Palace: Probe on killing of Nueva Ecija priest a ‘top priority’

MALACANANG on Monday condemned the killing of another priest before officiating mass on Sunday afternoon.

In a press conference, Palace spokesman Harry Roque promised that the investigation into Fr. Richmond Nilo’s death would be “top priority” by the government.

“Kinukondena po natin ‘yang pagpatay dito sa pari na taga Nueva Ecija. Talaga pong bibigyan natin ng  prioridad ang pag-iimbestiga ng pagpatay kay Father (We condemn the death of this priest from Nueva Ecija. We will really give priority to the investigation into his death),” Roque told reporters.

“At nababahala po ang gobyerno dahil gaya ng pagpatay sa isang mamahayag, kapag pinatay mo ang isang pari, eh nilabag mo hindi lang ang karapatang mabuhay kundi ‘yung karapatan din ng malayang pananampalataya (And the government was concerned because just like the killing of media, once you kill a priest, you violate not only his right to life but also his right to freedom of religion),” he said.

Nilo, the parish priest of St. Vincent Ferrer Parish in Zaragoza, Nueva Ecija, was gunned down as he was about to celebrate Mass inside the Nuestra Señora dela Nieve Chapel in Barangay Mayamot, Zaragoza, Nueva Ecija on Sunday.

The 44-year-old priest was the financial administrator of the Diocese of Cabanatuan and the former president of the College of Immaculate Conception in Cabanatuan City.

Roque said he would have a meeting with Philippine National Police Chief Oscar Albayade to follow up on Nilo’s case.

“As presidential adviser on human rights, we will give this top priority and I will have a special conference with General Albayalde just to follow on the investigation of this case,” he said.

Nilo’s death came less than a week after Fr. Rey Urmeneta of the St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Calamba, Laguna was hurt in a shooting attack.

Nilo was the third priest who was killed in a span of six months. Fr. Marcelito Paez was gunned down in Jaen, Nueva Ecija on December 4, while Fr. Mark Ventura was killed by armed men in Gattaran, Cagayan Province.

Asked if President Rodrigo Duterte’s tirades against priests and the Catholic Church may have encouraged violent acts against priests, Roque said, “I don’t think there is any empirical basis for that.”

“Ang masasabi ko lang po itong kultura ng impunity ay naririyan na po bago pa pumasok ang ating Presidente (What I want to say is that the culture of impunity was there even before the President assumed office),” Roque said.

“Kung maalala niyo (If you will recall), UN special rapporteur on extralegal killings Philip Alston, as of the time of GMA (Gloria Macapagal Arroyo), already confirmed that there’s a breach of the right to life as far as extralegal killings are concerned. Talagang problema na matagal na pong hinaharap ng ating gobyerno (That has long been a problem of the government),” he added.

But Roque said during Duterte’s watch, the government has initiated actions to address the killings, particularly against media.

“Nagkaroon po tayo ng task force na talagang nakatutok sa mga kaso ng pagpatay sa media. Mayroon naman pong namatay sa Davao del Norte pero alam niyo naman po si Usec. Egco is on top of the situation (We have now a task force that will oversee cases related to killing of media. There’s recent killing of journalist from Davao del Norte but we all know that Usec. Egco is on top of the situation),” Roque said, referring to Presidential Task Force on Media Security head Joel Sy Egco.

“So dati-rati po palagi nalang concern concern concern sa mga killings, ngayon po mayroon na talagang ahensya na binuo at least para tumutok sa pagpatay sa mga mamahayag na hindi  po nangyari doon sa mga ibang administrasyon (So previously we always expressed concerns about these killings, but now we have an agency that would at least oversee the cases related to media killings, which has not been done by the previous administrations),” he added. CATHERINE S. VALENTE

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