priest who was one of the earliest critics of President Duterte’s deadly war on drugs has gone into hiding, claiming that motorcycle-riding hit men are targeting him.
Fr. Amado Picardal, a Redemptorist priest, said on Sunday that he had gone into a “more secure location” and out of public sight after workers at the Redemptorist monastery in Cebu City that he visited regularly reported seeing motorcycle-riding men watching the compound, including a pair who asked for his whereabouts.
“[On Aug. 11], I almost became a victim of extrajudicial killing and the fourth priest to be killed under the Duterte regime had I stuck to my routine,” Picardal, who has helped document alleged extrajudicial killings in Davao when Mr. Duterte was mayor of the city, said on his website.
He said the security guard told him that night that six men on three motorcycles and wearing full-face helmets waited for him near the entrance to the monastery between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.
“That was usually the time I would go out to the supermarket and the coffee shop. I immediately concluded that they were the death squad and I was the target,” Picardal said.
On July 7 and Aug. 2, he said, two men riding tandem on a motorcycle and wearing full-face helmets asked the monastery’s gardener for his whereabouts.
Picardal said he had been receiving information since last year that the death squad was going to target priests and that he was at the top of the hit list.
“Death squad” refers to the so-called Davao Death Squad, said to be a group of policemen and militiamen in Davao that killed drug users and pushers and petty criminals during Mr. Duterte’s long-term as mayor of the city.
Fr. Cris Mostajo, rector of Redemptorist Church in Cebu City, called on the authorities on Monday to investigate the threat on Picardal.
File a complaint
But Senior Supt. Royina Garma, director of the Cebu City Police Office, said Picardal’s claim could not be investigated unless the priest filed a complaint.
“The problem with some people is they claim to be targets of assassination plots [but] they do not file a complaint. Why simply announce it on your blog?” Garma said.
“They better go to the police station, have the threat [recorded] in the blotter and we can investigate it. If, based on our assessment, there really are threats to his life, then we can provide enough security for [him],” she said.
Picardal is a spokesperson for the Coalition Against Summary Execution, which tracked the extrajudicial killings in Davao City and assisted the Commission on Human Rights in the investigation of the slayings when the agency was headed by Leila de Lima, now a senator and under detention on drug trading charges.
The priest published a report on 1,500 killings allegedly carried out by the Davao Death Squad from 1998 to 2015, which was submitted to support a complaint filed against Mr. Duterte and 11 of his officials in the International Criminal Court.
Picardal is also giving sanctuary to former members of the death squad who will testify in the ICC investigation.
Death squad ‘project’
“They (death squad) are determined to complete their ‘project’ [by killing me]; otherwise they won’t be paid,” Picardal said.
Picardal had been living alone on Mt. Busay, which offers a magnificent view of Cebu City, since March, after biking 1,500 kilometers from Baclaran in Parañaque City in Metropolitan Manila to Iligan City in Northern Mindanao to protest against the extrajudicial killings in Mr. Duterte’s crackdown on illegal drugs.
He had been visiting the monastery twice a month to bond with other members of his order, get supplies, check his e-mails and Facebook messages, and go to a nearby coffee shop before dinner.
Picardal said he followed his superiors’ advice to move to a safer place after the reports about the motorcycle-riding men.
Picardal blames Mr. Duterte for the “culture of death” under the war on drugs, which he says has claimed the lives of 25,000 people.
In an address to a joint session of Congress on July 23, Mr. Duterte vowed a more constant fight against drugs and castigated his critics who were protesting the killings.
Fr. Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the Permanent Committee on Public Affairs of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, on Monday said he hoped to see Picardal continue doing what the priest did best—serving as the voice of conscience in a country that had grown indifferent to the ills afflicting the nation.
“Father [Picardal] has said a lot about the President and this administration,” Secillano said. “Let’s just hope and pray that nothing untoward [happens] to him.” —WITH REPORTS FROM ADOR VINCENT S. MAYOL, TINA G. SANTOS AND AP
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