Third priest killed and another shot in six months
On Sunday 10 June, Fr Richmond Nilo was shot while he was about to celebrate Mass in the chapel of Brgy. Mayamot in Zaragoza – the third priest to be murdered in recent months. Fr Nilo was the parish priest of St. Vincent Ferrer Parish in Zaragoza town and also the Financial Administrator of the Diocese of Cabanatuan. Aside from serving in these vital roles, he was also known for his active involvement in the apostolate for the deaf and mute in the diocese.
Archbishop Romulo Valles, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, described the killing of Fr Nilo as nothing but an “outrageously evil act.” He added, “We make our appeal once again to the police authorities to act swiftly in the investigation and to go after the perpetrators of this heinous crime and bring them to justice.” The archbishop lamented that the recent attacks against priests were happening in the Year of the Clergy and Consecrated Persons.
Fr Nilo was killed just four days after Fr Rey Urmeneneta, a 64 year old Catholic priest at St. Michael the Archangel Parish, survived an assassination attempt in Calamba City, about 25 miles from the capital Manila. He was in his car with his secretary Remedios de Belen on his way to a church meeting on 6 June when two gunmen shot him at about 9:40 am. Fr Urmeneta was wounded in his left upper back and left arm. He was rushed to the hospital, where he is reported to be in a stable condition. Police have started an investigation to determine the motive for the attack on the priest who once served as chaplain of the Philippine National Police. Fr Urmeneta told police that the incident may have something to do with people who owed him money.
Fr Urmeneta is the fourth priest to be shot since December. Less than two months ago in April, Fr Mark Ventura of Gattaran in the northern Philippines was killed by a lone gunman after celebrating Sunday Mass. On 4 Dec 2017 Fr Marcelito Paez was shot and killed in the town of Jaen, about 70 miles north of Manila after visiting a jail to help free a political prisoner. Faith-based social development network Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc. (PMPI) issued a statement in May about the deaths of the priests who were known to be human rights defenders. The group said the Church, “despite many internal odds and challenges,” has been a “consistent moral compass” for past leaders and governments. “We can’t help but ask, is this the way to silence critical voices of a sector that can potentially challenge and oppose the rules and policies of those in power?” they said in the statement.
Yoly Esguerra, PPI’s coordinator, commented on the “senseless” killing of Fr Ventura: “To kill a priest who has chosen to live a life with simple people in distant and forgotten places to make up for the lack of government presence in the area is preposterous.” The Philippines is becoming an increasingly dangerous country for priests and anyone who dares to speak out against injustice. Global Witness, a London-based human rights organization, said the Philippines was the second deadliest country for activists in 2017. Philippine human rights groups said the killing of priests and the attacks on human rights defenders in the country have become “a source of our deep concern.”