DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 31 August) — From wherever he has moved to a “more secure location” due to death threats, Redemptorist priest Amado “Picx” Picardal vowed late Sunday night to “continue to speak out against evil in society through my writings” and on Thursday morning, replied to government officials who called on him to seek police protection or file a petition for writ of amparo: “you must be joking!”
“Writ of Amparo from Du30-controlled SC (Duterte-controlled Supreme Court)? Can the PNP (Philippine National Police) protect me from the Death Squad composed of police & their assets? You must be joking!” Picardal posted on his Facebook page on Thursday morning.
On Friday morning, Picardal thanked everyone for praying for him, said he was “not in hiding” but just moved to a “more secure and safe place,” reiterated there is “no need for writ of amparo or police protection” and that he would “continue to fast and pray for our country’s deliverance from evil.”
“Keep on fighting. Good will triumph,” he posted on Facebook.
Late Sunday night, the priest known for his bike and walk for peace journeys across the country and his advocacy against extrajudicial killings, announced through his blogsite that due to threats on his life, he had to “temporarily vacate” his hermitage in the mountains of Busay in Cebu City but will continue to spend his “life of silence, solitude, prayer and writing in a more secure location … speak out against evil in society through my writings and will fast and pray that the Lord will deliver us (from) evil.”
The Cebu Daily News reported on August 27 that Cebu City’s police chief, Senior Supt. Royina Garma, urged Picardal to file a formal complaint so they could investigate his claims.
“The problem with some people is they claim to be targets of assassination plots and yet they do not file a complaint. Why simply announce it on your blog?” the Cebu newspaper quoted her as saying.
Garma sad the priest should go to the police station and report the threats so they could investigate and “if based on our assessment, there really are threats to his life, then we can provide (him) enough security.”
Writ of amparo
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque told the Malacanang Press Corps on August 28 that Picardal’s remedy is “to file a writ (of) amparo” that he said will be acted upon “expeditiously.”
He said Picardal would be given protection immediately “if you really have evidence that your life is in danger.”
Roque denied a “death squad” is after Picardal. “Tama na po ‘yang declaration sa media. Kung talagang may banta, gamitin iyong instrumento para magkaroon ng proteksiyon – at mayroon na po tayong writ of amparo” (Enough of your declaration before media. If there is a threat, use the instrument so you can be protected — and we also have the writ of amparo.”
According to the Supreme Court, the petition for a writ of amparo is a remedy available to any person whose right to life, liberty and security is violated or threatened with violation by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or of a private individual or entity. The writ also covers extralegal killings and enforced disappearances or threats thereof.
Picardal, who served as spokesperson of the Coalition Against Summary Execution (CASE) when he was assigned in Davao City, narrated in his blog post late Sunday that on August 11, he “almost became a victim of extrajudicial killing” and would have been the fourth priest killed under the Duterte administration had he stuck to his routine.
A poet, theologian and environmentalist, the nearly 64-year old Iligan City-born Picardal 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, calling for an end to “extrajudicial killings, total war and martial law.” It was his last long-distance bike journey before starting”a life of solitude, silence and prayer as a hermit” in the mountains of Busay.
A political detainee under Marcos’ martial law, Picardal was assigned as professor at the Davao Redemptorists’ St. Alphonsus Theologate from 1995 to 2011 and as its Dean of Academics from 1997 to 2009. He moved to Manila as Executive Secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines-Basic Ecclesial Communities until yearend 2017 and started life as a hermit in April this year.
A quiet life
Picardal narrated that since last year, he had been receiving information that he was a target of “the death squad,” that before leaving Manila in March, he received a text message “from a reliable source confirming that I was indeed going to be targeted for assassination by a death squad.”
Since April, he had been living a quiet life as a hermit, spending time “in silence, solitude, prayer and writing” but would go down to the Redemptorist Monastery in Cebu twice a month to bond with fellow Redemptorists, check his email and FB, get his food supplies and go to the coffee shop nearby before dinner.
In his trips to the city, he was informed that men on motorbikes were looking for him on July 7 and in early August and “became more cautious and careful not to follow my usual routine.”
On August 11, six men on three motorbikes with full-faced helmets waited near the entrance of the monastery between 5 to 6 p.m., his usual time to go 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,” he said, noting how a former member of the so-called Davao Death Squad (DDS) explained to him their modus operandi when CASE was documenting the summary killings in Davao City under then Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.
“It was a close call. I thank God for protecting me,” he said.
Picardal said that some of his fellow priests and monastery staff noticed that men riding in tandem continued to keep watch outside the monastery for several days, prompting his superiors to move him to a “more secure location and avoid public exposure.” He said the men on motorbikes “are determined to complete their ‘project,’ otherwise, they won’t be paid.”
Picardal listed several possible reasons behind the threats: while in Davao City, he “preached and wrote against the extrajudicial killings,” served as spokesperson of the CASE which monitored the summary killings, and assisted the Commission on Human Rights then headed by chair Leila De lima, and the Human Rights Watch, to investigate the killings.
Picardal also posted the collated report of the killings allegedly carried out by the Davao Death Squad (DDS) from 1998 to 2015 which was included in the complaint submitted to the International Criminal Court (ICC) by lawyer Jude Sabio, and helped provide sanctuary to former members of the DDS who would testify in the ICC case.
He is also a co-convenor 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.”
He recalled that Duterte, then Davao City mayor, “lambasted me three times” in his Sunday television program, “Gikan sa Masa, Para sa Masa” but he was “confident then that Duterte “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?” Picardal asked. He said his source informed him that that “the order came from Malacanang” but he admitted he “cannot confirm it.”
“I do not have the complete answer. All I know is that there is a death squad determined to kill me,” he said.
Picardal added that those behind the project “should think twice before carrying out their evil plan” because the Duterte administration “has nothing to gain in creating a martyr.”
Whether or not the order came from the President, whatever happens to him will be blamed on the President, Picardal said, “for under his regime the culture of death has claimed the lives of over 25,000 people.”
Government’s RealNumbersPH placed the number of persons slain during anti-illegal drugs operations at 4,075 from July 1, 2016 to March 20, 2018.
“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,” Picardal said.
“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,” he added. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)