MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Saying police did nothing to pursue the masked killers who "took their sweet time," Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David slammed "death squads" behind two back-to-back murders in Caloocan City on Wednesday evening, July 18.
In a homily on Thursday morning, July 19, David said Jennifer Taburada, 27, was killed by masked men at around 8 pm on Wednesday.
Taburada was a widow whose husband, Ryan, was also murdered by unidentified killers a year ago. Their children aged 11 and 13, Prince Junior and Princess, "are complete orphans" now.
More than 3 hours later, 36-year-old Alvin Teng was killed just a few blocks away from where Taburada was murdered.
David recounted: "You know, the killers were not even rushing. They took their sweet time. We used to call them bonnet gangs. Now we just call them what they really are – death squads."
"The police seemed to be alerted about their presence because they're not supposed to meddle. If the police wanted to pursue them, they could have, because they stayed for 4 hours," David said.
"And after killing Jennifer, they just moved a few blocks and killed another one. Jennifer was from Barangay 152 in Bagong Barrio. By 11:30 pm, they killed Alvin Teng, 36 years old. I feel so, so, so, so sad, that I am not able to protect my flock from the wolves!" he added.
David narrated these murders in his homily on the second day of the 5th Philippine Conference on New Evangelization (PCNE) at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila.
Many participants at PCNE were seen wiping their tears as David delivered his homily. More than 2,000 priests and nuns packed UST's Quadricentennial Pavilion for PCNE.
David, one of the Philippines' leading Bible scholars, is vice president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). He is one of the most thundering voices against the killings under the Duterte administration. (READ: Caloocan Bishop Pablo David: Shepherd of his slaughtered sheep)
'They gouged his eyes, cut off his private parts'
In his homily, David said he learned of Taburada's murder while he was preparing his homily for Thursday's Mass. He was informed through a text message of a person in the widow's support group in his diocese.
"The texter was telling me that the killers were still around that very moment while she was texting me. They were still looking up close to check if Jennifer was really dead already, and they had to fire a few more shots," David recalled.
David's tipster then sent him "a picture of this 27-year-old mother of two children, sprawled, bloody, on cold pavement."
"And I recognized her immediately, Jennifer. She was one of the widows who applied for a scholarship for her son, Prince Junior, just a few months ago, and it broke my heart to tell her that we took only one scholar per family. She was trying to get two slots for her two children," David said.
He said he remembered how Taburada, in one instance, "was clutching in her armpit the death certificate of her husband, Ryan, who had also been killed by masked killers a year ago now."
"I remember how she narrated her husband's death, how Ryan was mutilated by the killers. He had to be abducted and tortured first. They gouged his eyes and cut off his private parts," David recounted.
"I remember how I squirmed as she was telling the story, and I whispered to her and I said, your daughter is listening. And she had to wipe her tears and control herself from being too graphic in the description," he said.
"Now her two little children [aged 11 and 13], named Princess and Prince Junior, are complete orphans," the bishop added.
In a press conference hours after his homily, David reiterated about the murderers, "What makes me really indignant is, they were taking their sweet time."
"It's not like, you know, they would murder and then run away very quickly. No, no, no. They were taking their sweet time," the bishop told journalists.
"It's like, if the police really had the will to pursue them, to run after them, they would have arrested them. But you know, they pass by police stations, they are not seen. I don't know if they're invisible. How come our people see them?"
'The nightmare goes on'
More than 27,800 Filipinos have died in both vigilante-style killings and police operations since President Rodrigo Duterte launched his anti-drug campaign in 2016.
Voicing outrage over these killings and other abuses, the CBCP on July 9 issued one of its strongest statements on social ills under Duterte's government.
The CBCP said: "Are we to remain as bystanders when we hear of people being killed in cold blood by ruthless murderers who dispose of human lives like trash? Do we not realize that for every drug suspect killed, there is a widowed wife and there are orphaned children left behind – who could hardly even afford a decent burial for their loved ones?"
The CBCP then invited Catholics to spend 3 days of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving from July 17 to 19, to pray for blasphemers, liars, and murderers in the Philippines.
Wednesday, when Taburada and Teng were murdered, was the second day of the fasting period recommended by the CBCP.
On Thursday, this 3-day fasting ends.
But in a Facebook post about the Caloocan murders, David said on Thursday, "The nightmare goes on." – Rappler.com
Editor's Note: Quoting Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, an earlier version of this story described the two orphans as "aged 5 and 7." David later corrected himself, saying "the children of Jennifer are not 5 and 7 years old," but "are grade 5 and 7 (aged 11 and 13).
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.