“If we are talking about dialogue, the President and the Palace are open for that, especially that the secretary-general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) is from Davao also,” Roque said in a press briefing at Malacañang.
Presidential Photo, File
Palace open to dialogue with church leaders
Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - June 15, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang has not closed its doors on the Catholic Church despite the verbal attacks by President Duterte in the wake of the recent killings of priests, presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said yesterday.

“If we are talking about dialogue, the President and the Palace are open for that, especially that the secretary-general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) is from Davao also,” Roque said in a press briefing at Malacañang. 

Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles is the president of the CBCP.

Duterte has openly attacked Catholic priests for being hypocrites, a label decried by Lingayen-Pangasinan Archbishop Socrates Villegas and other bishops.

In a speech last Wednesday, the Chief Executive also seemed to have accepted the fact that he will be “eternally at odds with Catholic (priests)” despite having been raised by a devout Catholic mother and educated in Catholic schools.

The President noted that he has tried to stop himself from revealing publicly the sins of one of the three priests slain recently, but that he is being forced to do so under the circumstances.

He also threatened to release a matrix on the alleged illicit affairs of one of the three slain Catholic priests.

Also yesterday, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he does not support the call of Sen. Risa Hontiveros to hold an inquiry into the killings of Catholic priests and would rather let the Philippine National Police (PNP) do its job in investigating these. 

Sotto said he does not want to mix politics with the issue as he cited the statements of Hontiveros about a possible systematic attempt to kill Catholic priests critical of the administration.

“What will we inquire? I think the Philippine National Police should be tasked to go after the solution of the case,” he explained. “Let us not mix politics with important legislation.”

The Senate leader added that he does not see any legislation resulting from an inquiry that are not already in the Revised Penal Code and other laws.

While stressing the importance of stronger law enforcement and prosecution of criminals, Sotto does not see a pattern to the killings of priests. He claimed that these have also taken place before and that there were even more incidents in the past than at present.

As for the proposal to arm state prosecutors, Sotto supports the idea in the light of the recent spate of killings of government lawyers. He recalled that several Cebu City prosecutors previously asked him about the possibility of being armed as many of them have become targets. 

He believes many of the lawyers already own guns but do not have the permits – issued by the police – to carry these outside their residences.

Meanwhile, an official of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) yesterday expressed doubts that President Duterte is out to destroy the Catholic Church even when the latter has issued threats to release a matrix of irregularities of priests, including the alleged illicit affairs of slain Fr. Mark Ventura.

Fr. Jerome Secillano, CBCP public affairs committee executive secretary, said he does not personally know if Duterte has a motive in issuing the threats to expose Ventura’s amorous affairs, which reportedly revolved around eight women including the wives of a soldier, a policeman, a vice mayor and a businessman.

Unidentified men killed the 37-year-old Ventura last April 29 after he officiated a mass at the gymnasium of Barangay Pena West in Gattaran, Cagayan. 

“I don’t know if he (Duterte) has a motive for doing that. Maybe the President is out to destroy the Catholic Church, we don’t want to think that way… I will give him the benefit of the doubt,” Secillano said during “The Chiefs” interview aired over Cignal TV’s One News.

The bishop intends though to make an appeal to Duterte to order the police to intensify its operations against the killing of clergymen. He believes that if the President would make strong pronouncements against the killing of priests, it would prod law enforcement agencies such as the PNP to do better in protecting the citizenry.

Three priests – Marcelino Paez in December, Mark Ventura in April, and Richmond Nilo last June 10 – were killed over a period of six months.

He recalled that during the time of former president Ferdinand Marcos, when martial law was in effect, activist priests were arrested.  

“What is bothersome now is that those who were killed are not even activists. We don’t know the motives. We are bothered and affected because we don’t know the motives,” Secillano said.

He added, “If we did (know the motive)… for example, if the priest who was killed was too talkative or lambasting people, maybe when we deliver our homilies we are going to be prudent. We are not going to sacrifice the truth, but the way we express it has to be in a prudent manner. We are going to make adjustments but in these cases, we don’t know (the motive).”

But for Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, CBCP Episcopal Commission on the Laity chairman, Duterte should reveal the sordid information he has against the late priest. 

“The truth will not ruin the Church. Let him bring out his so-called exposé as long as it is the truth. We would even be grateful to him if he helps us in the truth. We are not politicians who can be bought away by exposés,” Pabillo dared Duterte.

He added that the Church would not be cowed by the President’s threats to expose the alleged immoral and illegal activities of one of their priests and that it would continue to monitor the President’s actions and pronouncements as well as criticize if he goes against the Church’s teachings. 

“We would not stop criticizing him if he does not stop doing wrong. If he does not want to be criticized, let him do his duties well. If he wants to be respected, let him be respectable and respect others. Enough of his threats! No one believes his threats anymore. That is all he can do – threaten,” Pabillo said.

PNP chief Director General Oscar Albayalde said they have yet to identify the mastermind in the murder of Fr. Nilo in Nueva Ecija last Sunday.

“As of this time, we could not identify the mastermind,” he said during a chance interview in Quezon City yesterday.

The priest was about to celebrate mass in a chapel when two unidentified men gunned him down in Zaragosa town. Among the motives being looked into are his alleged involvement in a land dispute, assistance to rape victims and supposed critical views of other religious groups.

Central Luzon police director Chief Supt. Amador Corpus earlier said they are looking at the involvement of five people in the priest’s murder – two acting as gunmen and three as lookouts.

“I think we have a good lead and we are confident we can solve this crime,” Albayalde said.

Cabanatuan Bishop Sofronio Bancud asked those who would be joining today’s funeral for Fr. Nilo to wear black.  

He also asked religious organizations and Catholic schools to send delegates to attend the funeral of the priest who would be interred at the St. Nicholas of Tolentine Cathedral Crypt today after the 10 a.m. funeral mass. 

“As one community in prayer and solidarity, we gather together and cry out to the Lord that justice may be served and that peace may rule in our land,” the bishop said in the letter. 

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Watch-Asia Division has labeled as “a matter of grave concern” the recent murder of Nilo and journalist Dennis Denora.

“The murder of Catholic priest Father Richmond Nilo on June 10 and journalist Dennis Denora three days earlier, alongside the thousands of deaths in the ‘drug war,’ are grim reminders of the vulnerability of the poor and those who speak out for their rights and against the deadly extrajudicial violence that Philippine authorities are apparently unwilling or unable to either stop or provide meaning accountability for,” said the group’s researcher Carlos Conde.?He added that “these killings underscore the need for international accountability mechanisms – such as those within the UN system – to intensify their response to the worsening human-rights catastrophe in the Philippines.”

Denora was shot dead by gunmen in Panabo City, Davao del Norte last June 7. Police have yet to establish a motive for the killing. – Marvin Sy, Evelyn Macairan, Emmanuel Tupas, Rhodina Villanueva

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