Philippines' gun-toting priests to surrender firearms

Bishop says they owned guns before recent killings of members of the clergy
Philippines' gun-toting priests to surrender firearms

A candle-lit demonstration in Manila to protest the killings of Catholic priests in recent months. (Photo by Jire Carreon)

Filipino priests who reportedly possess and carry firearms in a diocese south of Manila will surrender their weapons to the police, according to their prelate.

Bishop Buenaventura Famadico of San Pablo said he is seeking the help of the Philippine National Police on how to dispose of guns owned by some clergymen.

The bishop clarified reports in a Manila daily that priests in San Pablo Diocese armed themselves following the killing of three priests in recent months.

"It's not true they armed themselves because of [the killings]. They already had [guns] way before," said Bishop Famadico who also heads the Commission on Clergy of the bishops' conference.

However, he said that the clergy in his diocese have since implemented a policy about owning or carrying firearms.

"We came up with a common policy. Each will not own a gun," said the bishop. "Personally, I do not approve of priests owning a gun for whatever purposes," he added.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines has issued a statement rejecting the idea of arming priests to protect themselves.

"We are men of God, men of the church and it is part of our ministry to face dangers, to face death if one may say it that way," read a statement from the bishops' conference.

Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan has criticized priests who carry guns for protection.

"They might want to consider leaving the priesthood and joining the police or the military instead," said the prelate.

Archbishop Rolando Tirona of Nueva Caceres said the government should address the alarming number of killings across the country to prevent people from arming themselves.

Human rights groups have estimated that about 23,000 suspected drug users and dealers have been killed in the past two years under the government's "war on drugs"

"That's how serious the situation has become," said the bishop. "What triggers this situation? Is there a break down of law and order?"

Opposition senators have also criticized the reported move to arm members of the clergy.

"We cannot imagine shepherds of the faithful packing heat ready to shoot from the hip at human beings," said Senator Leila de Lima, adding that it is "against any religious vocation."

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She said transforming "men of peace" into potential killers is "an abomination that can rear its head only under a government that promotes violence more than anything else."

"Instead of arming priests, we should start disarming [President Rodrigo] Duterte of his arsenal of violence and hatred that has enabled him to inflict so much pain and hurt among the Filipino people," said De Lima.

Another opposition legislator, Senator Risa Hontiveros, said priests arming themselves is a sign of "desperation and hopelessness."

"When the government cannot guarantee the public's safety and security, and worse, is seen by many citizens as involved in many of the killings, the people will take it upon themselves to defend their lives," said the senator.

Hontiveros has been pressing the Senate to conduct an investigation into the recent killings of Catholic priests Richmond Villaflor Nilo, Mark Ventura, and Marcelito Paez.

Leonel Abasola contributed to this report.

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