By Santosh Digal,
( BosNewsLife) In a statement seen by BosNewsLife, police said armed men shot and killed 48-year-old Priest Florante Rigonan late Tuesday, August 28, as he left a house in Pinili town, where he performed a prayer service around 10 pm [local time].
“He was about to board his vehicle when armed men shot him several times with an M-16 Armalite rifle. The victim sustained bullet wounds on his body, mostly on his back,” Ilocos Norte Police official Roman Felix, told reporters.
Parishioner Elisea Macalma told the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News), that she heard gunshots after the priest left her family’s house in Puritac, a village of Pinili town, and called the police.
No one claimed responsibility for the attack, but church officials said the killing underscored concerns that clergy will be targeted once again by militants, especially those involved in church advocacies.
Illocos Norte, a northern Philippine province, has seen attacks carried out by rebels of the New People’s Army (NPA), a paramilitary group fighting for a Communist revolution in thePhilippines. Several priests have been killed or kidnapped by different rebel groups in the country.
Priest Leonardo Ruiz of the Laoag diocese’s Social Action Center said in a statement that the Catholic community mourned the death of Rigonan. “This is a sad day for the Catholic community. What are they doing to us priests?” he asked.
Ruiz, who leads church advocacies, including for environmental causes, protection, said Rigonan was mainly involved in administrative functions within the Laoag diocese.
Rigonan was a member of the diocese’s Commission on Temporalities, which is tasked to look
into the properties of the church. He also looked into the welfare of priests, including their hospitalization and retirement, Catholic sources said.
Police investigators have not ruled out that the priest was killed over a “personal grudge” or during a robbery. There “could be personal grudge on the part of our relatives, who were jealous because we gave Father Rigonan a large sum for the reconstruction of the parish church,” confirmed Macalma.
After working in the United States for 40 years, she and her husband reportedly returned to Pinili last year and donated 5 million pesos ($107,000) for reconstruction of the parish church, which used to be a small chapel. They also gave another 250,000 pesos they had raised for the project from relatives in California. Bishop Sergio Utleg of Laoag, whose diocese serves the province of Ilocos Norte, “blessed” the church in May, UCA News said.
The Laoag parish territory has 20,654 people, 48 percent of them Catholics and others members of the Philippine Independent Church and other Christian denominations, according to estimates.