Philippine church leaders oppose pistol packing priests

Bishops shoot down idea that clergy take advantage of 2014 law allowing them to bear arms in wake of recent shootings
Philippine church leaders oppose pistol packing priests

Priests attend ceremonies to start the Year of the Clergy and Consecrated Persons in Manila in November 2018. Bishops have criticized idea of arming priests for protection in wake of series of shootings. (Photo by Angie de Silva)

Church leaders in the Philippines have criticized proposal to arms priests as a protection measure in the wake of recent attacks on members of the clergy.

Calls have come from several quarters for priests to take advantage of a 2014 law allowing journalists, priests, lawyers, doctors, nurses, accountants, and engineers to carry firearms outside their homes.

The calls come after three recent shooting incidents involving priests.

On June 6, Father Rey Urmeneta, a 64-year-old Catholic priest in Laguna province, survived a gun attack by two assailants.

He was the third priest to have been shot in the past six months. 

In April, Father Mark Ventura from Gattaran town in the northern Philippines died after being shot by a lone gunman shortly after celebrating Sunday Mass.

On Dec. 4, 2017, Father Marcelito Paez was also shot dead in the town of Jaen, Nueva Ecija province.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, however, expressed strong opposition to the idea of arming priests.

"Arming priests is not a solution to crimes against them," said Father Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the Public Affairs Committee of the bishops' conference.

He said there is no need for priests to arm themselves because, like any ordinary citizen, they are also entitled to protection from the government.

"If [priests] antagonize other people, killing them is unnecessarily excessive and brutal," said Father Secillano, adding that priests should never be considered as "enemies."

Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon said priests get their protection from "angels, not weapons."

"I am for a gun-less society. We priests are not afraid of dangers. If the public, especially the poor, are exposed to dangers, we cannot be less," said Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa.

Bishop Honesto Ongtioco of Cubao said a priest's "vocation and role in the transformation of society" is different from other people.

"Our security is more on what we do, how we interact and live with people," said the prelate.

The country's Justice Secretary, meanwhile, said he intends to include in next year’s proposed budget for his department funding for the purchase of firearms for prosecutors.

Menardo Guevarra said the move is in response to the killing of prosecutors in recent months, especially in the provinces.

He made the announcement following the killing of a prosecutor during a robbery incident in Quezon City on June 4.

At least seven prosecutors have been killed in the past two years, according to police.

Prior to the 2014 law, people like priests and prosecutors, like any other citizen, were required to prove they were "under actual threat" before being issued a special permit to carry firearms.

Now, all that is required is that they pass a drug and psychiatric test and prove they have no pending criminal case punishable by two or more years in jail and no prior convictions.

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