MANILA, Philippines – Kalookan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David denounced vigilantes as "termites" and "new Judases" as he presided over a Mass on Sunday, July 2, for victims of extrajudicial killings (EJKs) in his diocese.
In one of the most scathing homilies against EJKs, David also questioned why the Philippine National Police (PNP) fails to catch these vigilantes, and also if the PNP has resolved even one of those they call "deaths under investigation" (DUIs).
The bishop then prayed for the "traitors and the new Judases of our country."
David recalled an earlier homily at the funeral of 19-year-old Raymart Siapo, a person with disability (PWD) who reportedly found himself on his community's drug watch list after a verbal tussle with his neighbor.
Siapo eventually became one of the thousands of EJK victims in the Philippines.
David addressed Siapo's killers in his funeral homily: "Kung nakikinig kayo, ibig kong malaman ninyo na alam ng Diyos kung sino kayo. Hindi alam ng pulis, hindi alam ng barangay, hindi alam ng kapamilya ng biktima. Pero alam ng Diyos. Hindi ninyo maitatago sa Kanya ang mga pagmumukha ninyo, kahit mag-bonnet pa kayo. Kilala kayo ng Diyos."
(If you are listening, I want you to know that God knows who you are. The police do not know, the village does not know, the relatives of the victim do not know. But God knows. You cannot hide from Him your faces, even if you wear bonnets. God knows you.)
"Nais kong malaman ninyo na ang pinatay ninyo ay hindi lang si Raymart kundi mga sarili ninyo, mga kaluluwa ninyo. Habambuhay kayong uusigin," David told Siapo's killers. "Hindi kayo patatahimikin ng inyong mga konsensya, kung meron pang natitira. At hindi rin ako magugulat kung naririto rin sila ngayon, nakaupo at nagsisimba."
(I want you know that the person you killed is not only Raymart but yourselves, your souls. You will forever be haunted. Your conscience will not leave you in peace, if there's anything left of it. And I won't be surprised if they're also here right now, seated and hearing Mass.)
David also told vigilantes: "Kung iniisip ninyo na ang ginagawa ninyo ay paglilingkod sa bayan, nagkakamali kayo. Hindi malulutas ng krimen ang mga kriminalidad." (If you think that what you're doing is public service, you are wrong. Crime cannot solve criminality.)
'Walk for Life' in Navotas
David delivered his homily on Sunday as hundreds of Catholics joined a "Walk for Life" in Navotas City on the same day.
Mostly wearing white, the participants prayed the rosary while walking from one church to another – around one kilometer or 30 minutes, from San Ildefonso Parish to the Church of San Jose de Navotas – to pray for EJK victims in the Diocese of Kalookan.
The Walk for Life was held around 5 am on Sunday, and was followed by a 6:15 am Mass presided over by David. The procession on Sunday was like the Walk for Life attended by around 10,000 people in Manila on February 18.
David's jurisdiction, the Diocese of Kalookan, covers the cities of Caloocan (South), Malabon, and Navotas, known hotspots for drug-related killings.
David, 58, a leading Bible scholar educated in the Catholic University of Louvain, is one of the bishops most outspoken against EJKs in the Philippines. (READ: Impunity: The Church of the Resistance)
The brother of sociologist Randy David, he has been Kalookan bishop since January 2016. Before this, he served as auxiliary bishop of San Fernando, Pampanga, for nearly a decade.
'Termites' in society
In his homily on Sunday, David compared vigilantes to white termites who silently gnaw on wood from the inside, until all that remains is wooden skin.
He explained that termites would make it seem like the foundations of a house remain sturdy. "Iyon pala parang sitsaron; wala nang laman sa loob, kinain na ng anay, at minsan bigla na lang mawawasak, guguho ang bahay." (Then it turns out to be like pork cracklings; it is empty inside, eaten by termites, and sometimes will just collapse.)
"Ito ang mas nakakatakot at tunay na salot," the bishop said. "Hindi lang mga bahay ang inaanay. Ang lipunan din." (This is the real and more terrifying plague... Termites attack not only homes, but also society.)
David then cited vigilantes in the cities of Navotas, Caloocan, and Malabon, who kill people every day, "like white termites who remain unseen."
David questioned why police and village officials fail to catch these vigilantes, even if closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras can be found on every street.
