Priests who spoke out fear for their lives

Religious sisters pray over the three priests who claim they have received death threats (ucanews.com/Joe Torres)

Three priests in the Philippines, known for being outspoken against a wave of drug-related killings in the country, claim they have received death threats in recent weeks. Source: ucanews.com.

Jesuit Fr Albert Alejo, Divine Word Missionary Flavie Villanueva, and diocesan priest Fr Robert Reyes told a hastily organised media briefing on Monday that they are in fear of their lives.

“We’re not safe,” said Fr Reyes, known as the “running priest” for his penchant to go on long-distance runs to draw attention to human rights issues.

“We are afraid,” said Fr Alejo, adding that they were “fortunate” to have received threats unlike the “thousands of others killed without warning.”

The government has acknowledged the deaths of 5,176 “drug personalities” in 119,841 anti-narcotics operations since July 1, 2016, when President Rodrigo Duterte came to power.

Authorities, however, said all were killed while resisting arrest or attacking arresting officers. Human rights groups claim more than 20,000 drug-related killings have been classified by police as “deaths under investigation.”

The threats against the three priests come soon after Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan, the diocese where most drug-related killings have occurred, and Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, a vocal critic of Mr Duterte, announced that they had also received death threats.

Authorities offered to provide security to the bishops and members of the clergy, which was declined. Fr Villanueva said police should give the poor more protection. “If the police are sincere in wanting to protect lives, they should be in [urban poor] areas where many are on drug lists,” he said./p>

The priests said they would continue speaking out against killings despite the threats because “speaking against evil is our moral obligation.”

“The deadly words of Duterte against Catholics are like a dagger pointed at us,” Fr Reyes said.

Mr Duterte has repeatedly lambasted the Catholic Church and its leaders for being corrupt. He even said bishops should be killed in one of his public appearances.

“The message is clear. It’s not only people that [Mr Duterte] wants dead but our faith as well,” said Fr Reyes.

The priests also appealed to the public, including Church leaders, to speak out against human rights abuses and the killings.

FULL STORY

Philippine Catholic priests make death threats claim (ucanews.com

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