Philippine authorities have offered protection to Catholic bishops and priests following reports that several church leaders have received death threats in recent weeks. National police chief, Oscar Albayalde, said the offer has been discussed with Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila. "We offered them protection and even threat validation," said Albayalde, adding that he assured the Manila prelate of help for any priest facing any form of threat. Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan
, a vocal critic of President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war against illegal drugs, earlier claimed he had been receiving threats. Last year, at least two Catholic priests were murdered, while another was shot while he was about to celebrate the Holy Eucharist. Father Mark Ventura
was killed in Gattaran, a town in Cagayan province on April 29, four months after Father Marcelito Paez was killed in Nueva Ecija province. In June last year, Father Richmond Nilo
was killed by gunmen in the city of Cabanatuan as he was about to celebrate Mass. Father Rey Urmeneta
of the St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Laguna province was wounded after he was also shot in June. A church official, however, said the decision whether to accept the police protection offer was up to individual bishops and priests. "To secure the Church and its people especially at these dangerous moments is most welcome," said Father Jerome Secillano of the public affairs committee of the bishops’ conference. "It is up to those who are in this situation whether to accept the offer or not," said the priest, adding that not all priests and bishops were "under threat." Critics of the government said reported threats received by members of the clergy stemmed from Duterte’s repeated tirades against the Catholic Church and its leaders. The president recently told people to rob and kill bishops
. He later said it was a joke. Last week, Duterte issued a statement warning anyone against harming priests
and prelates. He made the warning after being told by Cardinal Tagle that people close to his family had threatened bishops and priests critical of his administration's policies.