PHILIPPINE National Police Oscar Albayalde on Monday, June 11, urged Catholic priests who have received threats to seek police protection, after another priest was gunned down in Luzon.
Father Richmond Nilo was about to celebrate Mass in the chapel of Barangay Mayamot, Zaragoza in Nueva Ecija province when unidentified assailants shot him dead around 5 p.m. Sunday, June 10.
Nilo, a member of the Diocese of Cabanatuan, was the third Catholic priest killed in the country in six months.
Albayalde said he has directed police officials in Central Luzon to form a special investigation task group to look into Nilo’s killing.
“As of (Monday) dawn, nagco-conduct pa ng Soco (scene of crime operations). Wala pa silang (No) motive, wala pang (no) persons of interest as of this time,” Albayalde said in a press conference.
He said there is no cause for alarm as the killings are “isolated incidents.”
“Probably it can cause an alarm on our part but not on the public. This is not a cause for alarm. Hindi naman ito nangyayari araw-araw (This does not happen everyday),” he said.
“These are isolated cases. But then again, hindi naman puedeng pabayaan na lang (We cannot just ignore this). Hindi puedeng we (cannot) turn a blind eye,” he added.
Albayalde also said he directed all the police commanders to “coordinate” with all priests and other religious leaders in their area to identify and assist them against any possible threat against their lives.
“I have given directive sa lahat ng chiefs of police (COP) on our mga territorial units down the line to coordinate with the different priests sa kanilang lugar, kung meron pa silang nalalaman na under threat sa ating mga kaparian sa kanilang respective AORs (areas of responsibilities), makipag-coordinate lahat ng COPs sa ating mga kaparian,” he said.
“Hindi lang sa Catholic ito, sa lahat ng religious sector,” he added.
In a press conference, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque Jr. vowed that the investigation into the death of Fr. Nilo would be a "top priority" of the current administration.
"We condemn the killing of the priest in Nueva Ecija," Roque said.
"The government is alarmed because... when you kill a priest, you violate not just the right to life but also the right to the exercise of religious freedom. So you can expect that we would make it a top priority to investigate the killing of another priest," he added.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) reported that Nilo’s killing happened less than a week after another priest was hurt in a shooting attack in Laguna province, still in Luzon.
Fr. Rey Urmeneta of the St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Calamba,Laguna was wounded after unidentified men shot him on June 6.
Two other priests were killed in the last six months. Fr. Mark Ventura was killed in Gattaran, Cagayan Valley on April 29 while Fr. Marcelito Paez was shot dead in Jaen, Nueva Ecija on December 4, 2017. (MVI, Third Anne Peralta-Malonzo and Ruth Abbey Gita/SunStar Philippines)