Lawyer sees ‘deeper reason’ in slay of Bukidnon priest
CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY—The Catholic priest slain in Bukidnon province was settling a complaint for rape when he was attacked by an unidentified gunman, but his lawyer believed the case had nothing to do with his murder.
Police and church officials confirmed that Fr. Rene Regalado, 42, who was killed in Malaybalay City on Sunday night, was named in the rape complaint filed in October last year by a church worker in Lala town, Lanao del Norte province, where he was once assigned.
Lawyer Leo Zaragoza, who represented Regalado, said the family of the complainant had already agreed to settle the case on the day the priest was shot and killed outside a monastery in Malaybalay.
“I believe there must be a higher and much deeper reason why he was killed, and I don’t think it had anything to do with the family of the complainant,” Zaragoza said. “The case against Father Rene will not stand in court in fact. One of the reasons he was able to bail out was the manner of his arrest, which was illegal,” he added.
Zaragoza said Regalado was already preparing to leave Lala when he was arrested last year.
“The circumstance surrounding his arrest does not fall under the three basis for warrantless arrest,” the lawyer said. “He was not in the act of committing a crime, nor was he about to commit a crime, nor was he just committed a crime, so, the fiscal ruled that he should undergo the regular proceedings.” Fr. Virgilio Delfin, spokesperson for the Diocese of Malaybalay, said Regalado returned to Bukidnon in December last year.
Malaybalay police said that days before his death, Regalado received a death threat but he did not report it to authorities.
Police Col. Jerry Tambis, the city police chief, said someone whom Regalado might have known had reached out to the priest and informed him that his life was in danger, citing information gathered among his friends.
Delfin said the diocese was “deeply wounded and saddened” over the murder and was hoping “justice will be served to the perpetrators of this heinous crime.”
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines said Regalado was the fourth priest to be murdered in the country in the last four years, after Fr. Marcelito Paez in Jaen town, Nueva Ecija, in 2017; Fr. Mark Ventura in Cagayan province in April 2018; and Fr. Richmond Nil in Zaragoza town, Nueva Ecija, only two months after Ventura’s death.
Known as “Paring Bukidnon,” Regalado had been advocating organic farming and had spoken against the low buying price of palay and the high cost of food on his social media posts. He was also involved in environmental projects, like tree-planting activities, in Lanao del Norte. Msgr. Ramonito Torres, vicar general of the prelature of St. Mary’s in Marawi City, remembered Regalado for the outreach program they conducted during the five-month fighting in Marawi in 2017. He expressed shock at the priest’s death.
Torres said he and Regalado became close during the Marawi siege when Regalado, along with other members of the clergy, visited the city.
“At the height of the Marawi siege, Father Rene and his group would come to the city to distribute food packs and other forms of assistance to the affected residents,” he said. —WITH A REPORT FROM JODEE A. AGONCILLO INQ
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