Philippine Priests to be armed

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Calls come after three priests were shot recently in the country

Church leaders in the Philippines criticised a proposal to arm priests as a protective measure in the wake of recent attacks on clergy members.

Calls have come from several quarters for priests to take advantage of a 2014 law allowing journalists, priests, lawyers, doctors, nurses, accountants and engineers to carry firearms outside their homes.

The calls come after three recent shooting incidents involving priests.

In the most recent case June 6, Fr Rey Urmeneta, 64, who serves at a parish in Calamba City about 25 miles north of Manila, survived a gun attack by two assailants.

He was the third priest to have been shot since December.

In April, Fr Mark Ventura from Gattaran in the northern Philippines died after being shot by a lone gunman shortly after celebrating Sunday Mass and in December Fr Marcelito Paez was shot dead in Jaen, about 75 miles north of Manila.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, however, expressed strong opposition to the idea of arming priests.

“Arming priests is not a solution to crimes against them,” said Fr Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the bishops’ Public Affairs Committee.

He said there is no need for priests to arm themselves because, like any ordinary citizen, they are also entitled to protection from the government.

“If (priests) antagonise other people, killing them is unnecessarily excessive and brutal,” said Fr Secillano, adding that priests should never be considered as “enemies.”

Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon said priests get their protection from “angels, not weapons.”

“I am for a gunless society. We priests are not afraid of dangers. If the public, especially the poor, are exposed to dangers, we cannot be less,” said retired Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa.

Bishop Honesto Ongtioco of Cubao said a priest’s “vocation and role in the transformation of society” is different from other people.

“Our security is more on what we do, how we interact and live with people,” he said.

Meanwhile, Secretary of Justice Menardo Guevarra said he intended to include in next year’s proposed budget for his department funding for the purchase of firearms for prosecutors.

Guevarra said the move is in response to the killing of prosecutors in recent months, especially in the provinces.

He made the announcement following the killing of a prosecutor during a robbery incident in Quezon City June 4.

At least seven prosecutors have been killed in the past two years, according to police.

Prior to the 2014 law, people such as priests and prosecutors, like any other citizen, were required to prove they were “under actual threat” before being issued a special permit to carry firearms.

Now all that is required is that a person passes drug and psychiatric tests, prove they have no pending criminal case punishable by two or more years in jail and have no prior criminal convictions.

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