How can Filipinos kill priests? By killing God first.

Ricardo Saludo

Ricardo Saludo

They are killing our flock. They are killing us the shepherds. They are killing our faith. They are cursing our Church. They are killing God again as they did on Calvary.

– Archbishop Socrates Villegas, Bishop-elect Jose Elmer Mangalinao, and the clergy of Lingayen-Dagupan

As a nation, we ask God’s forgiveness for the sins against life. Along with our plea for mercy, let us do life-giving acts: sympathy for orphans and widows, sharing of food, … and other acts of charity. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them,“ said Saint Paul (Romans 12:14). In cursing them, one may become like them, or be enslaved by them.

– Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle

Who’s to blame for the murder of three priests—Mark Anthony Ventura, 37, of Cagayan; and Marcelito Paez, 72, and Richmond Nilo, 43, of Nueva Ecija—since December?

Opposition Senator Riza Hontiveros pointed to President Rodrigo Duterte, decrying what she claimed were killings of priests critical of the administration. The slain clerics were not dissidents. And by eroding public approval for the President, their deaths help not him, but his opponents.

They include narco-syndicates with no qualms about hiring assassins to kill clergy, like the recently arrested Nilo murder suspect, reportedly a gun-for-hire and surrendered narcotics offender.

Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, Bayombong Bishop-elect Jose Elmer Mangalinao, and the clergy of Villegas’s archdiocese, quoted above, have castigated state policies and pronouncements, as well as the public’s silence in the face of drug deaths and maligning of the Church.

“Killing is the solution. Killing is the language. Killing is the way. Killing is the answer. Killing is encouraged. Killing is their job. Killers are rewarded. Killers boast of their murders.” So said the prelates and priests

That points to a more worrisome, even fearsome problem: Filipinos may be losing our age-old reverence for life and God. And if fear of the Almighty and respect for His commandments and ministers are lost, we may see American-style mass killings—the result of widespread guns and Godlessness.

Destroying life and dignity

The Villegas-led statement decried the encouragement of killing as a law enforcement strategy under Duterte, who himself threatened criminals with death. Just last week, he said he might arm barangay officials, and warned informal settlers occupying a state-funded housing estate to vacate or risk being killed.

“Today, the murderers are commended and the king is undisturbed,” lamented Villegas and his fellow churchmen. “Let us implore the grace of God to touch the heart of the President of the Philippines to stop the verbal
persecution of the Catholic Church, because such attacks can unwittingly embolden more crimes against priests.”

They also prayed: “We seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit that our leaders in government may arrest the further erosion of law and order in the country and restore respect for human life and human dignity. We beg the Lord to wake up our people, now walking in darkness and numbed by fear, to stand up for the Lord and courageously correct error and sin.”

That last paragraph almost surely refers to killings in the anti-drug war. Yet, it should also encompass all assaults on life and dignity. These crimes are committed mostly by lawless elements—and had exploded in the last administration.

Between 2010 and 2014, criminality more than tripled: from 324,083 incidents in 2010 to more than 1 million a year in 2013 and 2014, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority. (PSA data seemed to drop in 2011-12, until the Philippine National Police corrected statistics in 2013, and disciplined PNP station chiefs for faulty reports.)

In 2014, murders and rapes hit around 10,000; robberies and thefts topped 50,000 and 160,000; and physical injury soared to 230,000. And drug trafficking skyrocketed, with shabu smuggled in and more than 2,000 cargo containers vanishing in 2011, with no investigation ordered by then-President Benigno Aquino 3rd.

Add to this unprecedented crime wave the killings, kidnappings and extortion perpetrated by communist rebels and Islamic State-linked extremists, including the Marawi siege last year.

No wonder then-Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, whose campaign centered on eradicating lawlessness, won a landslide victory in the 2016 presidential polls, despite lacking massive election funds and nationwide renown and machinery.

Indeed, the 38 percent of the vote Duterte garnered roughly corresponded to the percentage of Filipinos or their close family and friends who were either crime or drug victims from 2013 to 2015—more than 5 million in all.

Dead suspects or rampant crime?

While Duterte’s war on drugs and crime led to many unlawful deaths, including rubouts of pushers and users who could implicate police, major crimes dropped 20 to 30 percent, and people feel safer, as surveys attest, including a global poll cited by Forbes Magazine < doukoutas/2018/06/10/duterte-has-brought-safety-to-the-philippines/#649e4a3f285f>.

Plainly, legal methods have failed to stop crime and drugs, especially with police, prosecutors, judges, and local officials corrupted by narco lords. Victims understandably argue that extrajudicial killings are a far lesser evil than letting crime surge. Bottom line: if the criminal justice system can’t staunch lawlessness, EJKs become tempting.
What to do?

First, do what Cardinal Tagle urged <>: beg for God’s mercy, not only for the forgiveness of sins, but the reform of sinners and the solace and support of victims. Do acts of charity, as reparations for lawlessness and violence, and, more crucial, against the culture of death and domination feeding crime and killings.

Second, the Church must join the campaign against narcotics and lawlessness, for if these scourges escalate, people accept EJKs just to be safe. Conduct more drug rehab programs like Cardinal Tagle’s Sanlakbay, which Pope Francis commended.

Third, the Church should denounce lawlessness, including rebel violence, abduction and extortion, as much as it does corruption and EJKs. Give sympathy to all victims, not just to those hurt by the state. The Church tolls bells daily for EJK victims. But what about the hundreds of thousands murdered, raped, robbed, assaulted, and addicted?

Filipinos deeply value life and faith, but also peace and order. So does God.

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