In the hot seat at the Meet Inquirer Multimedia forum last week was the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, Archbishop Socrates Villegas of the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan in Pangasinan. The discussion revolved around the extrajudicial killings (EJKs) and the Duterte administration’s move to revive the death penalty.
In other words, about killings in the streets and alleys, hovels and homes any time of the day and night. By policemen with shoot-to-kill orders for the “nanlaban” (those who resisted or “fought back,” even while, uh, asleep) and by unidentified armed persons, vigilantes and highly motivated gun-for-hires in what they call buy-bust and “tokhang” operations.
One of the questions I asked the archbishop was: If someone who engaged in EJKs came to him for confession, what would he do? I meant either sacramental confession or simply seeking advice in relation to one’s grievous act.
The background of this is the confessed EJ killer Edgar Matobato, who came out publicly several months ago to reveal at a Senate hearing that the President, when he was mayor of Davao City, was the brains behind the so-called fearsome Davao Death Squad (DDS). Matobato had said that he first went to a churchman before he came out publicly.
Archbishop Villegas’ answer (slightly edited for clarity):
“My first concern is to put the person in the grace of God. Because I am a priest. If the person is not yet ready for confession, I will introduce him to the love of God. I will introduce him to the seriousness of sin. I will introduce him to the mercy of the Lord. I will introduce him to the harm he has done to another fellow human being and, hopefully, upon introducing him to such, conscience will be enlightened and if he or she seeks pardon, then I will lead him or her to confession.
“Always, my primary purpose, my first concern, is to make [the person] reconciled with God through confession, the sacrament. If he does not like to confess to me, I will lead him to another priest.
“After that is done, as the situation necessitates, then we can move, if he so desires, to move into public confession to repair the damage he has done. But there is no obligation whatsoever to [go public]. Because if he chooses to remain anonymous, I will also die with the seal of the sacrament.
“So I say, my first step is to bring him to God, bring him to a state of grace. Second step, to let him receive the mercy of God in the sacrament of reconciliation. Once that is done, all the others will follow from there.”
Forum moderator and Inquirer.net editor John Nery’s follow-up question: Was Matobato’s public admission then the result of that confession? Recall that Matobato was said to have first sought the advice of a church person somewhere in Pangasinan.
It took several seconds for Villegas to answer: “I am not in touch with him.”
I wanted to blurt out, “But were you?” But I held my tongue.
Last Monday, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV brought out in a press conference retired police officer Arthur Lascañas, who confessed that he was the lead executioner of the DDS. Trillanes said Church persons had brought Lascañas to him. Recall that at a Senate hearing last year Lascañas denounced Matobato’s confession about killing for then Mayor Duterte with Lascañas in the lead.
Flanked by three FLAG (Free Legal Assistance Group) lawyers, Lascañas dramatically turned around from his denials and dropped a bombshell. Yes, he admitted, he was indeed part of the DDS, giving credence to Matobato’s own confession. We could only hold our breath.
While waiting to exhale, we heard Lascañas tearfully speak about his loyalty to Mr. Duterte, how intense his loyalty was that he had his own two brothers—both drug users—killed. He admitted having a hand in the killing of radio broadcaster Jun Pala, Mr. Duterte’s nemesis. After several attempts, that is.
Because of last weekend’s early-morning Walk for Life—and against the death penalty that is being revived—led by the Catholic laity and supported by the hierarchy, will we see more executioners and terminators turning penitent? In the run-up to the Lenten season, who knows?
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