“They are killing our flock. They are killing us the shepherds. They are killing our faith. They are cursing our church.”
-- Archbishop Socrates Villegas, June 11, 2018
BY “flock,” Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas must mean the 16,000 people or so killed and tagged as DUIs (deaths under investigation) in the drug war since President Duterte assumed office. Most of the casualties were Catholics: eight in 10 Filipinos belong to the Catholic Church.
By shepherds, Villegas must mean the three priests killed and one priest wounded since December 2017.
Gunned down last June 10 as he was preparing for Sunday mass was Fr. Richmond Nilo, 43, in a chapel in Zaragosa, Cabandan, Nueva Ecija. Last April 29, Fr. Mark Anthony Ventura, 37, was shot dead after celebrating mass in Gattaran, Cagayan. Dec. 4 of last year, Fr. Marcelito Paez, 72, was shot and killed after visiting a prisoner in jail. Three priests dead in a span of six months -- and last June 6 the fourth, Fr. Rey Urmeneta, an ex-police chaplain, was shot and wounded while on the way to a meeting.
Surely, the violence on the four priests is:
 Not the work of a serial killer; it’s not like there’s a mad man going around hunting down priests. The number of victims (three or more) qualifies but there’s no showing that a twisted criminal mind is at work.
 Not a systematic targeting of priests in a hate mission by a rogue state force or some other sponsored group, the same way that in Cebu City, police officers were targeted by “Sparrow” units of NPA rebels in the ‘70s or crime suspects were liquidated by a vigilante group in the ‘80s. CBCP’s Bishop Sofronio Blanco said he saw no such pattern in the current killings.
Whoever the victim
Whatever the motive though, the killing needs to be solved and the killer punished. Killing a priest, Bishop Blanco said, is “unchristian.” Killing any human being is.
Priests, prosecutors, journalists, barangay captains: their respective groups see the killing of their member as an assault on their cluster and the work it does. The church sees their priests as shepherds. Journalists see themselves as guardian of freedoms. But they -- along with lawyers, prosecutors, village leaders and others -- when any one of them is killed, the victim cannot be more valuable than the citizen “salvaged” and his body dumped on the street while the killer goes free.
Getting away with it
Each unsolved murder contributes to the same climate of impunity that the CBCP talks about. Impunity grows every time someone is killed and the “perp” is not punished. Impunity is the sense of the killer that he can get away with murder.
Villegas railed against “killing our faith” and “cursing our church.” He’s right about the curses that would’ve sent, in another time, the man who swears to the inquisitors’ rack. But not to worry about the Catholic faith. It survived worse periods of history when priests were ripped apart on the rack or by lions in the arena as the crowd roared.
The bishops are worried that many of those sworn to enforce the law break it or encourage the breach. And more worrisome is the cheering from those who see nothing wrong with the killings as long as they or those dear to them are not the ones killed.