HUMAN RIGHTS: Coming Down the Mountain, Evading the Death Squad

Two weeks ago (August 11), I  almost became a victim of extrajudicial killing and the fourth priest to be killed under the Duterte Regime had I stuck to my routine.

For over four months, I have been living a quiet life as a hermit on top of the mountain overlooking the city of Cebu, spending my time in silence, solitude, prayer and writing. I usually go down to the Redemptorist monastery in Cebu twice a month to bond with my fellow Redemptorists, check my email and FB, get my food supplies and go to the coffee shop nearby before dinner. At first, I didn’t realize this routine would put my life at risk.

Since 2017, I had been receiving information that the death squad was going to target priests and that I was on top of the list. When the three priests were killed, I was certain that I could be next. I even received an email message accusing me of being a drug addict.

Before I left Manila last March to start my life as a hermit, I received a text message from a reliable source confirming that I was indeed going to be targeted for assassination by a death squad. When I asked him if they knew where I was, my informant told me that they were still looking for me. I anticipated that if they knew that I was in Cebu, the first place that they would put under surveillance would be the Redemptorist Monastery in Cebu. I still felt confident that they won’t find my hermitage in the mountain.

On August 6, I went down to the Redemptorist Monastery in Cebu to attend the community recollection and meeting. By chance, I met the gardener, Porting, who told me that several days before (on August 2) while working in the church ground, a man on motorbike with another companion asked him: “Do you know, Picx Picardal? Is he here?” He denied that I was around. He was suspicious because they did not take off their helmets and kept watching the monastery. He remembered that a month earlier, on July 7, two men riding in tandem also asked him the same question. On those two occasions, I recalled that I was in the monastery a day before so they just missed me. Upon realizing this, I became more cautious and careful not to follow my usual routine of going out.

Then on the evening of August 11, the security guard informed me that there were six men on three motorbikes with full-faced helmets near the entrance of the monastery and the church between 5 to 6 that afternoon. That was usually the time I would go out to the supermarket and the coffee shop. I immediately concluded that they were the death squad and I was the target. Had I gone out, there would have been no escape for me.

I recognized their modus operandi – that’s what I learned from a former member of the Davao Death Squad when we were documenting the extrajudicial killings years before. It was a close call. I thank God for protecting me.

I am not out of danger yet. Some of our priests and staff noticed that men riding in tandem continue to keep watch outside the monastery for several days after that. So my superiors told me that it would be dangerous to go back to the hermitage and so I have to move to a more secure location and avoid public exposure.

They (the men on motorbikes) are determined to complete their “project,”  otherwise, they won’t be paid.

Why am I being targeted by the death squad? Who is behind this “project”? The only explanation is because:  I preached and wrote against the extrajudicial killings for the last 20 years – since I was assigned in Davao and up to now. I was the spokesperson of the Coalition Against Summary Execution (CASE) which monitored these killings and assisted the Commission on Human Rights (headed by Leila De lima) and the Human Rights Watch to investigate the killings. I also posted the Collated Report of these killings carried out by the Davao Death Squad (1998-2015) which was included in the complaint submitted to the International Criminal Court by Atty. Jude Sabio. I also helped provide sanctuary to former members of the DDS  who will be the witnesses in the ICC case. I was one of the convenors of the Network Against Killings in the Philippines.  I granted interviews to the media – both local and foreign. I have also gone around the country and in the US to give talks on EJK and the Church’s response. The media labeled me as one of the fiercest critics of the President but all I intended to do is to be a conscience of society.  So, I am not surprised that the President is mad at me.

Many years before, when I was in Davao, someone warned me that I should be careful because the mayor was angry at me. He lambasted me three times in his TV program “Gikan sa Masa, Para sa Masa.” I was confident at that time that he wouldn’t order the DDS to kill a priest – after all I am not a drug addict or pusher.

Has President Duterte finally ordered my hit? Or is it just some zealous henchman trying to please him? My source informed me that that the order came from Malacanang.  But I cannot confirm it. I do not have the complete answer. All I know is that there is a death squad determined to kill me.

Whatever happens to me – whether the order came from him or not — the blame will be placed on him for under his regime the culture of death has claimed the lives of over 25,000 people. This regime has nothing to gain in creating a martyr, so those behind the project should think twice before carrying out their evil plan.

I always knew that my life would be at risk and I have accepted this as a consequence of fulfilling my prophetic mission. I am not afraid of death. I am ready to accept martyrdom if they catch up with me, but I do not seek it nor do I make myself an easy target. Thus, I have decided to temporarily vacate my hermitage up in the mountain and continue to spend my life of silence, solitude, prayer and writing in a more secure location.

I will continue to speak out against evil in society through my writings and will fast and pray that the Lord will deliver us for evil. Meanwhile, I ask my friends to pray for our country and to pray for my safety.

Someday, I hope I will be able to go back to my sacred space in the mountain of Busay where I intend to spend the remaining years of my life as a hermit.

(Redemptorist priest Amado L. Picardal, CSsR, emailed MindaNews a copy of this piece he posted on his blog late Sunday evening, 26 August 2018.  A poet, theologian and environmentalist, Picardal, who is turning 64 in a few months, biked “for life and peace” from Mindanao to Luzon four times since 2000, walked from Mindanao to Aparri in 2011, and did his last “Bike for Life and Peace” in March 2018 from Baclaran in Metro Manila to Iligan City in Mindanao, urging an end to “extrajudicial killings, total war and martial law.” It was his last long-distance bike journey before staring“a life of solitude, silence and prayer as a hermit.”
Picardal was a political detainee under the Marcos dictatorship.  He was assigned in Davao City from 1995 to 2011 where he was spokesperson of the Coalition Against Summary Executions. He also served as Dean of
Academics of the Redemptorists’ St. Alphonsus Theologate of the Redemptorists in Davao City and moved to Manila as Executive Secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines-Basic Ecclesial Communities).