MANILA, February 28, 2018–As far as Redemptorist missionary Amado Picardal is concerned, he has “lost that sense of fear” after having been detained and tortured for seven months during the Marcos martial law years.
Fr. Picardal, now 64 years old, said he was first asked by Tambayan, a youth group in Davao City in southern Philippines in 1998 to lead in prayers for two of their members earlier killed by still unidentified gunmen.
“As we were praying, another teenager was killed nearby,” Fr. Picardal said in an interview after the Walk For Life march and Holy Mass presided over by Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle early this morning.
He recalled from that time on, he got involved in the group’s activities which included the monitoring of the day-to-day killings. He admitted the killing somewhat subsided from 1998 to 2001 because then Mayor Rodrigo Duterte was elected Davao’s First District representative.
Various concerned citizens met and discussed the issues after Davao Metropolitan Archbishop Fernando Capalla issued a pastoral statement on the unsolved killings in the city.
“A coalition was formed composed of non-government organizations, lawyers from the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, cause-oriented and religious groups,” Fr. Picardal said.
He remembered being appointed spokesman because he has nothing to lose having no family of his own as lawyers were concerned of their personal safety.
He had to accept interviews from local, national and international media on the spate of killings in Davao City.
Fr. Picardal his group was able to establish a pattern which was similar to the findings of Human Rights Watch and the Commission on Human Rights that most of the victims were poor people involved in petty crimes with the victims identified through lists from the city’s barangays.
While he and his loose coalition of anti-extra judicial killings advocates had contacts with the victims’ relatives, they were also approached by former hitmen who said those who were killed were composed of minors, young people, women who were poor from urban poor communities.
“What began as anti-criminality campaign was narrowed down to anti-drug crusade because there were drug addicts behind criminal activities,” he said.
Asked if he received threats to his life and limb, Fr. Picardal said as early as 2006, he received information that then Mayor Rody Duterte was really mad at him.
“He criticized me for protecting the rights of criminals but being blind to heinous crimes victims in his television program “Guikan sa Masa, Para sa Masa” in Davao City,” the missionary added. He recalled Mayor Duterte has emphasized as the city’s chief executive, his priority was peace and order.
As far as threats are concerned, Fr. Picardal said people around him are more concerned of his safety. He admitted he nearly became a victim of extra-judicial killing when his interrogator cocked a pistol in his mouth in a detention center in Cebu City.
He acknowledged his detention and torture has somewhat “hardened” his views about life and his vocation that when he reflects on his priesthood, he has long given his life to God and “anyone can kill me as long as I what is right.”
He lost his 59-year-old mother after being shot by criminals in Iligan City in December 16,1985. He said his mother just went out of a bank and probably the criminals thought she had withdrawn a significant amount.
“She only had P300.00 in her wallet,” Fr. Picardal said. However, he learned a month later the ones behind the crime were Philippine Constabulary elements.
Despite experiencing the lowest point in his life where he felt helpless and hopeless and near despite, he said he “never doubted God’s liberating goodness.”
He recalled the feeling he had before EDSA People Power revolution in 1986 and a few months before then President Joseph Estrada left Malacanang in 2001.
“I have the same feeling now with the first sign of the International Criminal Court’s decision to perform “preliminary examinations” on the complaint filed by lawyer Jude Sabio and the information provided by Senator Antonio Trillanes IV and Congressman Gary Alejano.
Asked of his views of self-confessed killer Edgar Matobato and retired policeman Arturo Lascañas, Fr. Picardal said both want to make amends for what they have done and they don’t care anymore of their personal safety.
“They are ready to die,” he addded. He added while there were other people who want to come out and stand witness against the former Davao City mayor, Fr. Picardal said he declined because it is difficult to assure safety.
He expressed optimism the four ICC representatives now in the Philippines would find sufficient grounds to pursue the case. Fr. Picardal said among the details provided in the 77-page complaint filed by Atty. Sabio last year were particulars of his summary of cases from 1998 to 2015 in Davao City. He said the same document was picked up by national and international media.
Fr. Picardal sounded optimistic the criminal complaint would prosper and that the ICC would issue an arrest warrant. Asked who would implement it, Fr. Picardal said he has no idea.
He explained the ICC immediately acted on the complaint because failure to do so would mean more killings.
He observed while violent police operations have somewhat subsided, the vigilante killings have remained unabated.
He said shabu is resorted to by people who want to increase their productivity, such as utility with the poor among the regular users because the prohibited drug reduces hunger pangs and serves pain reliever.
“While President Duterte has focused on his campaign against illegal drugs, programs on poverty alleviation has remained wanting,” the Redemptorist missionary said.
“Poverty breeds addiction and without addressing poverty, the drug problem will prevail,” he added as he called on the government to seriously look into the plight of the poor as the latest tax reform program would “worsen poverty.” (Melo M. Acuna / Bicol Times)