Senate bets to gov't: Take threats vs church seriously
Priests and bishops have been the target of President Rodrigo Duterte's tirades since 2017. They hear mass at the Manila Cathedral in this 2018 file photo.
The STAR/File photo

Senate bets to gov't: Take threats vs church seriously

Ryan Macasero (Philstar.com) - March 12, 2019 - 6:13pm

MANILA, Philippines — Lawmakers and senatorial candidates condemned the threats against the Catholic Church on Tuesday, asking the government to take these seriously. 

“We denounce in the strongest possible term the death threats against the men of the Church,” lawyer Romulo Macalintal, who is running under the opposition slate Otso Diretso, said in a statement.

“We call on President Duterte to stop fueling the fire of persecution against the Catholic Church and the men of God to put a stop to this culture of impunity.”

In a press conference on Monday, priests revealed text messages received from anonymous senders cursing at them and threatening their lives. 

Fathers Robert Reyes, Flavie Villanueva and Albert Alejo said in a statement Monday that they have been receiving death threats and even monitored suspicious men lurking near their houses and offices.

READ: More priests reveal receiving death threats

“We took a stand to speak out and say, Digong, we’re not afraid of you… we only abide by our Lord God,” Reyes said in Filipino.

But the Palace dismissed the seriousness of the threats. 

The alleged death threats against priests could just be pranks from “anti-Duterte trolls,” presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a press conference on Tuesday morning. 

This, despite the fact that Villanueva presented CCTV camera footage at the press conference of a masked man knocking on his office door for 17 minutes.

The Palace reiterated its stance that despite the constant verbal tirades of the president against Catholic clergy and bishops, it is “unfair” to blame the president for the death threats priests reported receiving. 

“These threats they are receiving, there are so many possibilities,” Panelo said in Filipino.

“It could be coming from pranksters, anti-Duterte trolls, it could be coming from enemies of the priest. We don’t know,” he added. “It’s unfair to be pointing to the president as behind it.” 

“You know, the easiest and most convenient way to send threats is by text messages because you cannot trace it,” Panelo said. He told Palace reporters that the only way to get numbers from the priests is from people who know them, alluding to the possibility that the perpetrators are within the priests' circles. 

The verbal tirades against the church have been almost nonstop since 2017 after the institution began speaking up against policies of the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte. 

READ: A look at the Church's 'tirades' vs Duterte

In a January statement issued by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, now headed by Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles, the church reiterated its opposition to policies of the Duterte administration including human rights abuses in the drug war and lowering the age of criminal responsibility.

"As bishops, we have no intention of interfering in the conduct of State affairs,” the statement read. “But neither do we intend to abdicate our sacred mandate as shepherds to whom the Lord has entrusted his flock.” the CBCP said then.

Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, another vocal critic of the drug war — especially of killings in the cities of Caloocan, Malabon and Navotas —  has also reportedly been receiving death threats. 

Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano, who is also running under the opposition slate, said that these threats should be taken seriously. 

“It is not surprising when there is a threat against a priest while they are the subject of almost everything that comes out of the president’s mouth,” Alejano said. “He even instigated people to rob and kill these priests. The president’s words just become flesh whenever a priest is gunned down.” 

At least three priests were murdered in 2018. 

Re-electionist Sen. Sonny Angara, however, said that the threats against priests could not be blamed on the president. 

"I don't know, just 'cause there are death threats, I don't know if that should be thrown automatically at the feet of the president," Angara said in an interview with CNN Philippines.

He is running under the administration-allied Hugpong ng Pagbabago.

"If anyone should be protected, it should be the critics of the government to show that we are a democracy and we value freedom of speech and expression," he added.

Detained opposition Sen. Leila de Lima said in a Facebook note on Tuesday that she denounces the threats against Catholic clergy. 

“The threats against priests and bishops are worrisome and infuriating. What kind of principles and humanity does a person have who threatens disciples of God?” De Lima said in Filipino.

De Lima has been an outspoken critic of the Duterte government and has been detained on drug charges since 2017.

“This is the influence and affect those like Duterte have, his demonic ways have gotten into the minds of Filipinos. They’re hitting the Church, and also God who he calls stupid,” she added.

Senatorial candidate Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno also called on the threats against clergy to stop. “These threats should stop. Enough with using violence. Enough with these tactics,” Diokno said in Filipino.

“They are only speaking out against violence, injustice, and the violation of human rights and human dignity,” Diokno said. “Why should they receive death threats for this?”

He added: “Our clergy will not be intimidated. We will not be intimidated. Despite the death threats, we will continue to take a stand and speak out. Our people will not be intimidated.”

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