MANILA, Philippines – "Within the specific circumstances of the case at issue, can they blame the witnesses if they feel safer with the Church than with CIDG?"
Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David stressed this point Tuesday, September 12, after witnesses to the killing of 17-year-old Kian Loyd delos Santos chose to seek protection from the Catholic Church, not the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG).
The CIDG is run by the Philippine National Police (PNP), the same institution blamed for Delos Santos' death, a case that has triggered outrage against President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody anti-drug campaign.
On Tuesday, David also denied that the Catholic Church is "obstructing justice" in Delos Santos' case. Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre said on Monday, September 11, that David could be guilty of this because the bishop is taking custody of the witnesses.
"I wonder in what way we in the Church have 'obstructed justice' if all we did was provide sanctuary for witnesses upon the parents' own request, and at no expense from the government at that," David said.
"The government can summon them any time they are needed for hearings; we will gladly accompany them," he added.
The father of a witness chose on Saturday, September 9, to put his family in the custody of David, not the CIDG.
Accompanied by the CIDG and the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC), the father initially wanted to take his children from David, but changed his mind after consulting with his family, including his wife who works in the Middle East.
David pointed out that the Catholic Church is "actually facilitating, not obstructing, justice" by protecting witnesses to Delos Santos' death.
In the first place, he said, the witnesses voluntarily sought the protection of the Catholic Church. "'Criminal offense' bang maituturing iyon?" (Can that be considered a criminal offense?)
"Ipinauubaya ko na nga sana sila sa CIDG noong nakaraang Sabado kung hindi biglang nagbago ang desisyon ng ama ng mga bata," David said.
(I was even ready to turn them over to the CIDG last Saturday if the father did not suddenly change his mind.)
"Kung ayon sa batas ay walang karapatan ang pamilya ng testigo na pumili ng kustodiya, bakit hindi na lang sila sapilitang ipinaaresto ng CIDG noong nakaraang Sabado?" the bishop added.
(If, according to the law, the family of the witness does not have the right to choose where to seek custody, why didn't the CIDG just forcibly arrest them last Saturday?)
'It is my duty'
David also said that the affected family belong to the parish of Santa Quiteria, one of the 27 parishes in the diocese that he is heading.
"Tungkulin ko bilang munting obispo ng Caloocan ang pag-ingatan ang kawan na ipinagkatiwala sa akin ng Panginoon," David said. (It is my duty as the bishop of Caloocan to care for the flock entrusted to me by the Lord.)
Born in Pampanga, the 58-year-old David is a Belgium-educated Bible scholar who is one of bishops most outspoken against the drug war killings.
Starting December 1, he will also be the vice president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).
On Tuesday, David added that "for many centuries now, the Church has provided sanctuary for innocent people who fear that their lives are in danger."
David said: "Honestly, I think the government should treat us as their allies in the quest for justice, not their enemies. But if their agenda is not justice, then indeed they might have a basis for treating us as their enemies."
"We are motivated only by faith, never by politics." – Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.