Sotto backs Duterte, says killings of priests 'just a coincidence'

MANILA, Philippines – Senate President Vicente Sotto III opposed the proposed investigation into the spate of killings of priests, saying these could just be a coincidence.

Sotto said it is better to let the Philippine National Police (PNP) resolve the issue involving the killings of 3 priests amid President Rodrigo Duterte’s tirades against the Catholic Church.

“What will we inquire in? I think the PNP should be tasked to go after the solution of the case,” Sotto told reporters in an interview on Wednesday, June 13. 

Baka nagkataon lang 'yan. 100 million ang Pilipino, ilan ang pari sa buong Pilipinas? Baka nagkataon lang 'yan. I dont think it’s a pattern,” Sotto said. (It could just be a coincidence. There are 100 million Filipinos, how many priests are there in the whole Philippines? It could just be a coincidence. I dont think it’s a pattern.)

Sotto said there are no new legislation that could come up from the hearings, saying they are all included in the Revised Penal Code.

“Yeah, we can [conduct an investigation], but I wonder what legislation can be taken up that is not already in the Revised Penal Code or anything to that effect. Mas gusto ko pa na asikasuhin nang mabuti ng law enforcement na ma-resolve 'yung kaso o ma-solve 'yung kaso,” Sotto said. (I would prefer that law enforcement authorities resolve the issue or solve the case.)

Asked if it would just be a waste of time, Sotto said: “Hindi ko nga alam eh. Ano'ng iimbestigahan natin? Ano ba'ng gusto nating tanungin?” (I don't know. What do we want to investigate? What do we want to ask?)

Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros filed a resolution urging the committee on public order and dangerous drugs, which is headed by Senator Panfilo Lacson, to investigate the killings. Lacson has said he is open to conduct the probe, but not until sessions resume on July 23.

Hontiveros said Duterte's tirades could have prompted the killings of priests. But Sotto rejected the idea.

"'Pagka ganyan, political 'yan. 'Wag na 'yun. 'Wag nating ano, ilayo natin 'yung pulitika sa importanteng legislation. Makakaabala lang tayo sa imbestigasyon eh. Pulitika pala target nun eh," Sotto said.

(If it's like that, it's political. Let's not mix politics and important legislation. It will just impede the investigation. It seems the target there is politics.)

At least 3 priests were killed in the last 6 months. In December 2017, Father 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, Father 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 Father Richmond Nilo of the Diocese of Cabanatuan as he was about to celebrate Sunday mass.

On June 6, Hontiveros said Father 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." – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com

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