By Robin Gomes
The Catholic Church of the Philippines has condemned the killing of a priest in the northern province of Nueva Ecija on Sunday, less than a week after another priest was hurt in a shootout in Laguna province.
Philippine bishops' condemnation
“We are deeply saddened and terribly disturbed that another priest is brutally killed,” read a statement by Archbishop Romulo Valles, Archbishop of Davao, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).
Unidentified assailants shot dead Fr. Richmond Nilo of the Diocese of Cabanatuan in central Luzon region at around 5 p.m. while he was about to celebrate Sunday Mass in the chapel of Barangay Mayamot, Zaragoza. Initial reports revealed the suspects fled in a car.
“We strongly condemn this outrageously evil act!” Archbishop Valles wrote in the statement published on Monday.
Fr. Nilo, the parish priest of St. Vincent Ferrer Church, is the third priest killed in the country in six months, after the killing Fr. Marcelito Paez in Jaen, Nueva Ecija on December 4, and Fr. Mark Ventura in Gattaran, Cagayan on April 29.
Archbishop Valles appealed “to the police authorities to act swiftly in the investigation and to go after the perpetrators of this heinous crime and bring them to justice.”
Earlier on June 6, Fr. Rey Urmeneta of the St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Calamba was wounded after being shot by unidentified suspects. The former police chaplain, suffered wounds to his left upper back and left arm was rushed to a nearby hospital for treatment.
Bishop Sofronio Bancud of Cabanatuan also condemned the murder of Fr. Richmond, a priest for nearly 17 years.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms and deeply mourn the brutal murder of Fr. Richmond V. Nilo, and the escalating violence and culture of impunity in the country even against helpless clergymen,” the bishop wrote in a statement on Monday.
The 69-year old bishop called on his faithful to pray for the soul of their beloved priest “for peace, healing and security of our communities, and for the clergy and religious especially in our diocese.”
“No priest, and no human being for that matter,” Bishop Bancud said, “deserves to be killed with utter brutality, disrespect and impunity.” “Every priest, however imperfect,” he said, “is God’s gift to His Church and we are duty-bound to respect them as ‘ambassadors for Christ’”.
“To kill a priest then, for whatever motive or cause, is not only unchristian and inhuman; it is also un-Filipino,” Bishop Bancud wrote.
Like the Filipino Bishops’ president, Bishop Bancud also demanded “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.”
For him Sunday was “a tragic day”, “an irreparable loss for the local Church of Cabanatuan and for all people of goodwill.”
“May his death lead us all to love and live the Catholic faith which Fr. Richmond … undoubtedly loved, courageously preached and staunchly defended.”
Bishop Honesto Ongtioco of Cubao said the killings would not stop church people from speaking the truth and proclaiming the Gospel.
Climate of Impunity
Philippine human rights group Karapatan released a statement June 11, condemning the attacks on the Catholic priests, a journalist, and a prosecutor "as clear signs of a thriving climate of impunity in the Philippines."
On June 4, prosecutor Madonna Joy Tanyag, who was pregnant, was stabbed to death in Quezon City.
In another episode on June 7, Dennis Denora, publisher of community press Trends and Times, was shot and left for dead in the southern city of Panabo in Davao del Norte province.
Karapatan spokeswoman Cristina Palabay said: "There is great doubt that authorities will get to the bottom of these recent murders [and attacks]" amid drug-related killings. "The government refuses to look at its own culpability, which is made worse by its corrupt, brutal and mercenary state forces," Palabay added.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) has created a special investigation task group (SITG) to investigate the killing of Fr. Nilo.
At a press conference on Monday, PNP chief Director General Oscar Albayalde said he has ordered all local police chiefs nationwide to "coordinate" with all priests. He said he has instructed chiefs of police to reach out to priests in their communities and ask them if they face threats to their lives.