More priests reveal receiving death threats but reject police protection

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Fathers Albert Alejo, Robert Reyes, and Flavie Villanueva

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 11) — Three more Catholic priests said Monday they received threats amid the President's tirades against Church leaders.

In a media briefing, Fathers Robert Reyes, Albert Alejo, and Flavie Villanueva showed text messages containing vulgar words and death threats against them and Bishops Socrates Villegas and Pablo David.

"Matagal namin pinagtalunang tatlo kung kami ay lalantad o hindi kasi pwedeng baliwalain 'to, pwedeng maging iba ang balita kasi hindi namin kontrolado kung ano ang lalabas mamaya o bukas," Reyes said.

[Translation: We discussed for a long time if we will come out because this may be dismissed or the story may change because we can't control the news that will be out later or tomorrow.]

"Pero nanindigan kami, kaming tatlo ay lalantad at magsasalita, at sasabihin namin, 'Digong hindi kami takot sayo, isa lang ang pangingilagan namin - ang Panginoong Diyos," he added.

[Translation: But we stood firm that we will come out and speak out and say 'Digong we are not afraid of you, we only fear God.]

David is a vocal critic of President Rodrigo Duterte's anti-drug campaign. He said he has been receiving death threats since February. Malacanang denied having a hand in the threats against clergies, with Duterte even posting a warning to groups out to harm members of the Catholic Church.

READ: Duterte to groups: Do not harm clergy, religious leaders

In a statement, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the messages could be from pranksters or "anti-Duterte trolls to put PRRD (President Rodrigo Roa Duterte) in bad light or from personal enemies of the priests."

He added threats via text messages are "easy" and "convenient" as the source of these threats can't be traced.

Despite the threats, the priests said they will refuse to accept protection from the police.

In a radio interview last week, PNP chief Director General Oscar Albayalde said he had assured Manila Archbishop Luis Cardinal Tagle that the Philippine National Police will validate the threats and provide concerned priests with bodyguards.

Reyes, however, said they would rather seek the help of the Catholic community for their protection.

"Obvious na siguro ang dahilan kung bakit ano (The reason is obvious). I think we're better off asking our parishioners, our brother priests, the religious communities to protect us," he said.

Villanueva, meanwhile, said the PNP should instead protect people in poor areas against the illegal-drug trade.

"Mas madaming dapat sigurong dapat bantayan ang pulis, 27,000-30,000 na ang pinatay eh, nasaan ang pulis doon?

[Translation: There are many other things that the police should protect. Aroung 27,000-30,000 have died, where were they?]

"Sana kung tapat at nais magtanggol ng buhay ang kapulisan, nandoon sa squatter kung saan laganap at nakakalat ang mga drug list, doon dapat sana italaga ang mga pulis na matitino, bantayan ang mahihirap imbes na kami," he said.

[Translation: If they are sincere to protect the people, go to squatters area where illeal drug trade is rampant. Protect the poor instead of us.]

The three priests called on the Catholic community to join the fight against violence and human rights violation.

"Itong ginagawa namin na 'to ay di lang para sa aming tatlo. Kami ay nanawagan sa lahat ng paring Pilipino, paring Katoliko, lahat ng pastor na Pilipino, 'wag tayong matakot. Ang proteksyon natin ay pag tayo ay nagsalita, proteksyon natin kapag binitin ang mukha at blinur at hindi mo alam kung sino ang nagsasalita," Reyes said.

[Translation: What we're doing is not just for the three of us. We call on all Filipino priests, Catholic priests, all Filipino pastors--don't be afraid.]

"There should be more of us out there at the forefront of the battle against violence, vulgarity, violation of human rights and dignity," he added.

Alejo urged the Catholic faithful to join forces in assuring peace among communities without depending on the police.

"Nananawagan kami sa buong simbahan, pagtulungtulungan na lang natin na gawing mapayapa, mapanatag ang sambayanan nang hindi umaasa lamang sa kapulisan," he said.

[Translation: We urge the whole Catholic Church, let's join force in making our communities peaceful without merely relying on the police.]