Soldiers Detain Priest While Searching For Killers Of American
MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ Soldiers searching for the killers of an American colonel fired at a car driven by a Roman Catholic priest and detained him for about two hours, military and church officials said today.
The military, which did not charge the priest, accused him of visiting a safe house used by communist guerrillas. The guerrillas have claimed responsibility for killing the American, Col. James ″Nick″ Rowe.
The priest, the Rev. Benjamin Alforque, denied any links to Rowe’s killers. Church and human rights groups denounced his detention as part of a campaign to silence religious leaders critical of military abuses.
Alforque belongs to several religious organizations critical of alleged human rights abuses by the military and of the presence of U.S. military bases in the Philippines.
Rowe, 51, of McAllen, Texas, was slain Friday on his way to work at the Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group. Communist rebels said they killed him to protest U.S. support for President Corazon Aquino’s counterinsurge ncy campaign.
Brig. Gen. Alexander Aguirre, chief of the Capital Command, said Alforque was detained Tuesday night after visiting what the general called a suspected communist safe house near where Rowe was slain.
When police raided the house today looking for arms, it turned out to be the office of the human rights group BALAI.
″They did not find anything,″ said lawyer Arno Sanidad of the Free Legal Assistance Group. BALAI is an affiliate of the group. Sanidad said police detained a volunteer but released him without charge four hours later.
Aguirre said the priest, chairman of the Justice and Peace Committee of the Association of Major Religious Superiors and the Promotion of Church People’s Rights, was released to his superior after being detained for two hours. Asked if Alforque’s detention was connected to the Rowe investigation, Aguirre replied: ″That is the principal objective in the operation.″
Alforque said he visited the offices of BALAI to pick up his sister, Mariven, who works there. After finding she had left, he drove toward his seminary-residence when he noticed he was being followed by several cars of armed men in civilian clothes.
″When I saw them, I got scared,″ he said. ″They fired their guns and it hit my car. When I made a left turn, I hit the wall of the seminary and got out of the car. It was then that I was handcuffed.″
Alforque said the gunmen identified themselves as soldiers and asked him why he visited his sister’s office. He quoted them as saying the office was used by rebels. Alforque said he was taken to a police precinct for questioning and was released on orders of Defense Secretary Fidel Ramos.