crimes in the Philippines

Priest seeks tighter security for family of slain teen Jemboy Baltazar

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Priest seeks tighter security for family of slain teen Jemboy Baltazar

PROMULGATION. Father Flavie Villanueva escorts Rodaliza Baltazar, mother of Jemboy Baltazar, as they enter the Navotas Regional Trial Court, on February 17, 2024.

Jire Carreon/Rappler

The Navotas court verdict ‘was like stabbing us, and just like Jemboy was being murdered anew,’ says Catholic priest Father Flavie Villanueva

MANILA, Philippines – Father Flavie Villanueva, a Catholic priest helping the family of mistakenly slain teenager Jemboy Baltazar, called for tighter security for the victim’s relatives after a Navotas court issued its verdict in the 17-year-old boy’s high-profile case.

The court on Tuesday, February 27, convicted only one of six accused policemen – Police Staff Sergeant Gerry Maliban – of homicide, which means four to six years in prison, and up to P50,000 ($888) in moral and civil damages. The victim’s relatives had sought a conviction for murder, which would have carried a heavier penalty of up to 40 years in prison.

The court imposed lighter penalties on four other policemen, and acquitted another. The five cops were released from detention also on Tuesday.

In an interview with Rappler, Villanueva said he now fears for the Baltazar family because “possible threats” to their lives persist.

“The culture of impunity is still strong,” Villanueva told Rappler in Filipino. “That’s why I told my companions in guiding and helping the family that security should be tighter for them.”

Villanueva said their camp will continue to appeal the verdict, which he described as a “tragedy.”

“To hear the verdict yesterday, it was like stabbing us, and just like Jemboy was being murdered anew,” the priest told Rappler on Wednesday, February 28.

Villanueva, 53, is one of the Catholic clergymen at the forefront of opposing police impunity from the time of then-president Rodrigo Duterte to this day. A former drug user who entered the seminary in his late 20s, he later became a refuge of families of slain drug suspects, as well as other victims of police abuses. 

Villanueva has helped the Baltazar family ever since the teenager Jemboy was killed by police on August 2, 2023. 

The priest has been a face of hope for the Baltazar family, in a way that the victim’s mother, Rodaliza Baltazar, twice mentioned the name “Father Flavie” in her recent Rappler Talk interview with reporter Jairo Bolledo.

When asked if she felt afraid that the other accused in her son’s case would soon walk free, Mrs. Baltazar replied in Filipino, “We have Father Flavie and others looking after us.”

Priest seeks tighter security for family of slain teen Jemboy Baltazar

In his interview with Rappler, Villanueva recounted his months-long involvement in the teenager’ case.

The priest first heard of Baltazar’s case from a member of his Program Paghilom, his project to assist loved ones of drug war victims. He immediately went to the Baltazars’ home after hearing of the boy’s case, and there he saw the victim’s father, whose wife Rodaliza was working in Qatar. “I remember that the father was still distraught,” he said.

When asked how he feels about cases like this, Villanueva said: “I shout to the high heavens: Stop the killings! I deplore such acts of impunity and demand serious, authentic accountability from the aggressors.”

Villanueva, a priest of the Society of the Divine Word – which calls itself “the largest Roman Catholic order that focuses on missionary work” – spoke of the role of the Catholic Church in defending victims of injustice.

“The role of the Church, in simple terms, is to defend life in all its sense,” Villanueva said. “Whether dead or alive, it is to defend life – to value the sanctity of life.” 

When a person kills life, “the killer also kills the truth,” he pointed out. It is also the role of the Church, he said, to stand for truth.

‘Good heavens’: Bishop David questions verdict in Jemboy Baltazar case

‘Good heavens’: Bishop David questions verdict in Jemboy Baltazar case

Villanueva said the call to defend victims of abuse is “beautifully stated” in the First Reading in one of the recent liturgies: “to care for the widows and orphans” is something that pleases God.

“The Church should always at the forefront of rejoicing that life is sacred and also in condemning the abuses that have persisted for the past eight years – these killings that never end,” Villanueva said. – Rappler.com

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering 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 pat.esmaquel@rappler.com