Filipino priest claims close call with assassins

Amado Picardal says hitmen are after him for his criticism of Duterte's deadly war on drugs
Filipino priest claims close call with assassins

Redemptorist priest Amado Picardal sets off for his last cross-country ride in Manila on March 14 before he retired in solitude as a hermit. (Photo by Vincent Go)

 

A Catholic priest who has long been known for his criticism of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war on illegal drugs has claimed that assassins are out to silence him.

Redemptorist priest Amado Picardal said he had gone into hiding in a "more secure location" after motorcycle-riding men were seen looking for and asking about him.

In a statement sent to ucanews.com, Father Picardal said he almost became the "victim of extrajudicial killing" by a death squad.

For over four months, the priest has been living as a hermit in a mountain retreat in the central Philippines.

Known for his activism and criticism of Duterte long before the former mayor of Davao became president, Father Picardal told ucanews.com in April that it was time for him "to be contemplative."

Also known as the "cycling priest" for riding his bike across the country to protest drug-related killings, the priest said it was time for him to be silent.

At 64 years old, Father Picardal said he was already at the "pre-departure area" of life, so he wanted to take care of himself in solitude.

"There is always a period in one's life when you're active, very vocal, then there is a time to be contemplative. They are connected," said the priest.

His solitude was, however, interrupted last month when unidentified men started enquiring about him.

The priest said that since 2017 he has been receiving information that assassins were targeting priests and that he was top of a list. 

Following the killing of three Catholic priests in the past six months, Father Picardal said he was certain that he could be next. 

"I received a text message from a reliable source confirming that I was indeed going to be targeted for assassination by a death squad," wrote the priest.

On Aug. 11, Father Picardal said he was informed that six men on three motorbikes with full-faced helmets were looking for him at a monastery he was then visiting.

"Had I gone out, there would have been no escape for me," he said. "It was a close call. I thank God for protecting me," he added.

The priest's superiors advised him not to go back to the hermitage and avoid "public appearances."

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Father Picardal said assassins were targeting him because he exposed the killings of street children and drug suspects allegedly perpetrated by Duterte's cronies even before he was elected president in 2016.

The priest used to be spokesman of the Coalition Against Summary Execution, which monitored the killings and assisted human rights groups in investigating drug-related murders.

Father Picardal said he also posted a "collated report" of the killings carried out by the so-called Davao Death Squad since 1998.

The report was included in a complaint against the Duterte government submitted to the International Criminal Court.

Human rights groups claimed that close to 25,000 people have died in the government's two-year old anti-narcotics campaign.

The Philippine National Police have reported that 23,518 murder cases have been investigated between July 2016, when Duterte came to power, and June 2018.

At least 4,300 drug suspects were killed during "legitimate police operations" as of May 15.

"I am not surprised that the president is mad at me," said the priest. "Has President Duterte finally ordered my hit? Or is it just some zealous henchman trying to please him?" he added.

"I always knew that my life would be at risk and I have accepted this as a consequence of fulfilling my prophetic mission," said Father Picardal. 

The priest said while he is not afraid of death and is ready to accept martyrdom, he does not intend to make himself an easy target. 

He said he would continue to speak out against evil in society through his writings and will fast and pray "that the Lord will deliver us from evil."

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