Court dismisses charge vs elderly Lumad school teacher

The Nabunturan (Compostela Valley) Regional Trial Court dismissed a murder charge against elderly and ailing Lumad school teacher Amelia Pond, the Save Our Schools (SOS) Network announced Monday.

“In the course of the outrage over the state of repression on International Human Rights Day, there is one cause for celebration—the dismissal of trumped up charges against Lumad school teacher Amelia B. Pond,” SOS in a statement said.

Pond, 65 years old and curriculum researcher for Salugpongan Ta ‘Tanu Igkanogon Learning Center (STTICLC), was detained for 15 months on a murder charge before her release last December 7.

SOS said the court’s dismissal of Pond’s case proved the charge as false after prosecution witnesses  recanted their allegations.

The group, however, lamented the hardships the ailing teacher underwent for 15 months.

“Although we celebrate the dismissal of the trumped-up case, this vindication does not diminish the anguish Pond went through,” SOS said.

‘Without humanitarian consideration’

The Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) of the Philippine National Police arrested Pond last August 2016 while she was attending a Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) assembly in Cebu.

CIDG operatives used an alias warrant under the name of Adelfa Toledo, an alleged NPA leader wanted for murder, to justify Pond’s arrest.

In detention, Pond was placed in hospital arrest when she underwent surgery on her spine last November 11, 2016.

She was also diagnosed to be suffering from chronic renal infection, osteoporosis, and hyperlipidemia or abnormally high concentration of fats or lipids in the blood.

When Duterte terminated his unilateral ceasefire declaration with the NPA last February 4, however, Pond was transported back to Tagum jail against doctor’s orders and “without humanitarian consideration for her delicate state of recuperation,” SOS said.

Sr. Francis Añover of the RMP said Pond suffered during the transfer from Davao City to Tagum jail, repeatedly crying out in pain and asking the driver to slow down and stop for rest.

At the jail facility, Pond was taken back to her old cell beside the toilet, the nun said.

“She cannot bend due to her lumbar problem while the other prisoners sleep on the floor with only cardboards and mats,” Añover said.

Pond at her release from the Compostela Valley Province Provincial Jail last December 7. (SOS photo)

Escalation of attacks

SOS said that while Pond’s troubles may have ended,  the military’s attacks on schools and teachers have continued and escalated.

“Lumad schools are vilified through red-baiting while teachers and students are harassed and attacked,” SOS said.

The group added that the impending martial law extension in Mindanao as well as President Rodrigo Duterte’s threats against Lumad schools “suggests that state terrorism will continue to attack and endanger Lumad schools and their advocates.”

Human rights group Karapatan also hailed the dismissal of the murder charge against Pond even as it lamented that “trumped-up charges against the likes of Pond who works for Lumad schools is never new.”

“Almost always, the perpetrators of illegal arrests and detention go scot free,” Karapatan legal counsel Ma. Sol Taule told Kodao.

“Many Lumad school teachers were also charged with fabricated criminal cases in an attempt to shut down Lumad schools that were previously branded and tagged by the Duterte government as NPA schools,” the lawyer added.

Taule said Karapatan expects more illegal arrests and trumped up cases after Duterte announced his plan to extend martial rule in Mindanao for another year. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Martial rule extension to target NPA and ‘supporters’

President Rodrigo Duterte’s petition to further extend martial rule and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao for a full year will target the New People’s Army (NPA) along with other armed groups, his letter to the Senate and House of Representatives (HOR) today revealed.

In his request addressed to both Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and HOR Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Duterte wrote the extension aims “to ensure the total eradication of DAESH-inspired Da’awatul Islamiyah Waliyatul Masriq (DIWM), other like minded Local/Foreign Terrorist Groups (L/FTGs) and Armed Terrorist Groups (ALGs) and the communist terrorists (CTs) and their coddlers, supporters, and financiers.”

Military and police pronouncements repeatedly refer to the NPA as CTs.

Duterte added his request is based on National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s recommendations submitted to him last December 4.

In his original Proclamation No. 216 declarating a three-month martial law in Mindanao at the outbreak of the Marawi City crisis last May 23, Duterte did not include the NPA as among the targets.

In the 150-day extension approved by 245 lawmakers last July 22, however, Lorenzana already identified the NPA as among the targets, accusing the revolutionary group as “taking advantage of the situation.”

Duterte accused the NPA of perpetrating 385 so-called atrocitied that killed 41 and wounding 62 government troopers in 2017, as well as 59 arson incidents that targeted businesses such as mining and plantations.

“As a direct result of these atrocities on the part of the NPA, I was constrained to issue Proclamation No. 360 on 23 November 2017 declaring the termination of peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front-Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (NDF-CPP-NPA) effective immediately,” Duterte wrote.

“I followed this up with Proclamation no. 374 on 05 December 2017, where I declared the CPP-NPA as a designated/identified terrorist organization under the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012, and the issuance of a directive to the Secretary of Justice to file a petition in the appropriate court praying to proscribe the NDF-CPP-NPA as a terrorist organization under the Human Security Act of 2007,” he added.

