MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine National Police (PNP) has formed a special team to investigate the brutal killing of Fr. Richmond Nilo of the Diocese of Cabanatuan, Nueva Ejica last Sunday.
In a statement on Monday, the Central Luzon Police Regional Office said a special investigation task group (SITG) has been created to probe the priest’s case.
“No stone will be left unturned to immediately identify and arrest the perpetrators,” the regional police said.
PNP chief Director General Oscar Albayalde said he has tasked local police chiefs nationwide to “coordinate” with all priests. He also insisted that the attacks on the three priests were “isolated incidents.”
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, pressed whether President Rodrigo Duterte’s criticisms of the Church could have encouraged some people to kill priests, said there was no “empirical basis” for this.
He said the they would give top priority to the investigation of Nilo’s death.
Nilo was shot dead by still unidentified gunmen in the Nuestra Señora de la Nieve Chapel in Zaragoza, Nueva Ecija on Sunday.
The 40-year-old parish priest of Zaragoza was behind the altar getting ready to start Mass at around 6:05 p.m. when two unidentified men shot him through a window four times.
Nilo is the third priest to be murdered in recent months after the April 29 attack against 37-year-old Fr. Mark Ventura and the Dec. 5, 2017 ambush of 72-year-old Fr. Marcelito Paez at Jaen town in Nueva Ecija province.
Paez was a known peace advocate and is pushing for the resumption of the peace talks, and had facilitated the release of political prisoner Rommel Tucay in Cabanatuan City. Ventura, meanwhile, was an anti-mining activist and an indigenous peoples advocate.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has appealed to authorities for a swift investigation into the heinous and “outrageously evil” crime.
“We are deeply saddened and terribly disturbed that another priest is brutally killed,” CBCP president and Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles said in a statement. “We strongly condemn this outrageously evil act.”
“We make our appeal once again to the police authorities to act swiftly in the investigation and to go after the perpetrators of this heinous crime and bring them to justice,” he added.
For his part, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said the “country’s state of impunity has gone berserk” amid the recent slay of priests.
“These ruthless assassins have gone berserk, sparing no one, not even churchpeople. This state of impunity is now really wrecking havoc in our communities,” Zarate said.
The militant lawmaker also believes that the three priest were “killed for openly acting on their convictions.”
Human rights group Karapatan documented 126 cases of extrajudicial killings from July 2016 to December 31, 2017 alone, with victims coming from the ranks of peasants, indigenous peoples, Moro, workers, women and youth. (davaotoday.com)