NBI Takes over Probe on Priest
By Jujemay G. Awit
December 23, 2006
The priest who allegedly harassed some 20 high school students will be treated like any other suspected criminal, because of the silence from the Cebu Archdiocese and a religious group.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) 7 scheduled a "friendly dialogue" yesterday on the accusations of students from the Abellana National School (ANS) that a priest inappropriately touched them during a confession as part of a seminar.
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The Life in the Spirit Seminar was organized by the Oasis of Love and the Department of Education (DepEd) and held at the ANS last Nov. 14.
DSWD 7 invited Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal in behalf of the seven priests who heard confessions during that seminar, Nonito "Dodong" Limchua of Oasis of Love and ANS principal Ernesto Jacel.
Of those invited, only Jacel came to the dialogue. DSWD 7 Director Teodolo Romo, Cebu City Councilor and DSWD legal consultant Gerardo Carillo and lawyer Butch Caņares waited in vain for the others.
With two of the parties absent, the priest who allegedly harassed the students remains unidentified.
This prompted the DSWD to turn over the inquiry to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) 7, said DSWD 7 information officer Jaybee Carillo.
The agency started turning over documents yesterday.
"We wanted to hear the side of the organizer and the priest since we have already heard the side of the children," said Carillo of DSWD.
"We wrapped up na lang, because we have exhausted all possibilities for a friendly dialogue unya wala man gyud siya nahigayon (but that never materialized)," she also said.
Cardinal Vidal acknowledged receipt of the invitation but sent DSWD a letter declining it.
He also invoked one's constitutional right not to incriminate anybody and said the identification of the priest involved is best left to the individuals.
"The cardinal sent a letter extending his cooperation. But he said he cannot come because he was not directly involved in the undertaking," the DSWD's Carillo said.
"He also cannot name (the priest) because he has no personal knowledge of the activity that was done in Abellana and he was not privy to this particular occasion. Therefore, he cannot name names since the activity was not organized by the Cebu Archdiocese," Carillo continued.
The Oasis of Love did not answer the government agency's invitation.
Carillo explained that the NBI was tapped for a formal investigation of the students' allegations. It can also compel possible witnesses to speak up on the matter.
"They can also consider filing appropriate charges against those people who have material information but refused to cooperate in the investigation, for obstruction of justice," said Carillo.
"You know who I mean. Dili gyud ta mi ganahan ani pero unsaon man wala man tay lain mahimo gud (We don't want to do this, but we have no other recourse)," she also said, but refused to elaborate.
Although some of the complainants identified the priest as "Fr. Ben" in a TV report, Carillo said that is not enough information.
"We don't want these things to happen. It hurts the church and it hurts us," Carillo added.
"It wasn't supposed to end this way. We just wanted to have a friendly chat na naa siya, naa ang mga bata, pasabton niya ang mga bata og mangayog pasaylo, unya end (with the priest and the children, so apologies can be said and we can put an end to this)."
"But because it didn't end that way, we have no choice. It will be unfair also to the children, dili mi katalikod sa among (we cannot turn away from our) responsibility as a social welfare agency," said Carillo.
With the NBI conducting the investigation, there is a bigger chance that the priest will be identified through a sketch that can be made based on the students' descriptions.
Carillo said that it is now the job of the DSWD to prepare the students. The agency is also continuously providing "psychosocial intervention" for the complainants.
"According to initial assessment, some don't want to go to confession anymore and some said something like, `Nobody has touched this part of my body, not even my mom.' Because these parts of the body they mentioned are not just an ordinary part that you touch," explained Carillo
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