These recent developments involving the NDF-CPP-NPA forebode another year of intensified armed hostilities which continue to make Mindanao the hotbed of rebellion, Duterte wrote.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Public Affairs Office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo last December 8 promised there would be no martial law abuses should it be extended.

Aravelo added martial law does not target any particular group.


”This is all hogwash, of course,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said in reaction to Arevalo’s statement.

Contrary to AFP’s assurances, Duterte’s martial rule in Mindanao victimizes civilians, mostly farmers and Lumad, Palabay said.

“Aside from being expert spin doctors, the AFP has also been consistent in denying their atrocities despite witnesses to their crimes,” Palabay said.

Many organizations in different regions in Mindanao, particularly local peasant and indigenous organizations, are targeted for their campaigns against militarization and for agrarian reform,” she added.

Palabay said that members of the Compostela Farmers Assocation (CFA) in the Southern Mindanao Region (SMR), for example, were targets of illegal arrest and political killings.

“These attacks merely escalated after the declaration of martial law, what with the military’s red-tagging of the group as symphatizers. The latest member of the CFA extrajudicially killed by State forces is Rodrigo Timoteo on November 28, 2017,” Palabay said.

Palabay said that activists and progressive groups have long been targeted by State security forces in line with Duterte’s implementation of the counterinsurgency program Oplan Kapayapaan.

She added that the situation was made worse by the declaration of martial law that further endangered individuals, groups, and entire communities who struggle and fight for various advocacies.

“Another year of martial law will not be beneficial to anyone, except the fascist military dogs and their equally proudly fascist leader,” Palabay said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Human Rights Day 2017 in Manila Denounces Duterte for Killings

Commemorating International Human Rights Day, thousands of protesters under BAYAN (Bagong Alyansang Makabayan) took to the streets of Manila to denounce Pres. Rodrigo Duterte’s killings and other human rights violations.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, embattled by an impeachment complaint filed in Congress by Duterte allies, had a statement read at the rally at the Bonifacio Shrine.

Jailed Senator Leila de Lima, in a separate statement read at the rally, also called for vigilance by the people.

Speakers at the mobilization included representatives from the media and the arts and progressive church people.

The protest rally and march culminated in the burning at Mendiola of a large portrait of Duterte painted as benign outside but a monster inside. #

(ILPS-Philippines video. Live music: “The Storm” by Chikoy Pura. Featured photo by Obet de Castro.)

Palace announces plan to extend ML in Mindanao on Human Rights Day

As tens of thousands of activists observed International Human Rights Day Sunday with protest actions nationwide against rising human rights violations, Malacañan Palace chose the day to announce that President Rodrigo Duterte is set to ask the House of Representatives for a year-long extension of martial law in Mindanao.

House Majority Floor Leader Rodolfo Fariñas told reporters yesterday Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea has notified him of Duterte’s request they expect to receive Monday.

Medialdea confirmed Fariñas’s announcement, saying the President has already signed the request to extend martial rule in Mindanao for the entire duration of 2018 when its current extension expires on December 31.

The HOR and the Senate will extend their session from December 13 to 15 to jointly vote on Duterte’s request.

Department of National Defense spokesperson Arsenio Andolong said the military again asked Duterte to extend martial rule in Mindanao to sustain its “momentum against terror groups” allegedly regrouping after the Marawi siege, a Philippine Daily Inquirer report said.

“There have been reports that they are recruiting already in the Lanao area,” Andolong said.

Earlier, Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar and Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla separately pointed to Daulah Islamiyah fi Ranao (Islamic State in Lanao) as the next terror threat in Mindanao.

Nationwide martial rule

Human rights group Karapatan quickly opposed Duterte’s reported plan, saying martial rule in Mindanao also targets peasants and Lumad.

A day after leading International Human Rights Day rallies in 21 venues nationwide, Karapatan said the extension of martial rule in Mindanao will only create an environment for State security forces to continue [human rights] violations without accountability.

“This is a dangerous precedent that inches the entire country closer to a nationwide declaration of martial rule. Martial law in Mindanao has paved the way for the intensification of rights violations – both within and outside of Marawi,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

Karapatan said it has recorded at least 29 victims of extrajudicial killings in the Mindanao, 15 of whom were from Southern Mindanao Region, since the declaration of martial law in May 23.

The group said it also documented 15 cases of torture, 23 victims of frustrated extrajudicial killings, 58 victims of illegal arrest and detention, and 335,686 victims of indiscriminate gunfire and aerial bombings.

Karapatan added there have been 401,730 victims of forced evacuations, 16,612 of which were documented independent of the Marawi siege, mostly in the regions of Caraga, Southern Mindanao, and SOCKSARGENDS.

