By Leslie Ann Aquino
The increasing number of priests killed in the country – the latest being Fr. Richmond Nilo who was shot to death just before he was to celebrate mass in Nueva Ecija last Sunday – has alarmed members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).
“I am deeply sad and bothered because we may note that Fr. (Richmond) Nilo is the third priest to be killed in these recent months…Let us pray for Fr. Nilo, let us pray for Bishop (Sofronio) Bancud and the clergy, religious and people of the Diocese of Cabanatuan,” Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles, CBCP president, told Church-run RadyoVeritas.
Valles also appealed to police authorities to give justice to the priest.
“I would really appeal, really appeal to our authorities, especially the police, to do their best to investigate and bring the perpetrator/s of this crime to justice. That’s at least, the least among the things that we can do. We can do a number of things but… it is very important thing to restore our confidence that in this crime like this, justice will be done,” said Valles.
The attacks on the clergy prompted Director General Oscar Albayalde, Philippine National Police (PNP) chief, to order all police commanders to coordinate with local churches and parishes around the country to secure priests who are receiving threats.
Chief Supt. Amador V Corpus, Central Luzon police director, immediately created “Task Force Nilo” to run after and identify the suspects, while Malacañang is considering creating a task group to address the killing of members of the clergy.
Initial police report showed that Fr. Nilo was gunned down by still unidentified suspect at around 5:30 p.m. Sunday inside the NuestraSeñora de Las Nieves chapel in Barangay Mayamot, Zaragoza town, where he was about to officiate a regular mass.
A village official, who requested anonymity for fear of her life, said that she and other parishioners were having an altar preparation for the 6 p.m. mass when they heard a burst of gunfire.
Bishop Bancud, meantime, condemned the killing of one of his priests.
“We condemned in the strongest possible terms and deeply mourn the brutal killing of Fr. Nilo, and the escalating violence and culture of impunity in the country even against helpless clergymen,” he said in a statement.
To kill a priest for whatever motive or cause, Bancudsaid, is not only unchristian and inhuman but also “un-Filipino.”
“We demand for justice, for thorough and impartial investigation of the case and for its swift resolution, as we likewise appeal to those who might have material knowledge on this matter to please cooperate with police authorities,” said Bancud.
Although alarmed by the number of priests being killed, Cubao Bishop HonestoOngtioco said this will not stop the Church from speaking the truth and proclaiming the Gospel.
“St. Paul was behind bars and was chained but continued his proclamation of the goodnews,” he said in an interview.
The murder of Fr. Nilo is the third killing of a priest in the country in six months, following Fr. Mark Ventura in Gattaran, Cagayan, on April 29 and Fr. Marcelito Paez in Jaen, also Nueva Ecija last December 4.
Last June 6, Fr. Rey Urmeneta of the St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Calamba was wounded after being shot by unidentified suspects.
In separate statements, Reps. Teddy Baguilat (LP, Ifugao); Carlos IsaganiZarate (Bayan Muna) and Ariel Casilo (AnakpawisParttylist)assailed the state of impunity that has gripped the country.
Baguilat said he knew Fr. Nilo’s work personally as the 44-year-old priest was one of the staunchest supporters of the leadership and good governance programs of the Kaya Natin! Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership, of which he is a member.
Zarate recalled that Fr. Paez is a known peace advocate and is pushing for the resumption of the peace talks, while Fr. Ventura is an anti-mining activist.
“Fr. Ventura and Paez are both known for their advocacies and were believed killed for openly acting on their convictions,” said the Davao-based solon. (With reports from Ariel Avendaño, Mar Supnad, Ben Rosario, Martin Sadongdong, and Argyll Geducos)