The Ilocos Norte police chief of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, Marvin Bolabola, said in a statement that Lyndia and Liwliwa Macalma were charged based on "circumstantial evidence" gathered by police investigators. Police said earlier that armed suspects shot and killed 47-year-old Priest Florante Rigonan 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, said at the time.
It was not immediately clear if the latest developments meant that the sisters were in police custody Sunday, September 16, but they have been questioned and closely monitored by police officers in recent days, BosNewsLife learned. With the filing of the case against the Macalmas, Bolabola said the case on the killing of Rigonan, a parish priest of the Isadore parish church in Pinili town, had been "partially solved."
The sisters are relatives of Florencio and Elisea Macalma, a couple who donated just over $100,000 to Priest Rigonan for the construction of a new church in Pinili. Police investigators are reportedly looking into "envy" as the motive behind the killing as several relatives of the Macalma couple resented their monetary support for the parish priest.
Bishop Sergio Utleg of Laoag City, the provincial capital, told reporters earlier that it was "very possible" that some relatives of Rigonan's benefactors resented that money was flowing to the construction of a new church. "Perhaps they believe that the money should go to them (relatives) and not to the church." Utleg reportedly said there was no other possible motive that could trigger Rigonan's murder as "up to 90 percent of the funds used to build the new church in Pinili came from the Macalma family."
However at a funeral service, attended by up to 1,000 church members and officials, Utleg said his murder made clear that believers should continue his mission. "Even if Father Rigonan is dead, he continues to teach us how important life is and how the church plays an important role in our lives. He wanted a church built and he paid [with] his life for it," Utleg said in remarks published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper.
The killing came amid concerns about violence against priests and missionaries in the Philippines. Ilocos 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 the Philippines. Several priests have been killed or kidnapped by different rebel groups in the country. (With BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos).