Church groups condemn priest’s killing

Church-based groups in the Philippines condemned the killing of an activist priest in Nueva Ecija Tuesday and called for justice for the “kind and loving servant.”

The Diocese of San Jose (Nueva Ecija) in a statement called on the Rodrigo Duterte government to investigate and give justice to its elderly priest Marcelito “Fr Tito” Paez who was gunned down in Jaen town and expired two hours later at a hospital in nearby San Leonardo.

“We, the priests of the Diocese of San Jose, Nueva Ecija, as well as our beloved Bishop (Most Rev. Roberto Mallari) firmly condemn the unjust and violent killing of Fr Tito Paez,” the pastoral district said.

Paez, 72 years old, headed the diocese’s Justice and Peace office of its Social Action Commission while serving as parish priest in various towns in northern Nueva Ecija.

Before his killing, Paez helped a peasant political prisoner post bail in a Cabanatuan trial court.

Paez served as Guimba town’s parish priest before he retired in 2015.

The group Stop the Killings Network said Paez’s killing could only ignite and deepen the commitment of church people to fully serve the poor.

In a statement, the group also strongly denounced the killing of Paez who they said served the basic masses his entire life.

“He stood for life, justice, and peace. He worked for the consolidation of organized responses through the Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR), the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) and other ecumenical fellowships of different denominations and Churches,” the group said.

“The narrative Fr. Tito’s life and death opens the eyes of the Church people. His life was a manifestation that faith has a great role in the social movement,” it added.

In response to the priest’s killing, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said it has created a special team to probe into Paez’s killing.

The Special Investigation Task Group will be headed by Nueva Ecija police provincial director Senior Superintendent Eliseo Tanding, PNP spokesperson Chief Superintendent Dionardo Carlos announced Wednesday.

The Stop the Killings Network, however, called on President Rodrigo Duterte to terminate its counter-insurgency program Oplan Kapayapaan “that justifies the killings of innocent civilians, human rights defenders, activists, and Church workers.”

“We urge the Duterte administration to pursue the peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines; retract his pronouncements of threats against legal and progressive organizations; and stop all killings,” the group said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)