By Corina Oliquino i FilAm Star Correspondent

MANILA — Catholic priests Albert Alejo, Flavie Villanueva and Robert Reyes recently revealed at a press conference that they also received death threats in the form of text messages two weeks after Caloocan Bishop Pablo David confirmed he has been receiving threatening messages.

Fr. Alejo and Fr. Reyes noted Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas also received death threats.

The threats follow President Rodrigo Duterte’s tirades against the Church, including last month’s call on drug addicts to “rob and kill bishops” he described as “useless.”

In a turnaround on March 3, the President warned “he would not let anyone harm or kill bishops,” noting Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle had informed him of death threats on priests coming from anonymous sources “allegedly close to the President.”

In a report by The Philippine Star, Father Alejo claimed they came out because of fear, appealing to the sources to stop sending them threatening messages.

“Bakit nga ba sila nananakot? ‘Yung mga nananakot sa amin ay takot din. Meron silang kinatatakutan,” Fr. Alejo said.

Fr. Reyes, on the other hand, said their answer is not silence.

“Ang sagot ay hindi pananahimik kundi malinaw, matapang na pamamahayag at paninindigan. Itigil na ang pananakot, itigil na ang pagpatay,” Fr. Reyes said.

CBCP approach valid but not working
Fr. Alejo also noted that the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ diplomatic approach is valid but not working.

“That is a valid approach but it’s good to realize is that it’s not enough. Maybe what we need to do is not to expect everything from the bishops. I think the CBCP should be stronger in its position and that strong position should be based on real, solid data, real solid analysis of the data,” Fr. Alejo said.

“The hierarchy in the Catholic Church should be stronger. The people are in need of a stronger position from the leadership of the hierarchy,” the clergy added.

“There should be more of us out there at the forefront of the battle against violence, vulgarity, violation of human rights and dignity,” Fr. Reyes said, urging his colleagues to speak out.

Malacañang blames death threats to pranksters and trolls
In another report by The Philippine Daily Inquirer, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo in a text message blamed Duterte pranksters and trolls to put Duterte in a bad light.

“(It) could be coming from pranksters or could be from anti-Duterte trolls to put (President Rodrigo Roa Duterte) in a bad light.” Panelo told reporters in a text message.

“Sending threats via text messages is the easiest and convenient thing to do, (because) you can’t trace the source,” Panelo added, noting the threats could also be from “personal enemies” of the priests.