The Catholic Church Has Taken A More Active Role In Blaming President Duterte For Human Rights Abuses
It should be no surprise that Father Richmond Nilo was killed. He had been an outspoken critic of the President of the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte, for his drug war that has killed between 12,000-20,000 citizens. He is not even the first priest killed; Father Mark Anthony Ventura and Father Marcelito Paez have also been gunned down. Additional priests have confirmed they have been targets of assassination attempts.
Why has this violence occurred and who is responsible?
The Catholic Church began to take an active role against Duterte’s drug war in early 2017. Priests began to organize protests against the government, set up fundraising for victims funerals, and document the murder of suspected drug dealers and users. The church has tremendous influence in the country, over 86 percent of Filipinos identify as Catholic.
Duterte has responded savagely. He has publicly promoted Altar of Secrets, a book that accuses the Philippine Catholic Church of sexual abuse and corruption. He has attacked the theology of Catholicism, calling original sin “stupid.” He even cursed Pope Francis during his election campaign in 2016.
These attacks are emblematic of anyone that speaks out against Duterte. The president has encouraged police to shoot human rights activists, arrested journalists, and tried to eliminate a constitutionally-protected commission on human rights. More insidiously, Duterte has been giving praise to death squads that engage in extra-judicial killings in support of Duterte’s drug war. Sixty percent of the murders carried out are done through vigilante shooters. Therefore, even if Duterte did not directly order the assassination of the three priests, he has given his blessing to any gunmen that would carry out the spirit of his bloody campaign.
Archbishop Socrates Villegas gave a speech after the murder of Father Nilo, begging the president to stop his attacks on the Catholic Church.
Senator Risa Hontiveros has asked for the killings to be investigated to see if there is a link between the Catholic Church’s criticism of Duterte and Duterte’s verbal attacks of the church.
“It’s a question that is bothering people’s minds. Are priests also being targeted now? Are these attacks borne out of President Duterte’s repeated verbal attacks against the church?” Hontiveros said.
Duterte has told reporters he is not responsible for the murders but has refused to change his rhetoric.