By Rey Panaligan
Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra said yesterday the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) is ready to probe the recent killings of Catholic priests.
But he said he will allow the Philippine National Police (PNP) to do its job first.
“I will give the PNP ample time to do their job. But I will bring in the NBI anytime as circumstances may warrant,” he said in a text message to journalists.
At the same time, Guevarra said the NBI’s probe would depend on the developments in the police investigations.
Three Catholic priests have been killed since last year.
Fr. Richmond Nilo was shot dead last June 10 while preparing for a mass in Zaragoza town, Nueva Ecija. An alleged primary suspect has been arrested by the police.
Last April 29, Fr. Mark Ventura was killed in Cagayan after celebrating a mass, while Fr. Marcelito Paez was shot dead in Nueva Ecija last December 5.
A resolution has been filed in the Senate’s Committee on Public order to conduct an investigation by Sen. Riza Hontiveros.
Aside from the killings of Nilo, Ventura and Paez, subject of the proposed Senate investigation is the attempt on the life of Fr. Rey Urmeneta of Calamba, Laguna who survived the attack.
Earlier, the Office of the President said that the spate of killings of Catholic priests was an attempt by “lawless elements” to discredit the administration’s strides in the peace and order situation in the country.
Guns not for priests
Caloocan Bishop Pablo David said a priest who wants to carry a gun for self-protection should leave the priesthood and join the police or military instead.
The prelate said this when asked by somebody if its immoral for a priest to carry a gun around for self-protection in the context of the recent killings which now include priests.
“They might want to consider leaving the priesthood and joining the police or the military instead,” said David in a Facebook post.
“We don’t even have to dwell on the morality of it; it is UNPRIESTLY, to say the least,” he added.
Earlier, there were reports that some priests in Laguna are secretly acquiring firearms following the killings of three priests – the latest being Fr. Nilo of the Diocese of Cabanatuan.
But the vice president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said the report might be fake meant to trigger negative reactions against priests since the news did not identify the priests.
If true, David said it could have been said by some priests who need some “serious counseling” as to what the option to carry a gun for personal protection is telling them about themselves.
Police investigators digging deep into the killing of Fr. Nilo revealed over the weekend that they are exploring three possible motives for the murder.
Yesterday, Director-General Oscar Albayalde confirmed there are three possible angles in the murder of the priest: the priest’s active participation in supporting a rape victim during the filing of the case; a land dispute involving farmers; and his being outspoken on the alleged wrongdoings of the Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC), whose leaders he allegedly even challenged to a debate in August, this year.
The PNP Chief said Fr. Nilo’s case is not yet closed and that the hunt for at least five other suspects is still ongoing. “Not yet closed. We are still going after the others who remain at-large,” said Albayalde, when asked for the status of the case.
In Nueva Ecija, Superintendent Angel Bondoc Jr., chief of the “Special Investigation Task Group Nilo,” said the investigation was still ongoing and declined to discuss details of the probe.
Likewise, priests and the laity who gathered at St. Nicholas of Tolentine Cathedral, College of Immaculate Concepcion church and “crypta” cum cathedral in
Cabanatuan City for solemn prayers for Fr. Nilo begged off from being interviewed.
Meanwhile, regular celebrations of Sunday Masses were back to normal in at least three major churches in this city, exactly a week after Nilo was buried.
At the “Bahay Pari” – home for retired priests – in Barangay Sumacab East, Cabanatuan City, black ribbons were tied at the gate as a sign of mourning.
Bondoc said a murder charge has already been filed before the Cabanatuan City against suspected triggerman Adel Roll Milan, 26.
He said four other suspects are now being hunted by police while the owner of the car used as the assailants’ getaway vehicle was already being traced.
The PNP denied allegations that Milan was a “fall guy” and maintained that he was positively identified by the witness as the one who shot dead Father Nilo.
“The altar boy (witness) was beside the priest when he was shot so he saw the face of the gunman and he was recognized through the rogue gallery,” said Chief Superintendent Amador Corpus, regional director of Central Luzon Police Regional Office (PRO-3).
Milan was arrested in his house at Barangay Malapit, San Isidro, Nueva Ecija around 6:30 p.m. on June 14, a day before Father Nilo was buried.
However, the family of the suspect claimed in a television report that he was in their house having a drinking spree, when Father Nilo was killed on June 10 at Nuestra Senyora de la Nieve Chapel in Barangay Mayamot, Zaragoza, Nueva Ecija. (With reports from Leslie Ann G. Aquino, Martin A. Sadongdong, and Ariel P. Avendaño)