Palace: Threats vs bishops just ‘made up’
Malacañang on Wednesday said the reported death threats against Catholic bishops could have been “made up.”
“We have to investigate if the threats are true,” presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a radio interview.
Some people, he said, might just be joking when they threatened to harm bishops.
Panelo made the statement after Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, a critic of the administration’s war on drugs and extrajudicial killings, disclosed that he had been receiving messages that he would be killed.
Other priests are also reportedly receiving death threats.
On Sunday, President Rodrigo Duterte said Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, the archbishop of Manila, had texted his former aide Christopher Go about the death threats received by members of the Catholic clergy.
Changing his tune while campaigning for his senatorial candidates, the President said those seeking to harm priests and bishops would have to contend with him as an enemy.
Before the start of the campaign, the President attacked the Church for alleged sexual abuses and corruption and even called on “tambay” (loiterers) to kill bishops because all they did was to criticize his brutal war on drugs.
Philippine National Police Director General Oscar Albayalde said he did not believe that the threat against Bishop David came from the President.
Not Pontius Pilate
“If they need to be protected, we assure them they can just approach us and we will give them assistance,” Albayalde said.
According to two opposition senators, the President cannot play the role of a “Pontius Pilate” to escape blame for the death threats received by some Church leaders critical of his drug war.
In separate statements on Wednesday, Senators Leila de Lima and Risa Hontiveros said the President’s backpedaling was not enough to ensure the safety of the clergymen from people who would heed his earlier call to kill priests and bishops.
“No one in this Catholic country, whether politician or ordinary citizen, ever had on his agenda the killing of bishops and priests, until Mr. Duterte started it,” De Lima said in a handwritten statement from her detention cell at Camp Crame.
“The death threat came from him. His warning now that they should not be harmed can only be addressed to him,” she said.
De Lima, who was indicted for drug trafficking after investigating killings in the President’s war on drugs, said he should be held responsible for every clergymen who would fall victim to assassins.
“The real tragedy here is not that more people will die, but that we did not stop the madman even after he started going after the leaders of our Church,” the senator said.
Hontiveros agreed with De Lima, denouncing those who sent the threatening text messages to Bishop David, whom te President had accused of being involved in the illegal drug trade and embezzling Church funds.
“I condemn the climate of violence that continues to grip our country,” Hontiveros said.
“Not even President Duterte’s sudden turnaround will absolve him of his role in this matter. This is what happens when you have a leader who encourages violence through his words,” she added.
In Iloilo City, the faithful should help protect bishops and priests who have been threatened, reelectionist Sen. Bam Aquino said.
“At least four priests have been killed and we do not want a fifth killing of a person of the cloth or a member of the religious sector,” said Aquino, a candidate of the opposition team Otso Diretso.
On Tuesday night, the President told the League of Municipalities of the Philippines “not to believe that [he] will have bishops killed.”
He said it was the Church that first attacked him and he just retaliated by saying that drug addicts could maul bishops and take their money.
“There will never be a time for the life of me that I would even suggest harming—the slightest harm that you can inflict on priests and the religious people,” he said. —WITH REPORTS FROM JAYMEE T. GAMIL AND NESTOR P. BURGOS JR.
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