Malacañang yesterday said lawless elements are out to discredit government efforts against criminality by sowing division through acts such as the killing of priests.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque made the statement after Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas called on President Rodrigo Duterte to stop his verbal attacks on the Catholic Church as these “can unwittingly embolden more crimes against priests.”
Roque said the government condemned and launched an investigation into the murder of Catholic priests Father Mark Ventura, Father Marcelito Paez and Father Richmond Nilo, all of whom were killed in a span of six months or from December last year.
The Palace official added the Philippine National Police would be working closely with the Catholic Church, especially the hierarchy and the clergy, on measures to protect priests.
“The President himself has ordered an intensified campaign against criminality to further expand the significant strides we made in the peace and order situation in the country, as acknowledged by various reports,” Roque said.
“In this nationwide drive, lawless elements will seek to block our efforts by sowing division and creating animosity, even exploiting crimes like the killings of priests.”
Roque called on stakeholders to “stand united against these purveyors of crime and together advance the peace and security of the nation and the Church.”
Earlier, Malacanang said they did not see any “empirical basis” for claims that the killings of priests can be linked to Duterte’s attacks against the Catholic Church, adding the culture of impunity has been around since the Arroyo administration.
Church leaders have repeatedly criticized the rising death toll in Duterte’s war on drugs. The President, in turn, hit back with diatribes, bringing up supposed misdeeds of priests and bishops.
Duterte had also said he could not be prosecuted for orchestrating extrajudicial killings being attributed to the drug war, saying such crime does not exist in the country’s penal laws.
The President insisted that he never instructed authorities to just shoot and kill drug suspects.