Senate to investigate killings of priests

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Senate will investigate the recent spate of killings of priests in the country, after opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros filed a resolution.

Hontiveros on Wednesday, June 13, filed Senate Resolution 764, directing the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs to probe the incidents.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, who chairs the Senate panel, said he is open to conduct the probe but not until Congress resumes session on July 23.

“Yes, why not? But it has to wait until after the formal referral when the 3rd regular session starts on July 23,” Lacson said in a text message.

In her resolution, Hontiveros said the deaths and attempts to the life of priests “come on the heels of continued verbal attacks of President Rodrigo Duterte on the Catholic Church and its religious leaders.”

The Catholic Church has repeatedly criticized Duterte’s bloody campaign against illegal drugs and the killings of thousands of drug suspects and youth.

“These verbal attacks as well [as] the dismissive attitude towards the killings may result in even more priest-murders and other acts of violence against members of religious communities,” Hontiveros said in her resolution.

“Given this current political climate, these killings further reinforce the culture of impunity to silence valid Church-led criticisms on state policies, particularly those with respect to human rights and due process,” she added.

In a separate statement, Senator Leila de Lima called Duterte "pure evil."

"Tingnan 'nyo naman ang nangyayari – maski pari hindi na safe. Dapat ho talaga kumilos na rin ho ang mga pamunuan ng Simbahan. Bakit konti lang na mga Obispo ang nagsasalita? Nasaan 'yung iba? Nasaan si Cardinal Tagle? Lantaran na pong binabastos, kinukutya, binabalahura ang Simbahan. Hindi pa ba sila kikilos? This President is pure evil," De Lima said.

(Look at what's happening – even priests are no longer safe. The leaders of the Church should now move. Why is it there are only a few bishops speaking out? Where are the others? Where is Cardinal Tagle? The government is openly lambasting the Church. Are they not going to do something? This President is pure evil.)

At least 3 priests were killed in the last 6 months. In December 2017, Fr Marcelito “Tito” Paez was shot as he was driving home after facilitating the release of a political prisoner in Jaen, Nueva Ecija.

On April 29, 2018, Fr Mark Ventura, known for his anti-mining stance and close ties to  indigenous communities, was shot dead by riding-in-tandem gunmen after mass in Cagayan.

On June 10, unidentified assailants gunned down Fr Richmond Nilo of the Diocese of Cabanatuan as he was about to celebrate Sunday mass.

On June 6, Hontiveros said Fr Rey Urmeneta of Calamba, Laguna, a former police chaplain, was severely wounded and rushed to the hospital after being shot by unknown gunmen.

Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, former president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, and other leaders of his archdiocese slammed the attacks against priests. (READ: 'They are killing our flock. They are killing us shepherds.')

They also called on Duterte "to stop the verbal persecution of the Catholic Church because such attacks can wittingly embolden more crimes against priests."

Malacañang, for its part, condemned the killing of the priests and maintained there was no “empirical basis” to say that there was a link between Duterte's strong words and the deaths of priests.

“All I can say is that the culture of impunity was there even before our President came in,” Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque earlier said. –


Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is a multimedia reporter focusing on media, technology, and disinformation.