Cebu, Philippines, Aug 28, 2018 / 12:39 am (CNA).- A Filipino priest who has been an outspoken critic of extrajudicial killings in the country says he has gone into hiding after several sightings of what he believes to be members of a death squad searching for him.
Father Amado Picardal has spent 20 years advocating against extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, and more recently against President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal war on drugs. He has served as the spokesperson for the Coalition Against Summary Execution and aided in preparing the International Criminal Court case against a prominent death squad in the country.
He said his advocacy has put a target on his back.
In a recent blog post, the priest said he was first made aware of threats to his life in 2017 and again in March 2018 but believed himself to be safe at the mountain hermitage where he was living.
“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,” Fr. Picardal wrote on Aug. 26.
“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.”
Over the last few months, however, monastery personnel have reported seeing men on motorcycles, with their faces hidden by helmets, loitering outside the monastery.
Fr. Picardal said the gardener was approached by two unknown men on July 7 and August 2, asking if the priest was around. He added that the monastery’s security guard informed him that six men on motorcycles had been stationed at the entrance from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. on August 11.
“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.”
As a result, Fr. Picardal said he has moved to a new location to continue his life of prayer and advocacy.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
Since Duterte took office in 2016, he has launched a brutal crackdown on drug trafficking and use in the country. Some 4,000 Filipinos are estimated to have been killed by police. While police say the killings have been acts of self-defense against armed gangs, critics allege that police forces are conducting unauthorized, extrajudicial executions. Vigilante groups are also reported to have committed murder in the midst of the drug war.
In recent months, at least three priests have been killed in the Philippines, where local Church officials have spoken out repeatedly against the government-sponsored violence.
Last year, the Filipino bishops hosted a rosary campaign against the drug war. Catholic priests have also offered their churches as “sanctuaries” for those who believe they are on the police hit lists, the Guardian reported in February.