Philippines – A 17-year-old girl from Agusan del Norte filed on Wednesday three cases—acts of lasciviousness, child abuse, and rape, against a Catholic priest in Tubay town with the provincial court.
Leah (not her real name) accused Tubay parish priest Fr. Raul Cabonce of sexually assaulting and raping her several times while she was working under his care.
“I hope he will be imprisoned for his whole life,” she told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in an interview.
Leah’s ordeal began on June 2010 when she got a message from the priest to see him at the convent.
Cabonce, she said, offered to pay for her tuition as a fourth year high school student if she worked at the convent.
Leah, who was 9th in a brood of 12, readily accepted the offer.
“My parents were too poor,” she said. “I wanted to be a doctor.”
On Sept. 16, 2010, the priest made advances to her while she was cooking. Cabonce suddenly put his hand on her breast. Shocked, Leah said she backed away from Cabonce, who made light of his actions, even teasing her for being “too serious.”
A few months later, Leah’s situation at the convent worsened. One evening, Leah said she was summoned by Cabonce to his room. “There were guns in his bedroom. I saw three, two long firearms and one short,” she recalled.
The priest asked for a massage, she said. A few minutes later, the priest started groping her. When she protested and tried to leave, Cabonce forced her to bed and molested her despite her protestations.
Leah said the abuse was repeated several times the next month. She tried to avoid Cabonce while at the convent.
“He would pretend to be holy and say Mass, but he was only wearing a mask. He is not a true servant of God. He only became a priest to gain money,” she said.
According to her affidavit, the priest forced her twice to give him oral sex. Cabonce, she said, was so violent that he made her gums bleed.
Leah recounted that every time she was in the bedroom, the priest made it a point to show her his firearms.
‘I will kill your family’
Once, he threatened her not to speak about the abuse. “He said, don’t tell this to anyone or I’ll kill your family,” she said. Cabonce also threatened her once with a knife.
Leah said she endured the sexual assaults because she wanted to finish her studies.
Last March, when the academic year ended, she finally left the convent and reported the abuse to her mother.
The militant women’s group Gabriela has put Leah under its care while she underwent medical and psychological exams in Manila.
Gabriela said there may be more victims like Leah, whose trust and poverty are being exploited.
Medico-legal findings from the Philippine General Hospital and from a team of health experts in Mindanao showed there was a possibility of sexual abuse.
Three psychological reports also revealed that the victim was harboring suicidal thoughts and was suffering from post-traumatic disorder.
In June this year, Leah tried to kill herself by slashing her wrists.
Anticipating that the priest had left the parish, Leah urged the Catholic hierarchy to investigate her case. “I hope that they are not hiding him,” she said.
Cabonce is under the jurisdiction Butuan Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos.
Lana Libanan, Gabriela secretary-general, urged the Catholic Church to surrender Cabonce to authorities.