Priests facing death threats: Digong, hindi kami takot sa 'yo

MANILA, Philippines – Catholic priests facing death threats urged their fellow clergymen to remain courageous, as they continue to preach against vulgarity and drug war killings under President Rodrigo Duterte. 

"Kami ay nananawagan sa lahat ng paring Pilipino, paring Katoliko, lahat ng pastor na Pilipino, huwag tayong matakot. Ang proteksyon natin ay kapag tayo'y nagsalita," said activist priest Father Robert Reyes, who himself has received death threats. (We call on all Filipino priests, Catholic priests, all Filipino pastors, let us not be afraid. Speaking up is our protection.)

Reyes and two other priests – Fathers Flavie Villanueva and Albert Alejo – came forward on Monday, March 11, to bare threats to their lives. Reyes, Villanueva, and Alejo received these threats as they criticize Duterte's anti-drug campaign. (LOOK: Death threats vs priests critical of Duterte drug war

"Nanindigan kami, kaming tatlo ay lalantad, magsasalita, at sasabihin namin, 'Digong, hindi kami takot sa 'yo,'" Reyes said, referring to Duterte by his nickname Digong. (We took a stand that the 3 of us would come out, speak up, and say together, "Digong, we are not afraid of you.")

"Hindi kami takot sa 'yo. Isa lang ang pinangingilagan namin – Panginoong Diyos (We are not afraid of you. We are afraid of only one – the Lord God)," Reyes stressed. 

Aside from the 3 of them, two Catholic bishops – Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas and Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David – have recently received death threats. President Duterte had said in December 2018 that "useless" bishops should be killed, but he later backtracked and claimed he said it in reaction to a priest who prayed for his death. 

Still, Duterte's critics said his words can embolden would-be killers of priests. Three priests have been killed between December 2017 and January 2018 – murders blamed on the President's violent words against the Catholic Church. (READ: Duterte said kill the bishops – and his word became flesh)

Duterte's hand

Can Duterte be blamed for the recent death threats against clergymen?

"The President is the President. Whatever he says, whether it sounds like a joke, becomes policy. 'Patayin ang mga obispo (Kill the bishops),' that's policy. 'Patayin ang mga pari (Kill the priests),' that's policy," Reyes said.

Villanueva said he sees it "in the context of a family." 

"Kung ang ama, ina, o magulang, ang bukambibig niya ay 'putang ina,' ano kaya ang kakagisnan ng mga bata?" (If the father, mother, or parents always say "son of a bitch," what will the children learn?) he asked, adding that the President "has a moral role."

Villanueva not only received death threats through text messages, but also caught on CCTV video a masked man surveilling his office in Tayuman, Manila.

For Alejo, the threats against them "have no signature" so they have no way to directly link Duterte to them.

"Tinatanong mo kung may ebidensya, siyempre may kutob kami na may kinalaman. Pero 'yung ebidensya siyempre wala," said Alejo, a Jesuit priest. (You asked if there's evidence, of course we have a hunch who may be involved. But the evidence, of course there's none.)

"Naniniwala ako, dahan-dahan, lilinaw ang lahat," he said. "Sabi ko nga, 'yung mga nasanay sa dilim, nasisilaw sa liwanag. Palagay ko malapit na. Lilinaw ang lahat." (I believe that slowly, things will become clearer. As I said, those used to darkness become dazzled by the light. I think the time is near. Things will become clear.) – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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