Questions continue to surround the death of a Catholic priest in the southern Philippines on Jan. 26, two days after his body was found with several gunshot wounds.
Father Rene Regalado, 42, known to be an advocate of organic farming and of issues concerning poor farmers, was killed in the province of Bukidnon on Jan. 25.
Several groups condemned the killing, blaming what they described as the “culture of impunity” in the country for the attack on a man of God.
Police investigators, however, are also looking into possible links to a rape case filed against the priest in the town of Lala, Lanao del Sur province, where he used to serve.
Lt. Col. Jerry Tambis, police director of the city of Malaybalay, said investigators learned that the priest was receiving death threats after a rape case was filed late last year.
The police officer said Father Regalado was charged with rape based on a complaint filed by a girl who used to be a volunteer in the parish office.
Although rape is a non-bailable offense in the Philippines, the priest was reportedly allowed to post bail.
Father Virgilio Delfin, spokesman of the Diocese of Malaybalay, said he was able to speak with Father Regalado about the case.
“He was wrongfully accused and illegally arrested,” said Father Delfin.
“I told him, ‘Tell me the truth so we know how to help you,’ but he denied [the rape allegation],” said the priest.
Father Delfin said Father Regalado was able to post bail claiming “illegal arrest.”
Local media reports said the prosecutor’s office reportedly found “technicalities” that weakened the case against the priest, enabling him to post bail and move around.
On the day the alleged rape supposed to have taken place, Father Regalado was attending a music practice for a farewell Mass prior to his trip back to Malaybalay in December, said Father Delfin.
He said Father Regalado had no idea why he was accused of rape.
“He was so depressed. He was crying while telling me what happened,” said Father Delfin, adding that the diocese provided the priest with “psychosocial” and legal assistance.
Father Regalado was part of a group of “singing priests” who held a series of concerts in the United States, Canada, and Australia from 2012 to 2017.
“He was a very good singer,” said Father Delfin.
Several church and political leaders have expressed shock over the killing of Father Regalado.
Monsignor Ramonito Torres, vicar general of the Prelature of St. Mary’s in Marawi City, said he became close with the slain priest in the wake of the war in Marawi in 2017.
“At the height of the Marawi siege, [Father Regalado] and his group would come the city to distribute food packs and other forms of assistance to affected residents,” said Monsignor Torres.
The Student Christian Movement of the Philippines denounced “to the highest degree” the killing of the priest.
“The killing of Father Regalado, an advocate for farmers and sustainability, sends a chilling message to those called to the countryside to serve among the peasant masses,” read the group’s statement.
“That despite this noble call not only towards everyone, not only for the religious, they are threatened, while many have been killed,” said Kej Andrés, the group’s spokesperson.
Father Regalado’s killing came three years after another Catholic priest, Richmond Nilo, was killed as he was about to celebrate Mass in Zaragoza town, Nueva Ecija province.
In April 2018, Father Mark Ventura was gunned by two men on a motorcycle in the northern province of Cagayan.
In December 2017, Father Marcelito Paez was also shot and killed in the town of Jaen, Nueva Ecija province.
“We see that the threats and hate speech against our churches have also translated into continued red-tagging, arrests, trumped-up charges, and killings,” read the statement from the Christian student group.
“These killings manifest a culture of impunity against our prophets who chose to speak up against injustices and systemic poverty in the countryside,” it added.
Police reports said Father Regalado was gunned down near a monastery in the city of Malaybalay after a priest called authorities to report five gunshots at about 7:30 p.m.
The priest was found with gunshot wounds to the head. He was also believed to have been beaten up and was found with his hands tied with a white shoelace meters away from the vehicle he was driving.
He was brought to the Bukidnon Provincial Hospital where he was pronounced dead.
The priest was reported to have left about 2 p.m. on the same day to go to the monastery where he was said to have been teaching.
Crime scene operatives recovered a .45 caliber pistol, two magazines, an empty shell and 10 live ammunitions from the crime scene.