Sotto not keen on pursuing Senate probe on priest killings

Published June 14, 2018, 2:58 PM

by AJ Siytangco

By Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Senate President Vicente Sotto III is not keen on pursuing a probe in the Upper Chamber on the killings of priests, saying he’d rather leave the investigation to police first.

“What will we inquire here? I think the Philippine National Police (PNP) should be tasked to go after the solution of the case[s],” Sotto told reporters in an interview Wednesday afternoon.

Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III gestures after elected as a newly Senate President at Senate Building in Pasay city, May 21,2018.(Czar Dancel)
Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III (Czar Dancel / MANILA BULLETIN)

This was after Senator Risa Hontiveros filed a resolution calling on the Senate to conduct an investigation, in aid of legislation, on the spate of killings and attempted killings of Catholic priests. Hontiveros claimed that the deaths were not isolated cases and were part of a “systematic” attempt to supposedly silence religious leaders who are critical of the Duterte administration.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, chair of the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs, expressed willingness to conduct the probe should it be referred to the panel.

Sotto, however, while not barring the conduct of the inquiry, doubted the motive of the resolution.

“We can, but I wonder what legislation can be taken up that’s in not in the Revised Penal Code or anything to that effect. Mas gusto ko pa na asikasuhin nang mabuti law enforcement na ma-solve yung kaso (I would rather ask law enforcement to solve the case properly),” he repeated.

“Pag ganyan politikal na ‘yan. ‘Wag na ‘yan, ilayo natin yung politika sa importanteng legislation. Baka makaabala lang tayo sa imbestigasyon. Politika pala target no’n, eh (If that’s what the resolution says, it is already political. We cannot entertain that. We should distance politics from important pieces of legislation. We might just disrupt the investigation),” Sotto said after learning of Hontiveros’ claims.

For him, the killing of priests might be “only a coincidence.”

“Baka nagkataon lang, 100 milyon ang Filipino. Ilan ang pari sa Pilipinas? Baka nagkataon lang. I don’t think it’s a pattern (It may have been a coincidence, there are 100 million Filipinos in the country. How many are priests? It maybe a coincidence, I don’t think it’s a pattern),” he noted.

Sotto said he has yet to assess the performance of the PNP under Director General Oscar Albayaldle, who had assumed post only last April.

“He’s barely there, so far so good,” he told of Albayalde.

“Hayaan muna natin na maresolve yung kaso (We should let the case cases be resolved first)…Imbes na tinatawag natin dito yung mga pulis at pinag eeksplika natin (Instead of calling them in the Senate and ask them to explain). Kung naresolve na nila (If they have resolved these) and we have a legislation na gusto nating matalakay (that we want to discuss), then pwede (we can investigate),” Sotto said.

Three priests have died in separate attacks in the past few months. Most recent was Fr. Richmond Nilo of the Diocese of Cabanatuan who was gunned down by unidentified assailants while preparing for a mass in a chapel on June 10.

Other incidents involved Cagayan priest Fr. Mark Ventura, an anti-mining advocate, who was shot dead last April 28 by riding-in-tandem gunmen while blessing children after celebrating mass; and Father Marcelito “Tito” Paez, a human rights advocate who was killed December 4.

Fr. Rey Urmeneta of Calamba, Laguna, meanwhile, was severely wounded after being shot at by unidentified assailants last June 6.