The killings of three Catholic priests since December have raised alarm in the Philippines, with the church and political leaders condemning the continued "culture of impunity" in the country.
"We should be alarmed," Fr Jerome Secillano, a spokesman of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said in an interview with Al Jazeera on Wednesday.
"Killing is a form of violence. We do not want violence to permeate in our society. We want a violence-free society. We want our citizens to be freely roaming around, with a sense of security and safety."
Richmond Nilo was the latest member of the Catholic clergy to be killed by unidentified gunmen on Sunday, as he was preparing for a church service in the northern province of Nueva Ecija.
While he does not see any pattern of Catholic priests being targeted, Secillano said the continued "culture of impunity" paved the way for the killing of Nilo and other priests.
"The church has been telling [authorities] in the past that we should put a stop to the killings. The killings should not have a place in our society, even if the ones being killed are considered [by the government] as the 'scumbags' in our society," he said.
Catholic leaders in the district where Nilo served as a priest also issued a strongly-worded statement against the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, whose war on drugs has left thousands of people dead.
"Are you still saying this is the best government we ever had? They are killing our flock. They are killing us, the shepherds. They are killing our faith. They are cursing our Church," the letter, signed by Archbishop Socrates Villegas and other senior church leaders, read.
Villegas also urged Duterte "to stop the verbal persecution" against the Catholic Church, "because such attacks can unwittingly embolden more crimes against priests".
'We don't hate him'
In December 2017, a 72-year-old priest was shot in Nueva Ecija, just hours after facilitating the release of a political prisoner. In April, a 37-year-old priest, who advocated for ethnic minorities and against mining, was killed in the northern province of Cagayan.
A fourth priest, who had served as chaplain for the Philippine police, survived an assassination attempt outside of the capital Manila earlier this month.
On Wednesday, opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros filed a resolution calling for an investigation into the killings, to bring "accountability and justice" to the attackers and stop the killings, not only of Catholic clergy members but also civilians.
Read Full Article: Philippine Catholic priests: 'They are killing us'