Activist priest recounts 'close call' with death squad

MANILA, Philippine – An activist priest found himself the target of a death squad he closely followed and documented most of his life. 

In a blog post on Sunday, August 26, Father Amado Picardal narrated how the threats he had gotten for years materialized in the last few months as he lived “a quiet life as a hermit” in Southern Philippines. 

“Two weeks ago, I almost became a victim of extrajudicial killing and the 4th priest to be killed under the Duterte regime had I stuck to my routine,” he wrote. 

Picardal said he got information that on the afternoon of August 11, about 6 men on board 3 motorcycles “with full-faced helmets” stationed themselves near the entrance of the monastery he frequented in Cebu. It was usually the time he would go out, following his usual routine. 

“Had I gone out, there would have been no escape for me,” he wrote. “I recognized their modus operandi – that’s what I learned from a former member of the Davao Death Squad when we were documenting the extrajudicial killings years before.”  

“It was a close call, I thank God for protecting me,” the priest added.  

Three Catholic priests have been killed under President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration. (READ: More Catholics outraged by killings of priests) 

Father Richmond Nilo, a 43-year-old priest in Nueva Ecija, was killed last June 2018. Murdered before him were Father Marcelito Paez, a 72-year-old priest also from Nueva Ecija, and 37-year-old Father Mark Ventura of Cagayan. 

Just last July, a gunman was killed in a shootout outside the Archbishop's Residence in Cebu City. He was allegedly looking for Archbishop Jose Palma. 

Years fighting the DDS

Picardal’s work involving the call for justice for victims of extrajudicial killings may have been the reason for his being targeted. 

As part of the Coalition Against Summary Executions (Case), Picardal was able to document the killings allegedly carried out by the Davao Death Squad (DDS) when Rodrigo Duterte was mayor. He was based in Davao City from 1977 to 1981 and from 1995 to 2011. 

The DDS is claimed to be responsible for the deaths of at least 1,000 people. The group was allegedly overseen by then mayor Duterte, according to several whistleblowers. He, however, has denied this.

FOR LIFE AND PEACE. Father Amado Picardal dedicates his life to seeking justice for victims of extrajudicial killings. Photo from his blog

FOR LIFE AND PEACE. Father Amado Picardal dedicates his life to seeking justice for victims of extrajudicial killings.

Photo from his blog

Picardal was among the main sources of several groups, including Human Rights Watch (HRW), as they reported on these extrajudicial killings. (READ: What ever happened to the Davao Death Squad investigations?)

The priest, however, is not sure who ordered his hit – whether it was the President himself or “some zealous henchman trying to please him” – as all he knows is that a death squad is determined to kill him. 

“Whatever happens  to me – whether the order came from him or not – the blame will be placed on him for under this regime the culture of death has claimed the lives of over 25,000 people,” Picardal wrote. 

“This regime has nothing to gain in creating a martyr so those behind the project should think twice before carrying out their evil plan,” he added.

Hermit life on hold

As several priests and staff of the monastery have noticed that the unidentified men still lingered for several days after August 11, Picardal was advised to “move to a more secure location and avoid public exposure.” 

He, however, wrote he “always knew" his "life would be at risk” but that he would not make himself an easy target. 

“I have decided to temporarily vacate my hermitage up in the mountain and continue to spend my life of silence, solitude, prayer and writing in a more secure location,” Picardal wrote, adding that he hopes to go back to the mountains soon. 

In March 2018, Picardal embarked on what he called the last phase of his life which includes “a life of solitude, silence, and prayer” as a hermit in the mountains.

His hermitage plans have been temporarily put on hold as the threats against his life mount, he wrote. (READ: One last bike trip for the fearless Father Picx) – Rappler.com

Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.

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