David said: "'Yung mga simpleng pagnanakaw katulad nu'ng mga humahablot ng bag sa kalsada, madalas nakikita natin 'yan sa TV. Pero 'yung dumudukot ng tao sa harapan ng sariling mga anak at kapamilya, at pumapaslang sa kanila na walang kalaban-laban, sa ating mga purok, sa ating mga kalye, sa ating mga barangay, hindi sila nakikita. Bakit ba? Invisible ba sila?"
(Petty crimes, such as stealing a bag on the street, can often be seen on TV. But those who abduct people in front of their children and relatives, and kill them who are helpless, in our communities, our streets, our villages, cannot be seen. Why? Are they invisible?)
8 people killed in 5 minutes
On DUIs, David said, "Gusto ko sanang malaman kung meron na bang nareresolba, kahit isa, sa mga death under investigation? Kahit isa lang." (I just want to know if they have resolved even just one of these cases of deaths under investigation? Even just one.)
He pointed out that in cases of EJKs, police reports usually state that the victim is a "drug suspect killed by unidentified hitmen."
"Kapag tinatanong ko ang kapulisan tungkol sa mga pinapaslang ng mga bonnet gang, kadalasan sinasabi nila, 'Drug suspect talaga 'yon.' Matagal nang nasa drug watch list nila. Na parang ibig sabihin, case closed. Na para bang ibig sabihin, okay lang na pinatay sila dahil adik naman talaga o pusher talaga," he said.
(Whenever I ask policemen about those being killed by bonnet gangs, they often say, "That's really a drug suspect." They say he's really on their drug watch list. As if to say, case closed. As if to mean, it was okay to kill them because they're really addicts or pushers.)
Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler
David – who, in his smartphone, keeps a list of EJK victims – recalled specific cases of vigilante killings.
One of these is the murder of the relatives and friends of Jay-R Santor, an alleged drug suspect.
David said 4 of Santor's friends refused to reveal his whereabouts to vigilantes. All 4 of them ended up killed in front of Santor's house – Jonel Segovia, 15; Sonny Espinosa, 16; Angelito Soriano, 16; and Kenneth Lim, 20.
Inside Santor's house, he said vigilantes also massacred Santor's mother, Cristina; his brother, Ednel; and his pregnant sister, Analyn.
"Sa loob ng 5 minuto, 8 ang napatay nila, kasama na ang sanggol sa tiyan ni Analyn. Pero ang talagang hinahanap nila ay hindi nila natagpuan doon," David said. (In 5 minutes, they killed 8 people, including the baby in the womb of Analyn. But they failed to find the one they were really looking for.)
"Pagkatapos ng 3 araw, lumabas sa balita, Jay-R Santor, napaslang. Nahanap na rin nila. Pero ubos ang buong pamilya ni Jay-R Santor," he added. (After 3 days, the news said Jay-R Santor was killed. They were able to find him. But Jay-R Santor's family was also wiped out.)
David closed his homily with a prayer, asking God's forgiveness for all these sins.
"Salamat sa biyaya ng Eukaristiya, sa biyaya ng patawad at kaligtasan, pati na sa mga traydor at mga bagong Hudas sa aming bayan," he said. (Thank you for the gift of the Eucharist, for the gifts of forgiveness and salvation, even for the traitors and new Judases in our country.)
For many Catholics who joined the mass for EJK victims, however, the "termites" appeared to have made their presence felt during Sunday's Mass.
At around 4:30 am on Sunday – or 30 minutes before the Walk for Life began – members of the San Jose de Navotas Parish learned that there was no electricity in their church.
Aurora Santiago, president of the Council of the Laity of the Diocese of Kalookan, said there was electricity in the priest's residence and the nearby school, and the outage curiously affected only the church building itself.
David said Mass using only a generator connected to either the priest's residence or the nearby school.
"Hindi ho namin maintindihan kung bakit walang kuryente dito lang sa simbahan. May kuryente ho sa buong Navotas, pero dito lang sa simbahan, biglang nawala," David said at the start of his homily.
(We can't understand why there's no power only here in church. There's power in the whole of Navotas, but it is gone only here.)
"Ewan ko lang kung bakit nangyayari ang mga bagay-bagay na ito. Parang may ibig pumigil sa ating dapat gawin ngayong umaga (I don't know why things like this are happening. It seems like some people want to stop us from achieving our goals this morning)," David said, as "termites" continue to roam the country. – 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 email@example.com.