Priest accused of rape moved to Butuan bishop’s palace
BUTUAN CITY, Philippines—The parish priest of Tubay, Agusan del Norte, who has been accused of rape and other sexual abuses by a 17-year-old has been relieved of duties, officials of a women’s group aiding the alleged victim said.
Atel Hijos, Gabriela spokesperson for the Caraga region, said they learned that the Reverend Raul Cabonce of the St. Anne Parish has been re-assigned to the Bishop’s Palace here by Butuan Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos and was under the prelate’s custody.
Lina Linaban, secretary general of Gabriela in Caraga, said removing Cabonce from Tubay 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.
As in various times in the past, Pueblos did not answer calls nor respond to text message from the Inquirer.
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 in a statement issued Friday.
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.”
Despite Cabonce’s denial, Hijos said 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
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