Student Tags Priest from NBI Files

By Fred P. Languido [Philippines]
December 28, 2006

One of the participants in the controversial Life in the Spirit Seminar organized by the Oasis of Love and the Department of Education at the Abellana National School last month positively identified the priest accused of inappropriately touching her classmates during confession.

The third year high school student identified the priest through the pictures shown to her by the National Bureau of Investigation.

The NBI took over the investigation of the case after the Department of Social Welfare and Development failed to compel church officials to reveal the identity of the priest.

DSWD regional director Teodulo Romo requested the NBI to take over the investigation when the priest, through the Archdiocese of Cebu, snubbed their invitation for a friendly dialogue with the victims last week.

NBI Special Investigator Jedidah Hife, who was assigned to handle the case, made a simulated line up of possible suspects yesterday using several pictures from their files.

Out of the six pictures lined-up on the table, the witness immediately pointed to the picture of the priest, which was obtained through his file when he applied for a NBI clearance.

Although the enlarged picture from the NBI clearance of the priest did not show his name, the witness was very positive that he was the one who harassed her classmates.

Earlier reports revealed that the priest was a certain Fr. Ben. The Freeman is withholding the name of the priest that was tagged from the NBI files.

The witness said she does not know the name of the priest as he was not introduced to them before hearing confessions.

The witness said she could not forget the face of the priest because she was one of those who lined-up for confession with him.

The student however, transferred to one of the other four priests, who heard confessions that day upon the advise of one of the facilitators of the seminar.

The witness told The Freeman that, while waiting for her turn to confess, she saw that one of her classmates was inappropriately touched by the priest.

According to her, the priest toyed with the bra of her classmate while the latter was obviously holding back her tears for fear.

She added that one of the nuns, who was with the Oasis of Love even asked her classmate, who was already crying because of her experience to keep the incident to herself as it was just allegedly the normal conduct of the priest.

The NBI however is yet to confer with the victims because they could not be located.

Independent sources who claimed to have known the priest said that the latter has already left the country.

According to the source, the priest left for the United States immediately after the incident was reported to the media. The NBI however is yet to confirm the report from the Bureau of Immigration.

Another source told The Freeman that the suspect was previously assigned in Dumanjug, but was transferred to the Archbishop's Palace while waiting for his enlistment order to the Philippine Army.

The source said that the priest applied to be a military chaplain with the 3rd Army Training Group at the AFP Central Command based in Camp Lapu-Lapu in barangay Apas.

The priest was accused by at least 19 high school students of Abellana National School of harassing them while hearing confession as part of their Life in the Spirit Seminar held last November 14.

Since then, the identity of the priest has been kept by the organizers and the chruch officials. DSWD officials requested the archdiocese to reveal the identity of the priest but Ricardo Cardinal Vidal refused to heed the request.

The cardinal said that the archdiocese could not reveal the name of the priest, because it might be a violation of his rights.

The DSWD even tried to facilitate a dialogue with the priest and the victims last week to settle the issue after the students allegedly offered to forgive the priest on condition that he will ask for an apology.

However, the chruch officials including the Oasis of Love turned down the invitation prompting the DSWD to turn over the case to the NBI.

With the NBI already taking over he investigation church officials will already be compelled to appear in an investigation if necessary because it has a subpoena power unlike the DSWD.


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