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Philippines frees notorious priest killer

MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines released on Friday a notorious killer who murdered an Italian priest 23 years ago and then claimed to have eaten parts of his brain.

Norberto Manero (L) embraces his wife, Evelyn, after being released from the national prison in Muntinlupa city, south of Manila, January 25, 2008. The Philippines released on Friday Manero who murdered an Italian priest 23 years ago and then claimed to have eaten parts of his brain. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

Norberto Manero, shaven-headed and wearing a white polo shirt, denied he was a cannibal in a news conference at the national penitentiary south of the capital.

“That’s not true,” he said. “I didn’t know where and how that story came about. I would not want to go back to my old life.”

Manero was reunited with his wife and proudly held up his release papers for the cameras.

“I would like to live a quiet life and rebuild my family,” he said.

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez said Manero had been granted executive clemency by former president Fidel Ramos in 1998, setting aside a life sentence for the 1985 murder.

But Ramos left office soon thereafter and Manero’s release was held back by successive governments.

“We are aware that delaying release of the prisoner is punishable under our revised penal code,” Gonzalez said, adding the Catholic church did not contest Manero’s release.

Manero, his two brothers and three other companions were convicted for the abduction and murder of Tulio Favali, a member of the Rome-based Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), on the southern island of Mindanao.

At the time of his arrest, Manero, a member of a militia known for torturing and killing suspected communist rebels, boasted he ate parts of the priest’s brain after shooting him. The gang claimed the priest was a communist sympathiser.

All the other members of the gang have been freed after serving jail time.

Favali’s fellow priests said they had no objections to freeing Manero because they believed he had paid for his sins.

“The sadness remains that a priest, a just man, is dead but this must not block the road to forgiveness,” Romulo Valles, archbishop of Zamboanga on Mindanao island, said in a statement posted on the church group Web site.

Additional reporting by Rolando Ng