Father Amado Picardal, a 64-year-old Redemptorist priest, has spent 20 years advocating against extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, and more recently against President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal war on drugs. Recently he has gone into hiding after several sightings of what he believes to be members of a death squad searching for him.
He has served as the spokesperson for the Coalition Against Summary Execution and aided in preparing the International Criminal Court case against a prominent death squad in the country. He said his advocacy has put a target on his back. He has decided to move for safety place.
“Before I left Manila to start my life as a hermit, I received a text message from a reliable source confirming that I was indeed going to be targeted for assassination by a death squad,” Fr. Picardal said. Over the last few months, however, monastery personnel have reported seeing men on motorcycles, with their faces hidden by helmets, loitering outside the monastery.
Fr. Picardal said: “I immediately concluded that they were the death squad and I was the target.” As a result, Fr. Picardal said he has moved to a new location to continue his life of prayer and advocacy.
“I am ready to accept martyrdom if they catch up with me, but I do not seek it nor do I make myself an easy target,” he said.
“Thus, I have decided to temporarily vacate my hermitage up in the mountain and continue to spend my life of silence, solitude, prayer and writing in a more secure location. I will continue to speak out against evil in society through my writings and will fast and pray that the Lord will deliver us for evil.”
A lifetime of resistance
The activism of Fr. Picardal began in 1972 when, at the age of 17, he was caught in Cebu City distributing leaflets protesting martial law under Marcos. He was arrested by the Philippine Constabulary, taken to jail and tortured.
“One of the things that happened to me was when they put that .45 caliber in my mouth, and I thought ‘I’m going to be salvaged,’” Picardal recalled. “I was lucky because the one that was [pulling] the trigger changed his mind.”
Picardal was eventually released and went on to complete his theology studies, but the realities of the Marcos era still weighed heavy on him and his fellow colleagues. He was a schoolmate of fellow Redemptorist priest Father Rudy Romano, who made headlines in 1985 after he was abducted in Cebu. He was never seen again.
In 1995 Picardal was assigned to Davao City at the same time that Duterte was entering his second term as mayor. While there, Picardal served as a spokesperson for the Coalition Against Summary Execution, an organization that monitored extrajudicial killings (EJKs) by the Davao Death Squad. It’s estimated that the vigilante group is responsible for more than 1,000 deaths or disappearances between 1998 and 2008.
Since Duterte took office as a president of the Philippines in 2016, he has launched a brutal crackdown on drug trafficking and use in the country. Some 4,000 Filipinos are estimated to have been killed by police. While police say the killings have been acts of self-defense against armed gangs, critics allege that police forces are conducting unauthorized, extrajudicial executions. Vigilante groups are also reported to have committed murder in the midst of the drug war.
In recent months, at least three priests have been killed in the Philippines, where local Church officials have spoken out repeatedly against the government-sponsored violence.
Last year, the Filipino bishops hosted a rosary campaign against the drug war. Catholic priests have also offered their churches as “sanctuaries” for those who believe they are on the police hit lists.