A Roman Catholic priest who was one of the earliest critics of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly crackdown on drugs has gone into hiding due to what he says were signs he’s being targeted by motorcycle-riding hitmen.
The Reverend Amado Picardal said he has gone into a ‘more secure location’ and out of the public view after workers in a Catholic monastery that he visits in central Cebu city reported seeing motorcycle-riding men watching the compound, including a pair who asked for his whereabouts.
‘I couldn’t go out for biking, running, walking due to security concerns,’ Picardal said in an email in response to questions about his safety concerns, which he first disclosed in a personal blog.
‘I have left my hermitage in the mountain and transferred to a more secure location to continue my life as a hermit far away out of reach from the death squad,’ he said.
The 63-year-old priest said that he helped document alleged extrajudicial killings under Duterte’s campaign when Duterte was still mayor of southern Davao city and that he would continue criticizing the killings despite his safety concerns.
Picardal added that he is willing to testify if asked by the International Criminal Court, where a complaint against Duterte in relation to the drug killings is being examined.
Duterte has denied condoning killings under the crackdown, which according to official police pronouncements has left more than 4,500 suspects dead since he took office in mid-2016. International human rights watchdogs have cited far higher death tolls, which they said included innocent children and civilians.