The figures come after three priests were murdered in the space of a year

Almost 200 priests in the Philippines have filed for permits to carry firearms in response to four attacks on clergy in the past year.

Since the law was changed in 2014, members of certain high-risk professions are exempted from going through the usual process to obtain such a permit. According to a report by the Inquirer, this includes priests, ministers, rabbis, imams, lawyers, journalists, cashiers, bank tellers, physicians, nurses, and certain businessmen.

People employed in these fields no longer have to prove they are in serious danger to obtain a permit to carry firearms but instead only have to pass drug and psychiatric evaluations and prove they have no criminal convictions.

Of the applications sent in over the last year, 188 were from priests and 58 from ministers. These applications to carry only apply to those who already own a gun and are different from licenses to obtain a firearm.

The controversy over priests carrying guns increased with the killing of Fr Richmond Nilo on June 10 while he was preparing for mass. Just four days before this, former police chaplain Fr Rey Urmeneta was shot and wounded.

Earlier this year Fr Mark Ventura and Fr Marcelito Paez were also killed by gun violence.

There is no indication whether the number of priests filing permits, or who own or carry guns, has increased due to these killings. It is also not clear if the priests filing for permits are facing death threats.

Although a number of priests said that they wished to carry weapons for self-defense, others disagree with the proposal and do not think clergy should be allowed to carry guns.

“Sacrifices and sufferings are part and parcel of being priests,” said Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balagna. “It is our calling, that is, to carry the cross and even to be crucified on the cross.”

Ultimately, it is the decision of bishops whether the priests in their diocese will be allowed to be armed.