— In just a matter of six months, three clergymen have been killed. That served as enough reason for some priests in Laguna province to acquire firearms to protect themselves against would-be assassins. Add to that the frustrated murder of a fourth priest in the same town.
Thousands of parishioners joined the funeral march for Fr. Richmond Nilo, 44, who was gunned down as he prepared to celebrate Mass on June 10 in Zaragoza town, in the province of Nueva Ecija. Fr. Nilo was the third priest killed since December. And yet, the Philippine National Police leadership said ‘there is no cause for alarm’.
Before Fr. Nilo, Fr. Mark Ventura, 37, was shot dead after saying Mass in Gattaran town, Cagayan province on April 29. Fr. Marcelito Paez, 72, was ambushed by motorcycle-riding gunmen in Nueva Ecija on Dec. 5, 2017 and Fr. Rey Urmeneta, 64, a former police chaplain, was shot and wounded. Motive for the shooting of the clergymen are still unknown.
One Filipino priest who is availing himself of a .45-caliber pistol is encouraging other priests to secure firearms for self-defence. Another priest said he was “OK” with owning a .45-caliber or a 9mm pistol “just in case.” A third priest was considering a gun of a higher calibre because, in his view, a .22-caliber pistol was only good for hunting birds and small animals.
Lawyer Francisco dela Rosa, a parishioner from Calamba, said he supported arming priests for self-defense.
“If priest-killers can brazenly carry and use their illegal firearms to kill men of God, why can the priests not carry their legal firearms to defend themselves?” Dela Rosa told media in a text message.
Fr. Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the public affairs office of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines said the church hierarchy is against the arming of priests, but “we can’t blame them” if they believed it was the only way to protect themselves from unknown assailants.
He said bishops may not sanction priests who arm themselves.
“We’re talking about life here—being in danger. If he sees that arming himself is the way to do it, let’s respect him,” Secillano said.
However, he said there was a “great possibility” that priests who would “pull the trigger first” in case of an attack would “contribute to the violence that is happening.”