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, Malacañang said they did not see any “emperical 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.
"Are Catholic priests being 'tokhanged'?" asked opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros after she filed a resolution calling on the Senate to conduct an investigation in aid of legislation into the spate of killings and attempted killings of Catholic priests.
Hontiveros said that there is a dangerous pattern emerging with the spate of killings and attempted killings of Catholic priests.
"Is there a systematic attempt to kill Catholic priests who are critical of the administration? Tinotokhang na rin ba ang mga pari ng simbahang Katoliko na naglakas loob na ipahayag ang kanilang kritikal na boses sa laganap na patayan, katiwalian at pang-aabuso?" Hontiveros said.
She stressed that the killings are not isolated incidents.
"These killings come on the heels of continued verbal attacks of President Rodrigo Duterte on the Catholic Church and its religious leaders particularly in light of the Catholic Church’s strong critique of the present administration’s War on Drugs," Hontiveros observed.
With Marlon Purificacion