MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday denied persecuting priests amid a spate of killings of members of the clergy, saying some priests are no better than him.
Critics claim Duterte’s tirades against priests and the Catholic Church had emboldened the killers of 3 Catholic priests slain in the last six months.
The President, however, denied this allegation.
“Sabi ng nabasa ko, ‘Stop persecuting priests.’ Wala naman akong sinabi,” Duterte said in in a speech in Malacañang.
(I read in the news some were asking me to stop persecuting the priests. I did not even say anything.)
Public outrage is growing over the spate of killings of Catholic priests in the last six months.
The latest victim was Fr. Richmond Nilo, who was about to begin Mass in a church in Zaragoza, Nueva Ecija on Sunday night when unidentified gunmen shot him dead.
In December 2017, Rev. Fr. Marcelito Paez was also gunned down by unidentified assailants after assisting the release of a political prisoner in the town of Jaen, Nueva Ecija.
In April 2018, Rev. Fr. Mark Anthony Ventura was also shot dead by an unidentified gunman after celebrating Mass in Gattaran, Cagayan.
Duterte earlier said that Ventura’s supposed affairs could be the reason behind his killing, an allegation condemned by priests and prelates who knew the Cagayan priest.
In his speech today, the President brought up the matter again. He said it seemed he was being forced by his critics to resurrect the issue because of their criticisms against him.
“Kung ikaw pari, kabitin mo ang asawa ng sundalo, kabitin mo ang asawa ng mayor, mamamatay ka talaga,” Duterte said.
(If you are a priest, and you have an affair with the wife of a soldier or a mayor, you will really die.)
“Alam mo yung pari is no better than me. Iyung mga pari dyan, tig-dalawang asawa,” he added.
(A priest is no better than me. Some priests have two wives.)
Duterte said he actually “suppressed” the issue involving Ventura because it would not look good for the Catholic Church.
“If these guys keep on shouting there, ilalabas ko (I will make this public),” he said.
The President accused the Catholic hierarchy of pretending to be “saints” despite their transgressions and labeling the police and soldiers as demons.
Duterte has been vocal about his grievances against the Catholic leadership in the Philippines, some of whom have been vocal critics of his war on drugs.
Another priest, Fr. Rey Urmenta, a former PNP chaplain, survived an ambush in Calamba, Laguna last week.
The recent attacks against priests have prompted proposals to arm the clergy, but no less than the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines opposed this idea.