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Filipino Priest Who Defied Duterte Passes Away

Fr. Picardal Exposed ‘Death Squad’ Killings Now Subject of ICC Probe

Filipino Catholic priest Father Amado Picardal in Manila, Philippines, May 13, 2016. © 2016 Aaron Favila/AP Photo

Fr. Amado Picardal, a Redemptorist priest who exposed killings by the so-called Davao Death Squad in the Philippines, died on Wednesday at age 69. Colleagues said Father Picx, as he was known, died from cardiac arrest in Cebu province, where he had been living a life of solitude and silence as a hermit.

Picardal was one of the first to sound the alarm about extrajudicial killings in Davao City on the southern island of Mindanao in the late 1990s and 2000s. This was long before the International Criminal Court (ICC) would investigate killings committed during President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs” as alleged crimes against humanity. Duterte, the longtime mayor of Davao City, was elected president in 2016 and modeled his abusive anti-drug campaign after Davao City’s.

Picardal was instrumental in helping the media and human rights organizations document the killings. The Coalition Against Summary Executions, which he helped found in 1999, played a key role in the research that led to Human Rights Watch’s 2009 report exposing the death squad. Picardal also assisted human rights groups submit information to the ICC.

Picardal helped activists, labor leaders, Indigenous peoples, and other victims of rights abuses for decades. During the Ferdinand Marcos Sr. dictatorship, he was arrested, jailed, and tortured for his work. Aside from being a prolific writer, blogger, columnist, and poet (he posted a poem online hours before his death), Picardal also walked, ran, and biked across the Philippines and Europe to bring attention to human rights.

After accusing Duterte of serious crimes, Picardal said his life was in danger, forcing him briefly into exile abroad before he returned to Philippines in 2018 to build his hermitage in the mountains of Cebu, where he lived until his death. When I last visited him in 2022, he said that he was still receiving threats but remained unafraid.

“I choose not to be silent, I choose to speak up and denounce evil in our midst. If it means [being] picked up, imprisoned or gunned down, so be it,” Picardal wrote in a blog post in 2006. “I am not afraid to suffer.”

Picardal never wavered in this conviction. He will be remembered as a champion of human rights both in the Phillipines and around the world.

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