“Many organizations in different regions in Mindanao, particularly local peasant and indigenous organization, are targeted for their campaigns against militarization and for agrarian reform,” Palabay said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Peasants accuse Duterte of collecting political prisoners

The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) accused President Rodrigo Duterte of rapidly collecting political prisoners under his administration following the simultaneous arrest of three farmers in Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur Friday.

Two days before the observance of International Human Rights Day, KMP said eight armed men in civilian clothes arrested Ruben Maloloy-on, 55 years old, a former village chief and the current provincial vice chairman of Nagkahiusang Mag-uuma sa Agusan del Dur (NAMASUR).

Two more local peasant leaders–Jonathan Mambras of Brgy. Libertad and Junjun Balicuat of Brgy. Mabuhay, Prosperidad town in Agusan del Sur–were also arrested, KMP said.

The three are currently detained at the Agusan del Sur Provincial Jail in Prosperidad and facing “trumped-up charges.”

“While more than 400 political prisoners are still languishing in jail, this government has no qualms on illegally arresting and detaining known leaders and members of progressive organizations,” KMP in a statement said.

“Instead of freeing the sick, elderly and long-time political detainees, Duterte is taking in more,” the peasant group added.

KMP said majority of political detainees are farmers and indigenous peoples.

Human rights group Karapatan said a total of 1,172 illegal arrests were documented from July 2016 to December 5, 2017.

“If authorities would indeed launch mass arrests then Duterte would need bigger detention cells. They can imprison a person but not the cause and principles of the people’s movement,” KMP chairperson Danilo Ramos said.

Ramos noted that the latest arrests in Caraga Region took place after Duterte threatened to have alleged supporters and members of New People’s Army (NPA) arrested.

“Those arrested are unarmed farmers. The victims were arrested based on fake warrants implicating them to a military action by the NPA,” Ramos said, noting that fake warrants are now being activated and used by the military and police to arrest activists.

Last September 14, 74-year old Marcos Aggabao died at a hospital in Kalinga province following the death of ailing political prisoner Bernabe Ocasla at the Manila City Jail September last year, Ramos said.

“We demand the release of all political prisoners,” the KMP leader said.

“With the kind of justice system that we have, being imprisoned in the Philippines is just like a death sentence,” Ramos said.

The peasant group said it will join the nationwide rallies on today at Liwasang Bonifacio and Mendiola. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)  

6 Lumad still missing after military operations in Lake Sebu

Aside from the eight killed last December 3, six more T’boli-Dulangan Lumad are missing after a military operation in Sitio Datal Bonglangon, Brgy. Ned, Lake Sebu, South Cotabato, a human rights group in the region said.

Karapatan Socsksargen demanded from the military to surface Armando Barot, Jack Mayor Tataw, Berto Dudem Laud, Jeffrey Ambag Benan, Rudy Danyan and Albelardo Wali, all members of Kilukasku- Panaghiusa sa pagdepensa sa yutang kabilin sa mga Dulangan ug T’boli sa South Cotabato (Kilukasku- United to protect the ancestral domain of Dulangan Manobo and T’boli in South Cotabato).

They were last seen held in a military checkpoint in Bagumbayan, the group said.

Two other Lumads, Jamil Colano and Tony Diamante, went missing for a day on Wednesday but were found detained on trumped up charge of malicious mischief in Sultan Kudarat Provincial Jail, Karapatan said.

The disappearance of the six and the arrest of Colano and Diamante followed the alleged massacre of   Victor Danyan, Victor Danyan Jr., Artemio Danyan, Pato Celardo, Samuel Angkoy, To Diamante, Bobot Lagase, and Mateng Bantal,

Also reported wounded were Luben Laod and Teteng Laod in Brgy. Ned.

The Philippine Army said the incident was a clash between its 27th Infantry Battalion and New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas.

“The fatalities were all NPA members killed during the encounter with our troops,” 27th IB spokesperson 2Lt. Ranjan Palacio said in a radio interview.

Progressive organizations and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Marbel, however, belied the claim saying the Danyans were civilians.

Diocese of Marbel Social Action Center director Father Ariel Destora said tribal chieftain, Datu Victor Danyan was not a rebel but the chair of a legal organization, the T’ T’boli-Manobo S’daf Claimant Organization  (TAMASCO).

Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas secretary general Antonio Flores also said the victims were “members of the 140 T’boli-Manobo peasant families who have collectively occupied and tilled their ancestral land that were landgrabbed by the Consunji family’s DMCI.”

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines in Far South Mindanao Region (NDFP-FMSR added the victims were “civilian residents and not NPA members.”

NDFP-FSMR spokesperson Efren Aksasato said the military “approached” Danyan’s house and “opened fire.”

“This prompted the residents, armed with 12-gauge shotguns and indigenous weapons to fight back,” Aksasato said in a December 6 statement.

The military claimed two soldiers were killed and three others were injured in the incident.

The 27th IB was also accused of perpetrating the October 18, 2012 massacre of anti-mining advocate Juvy Capion and family in Kiblawan, Davao del Sur.

Karapatan said it accompanied the families of the six missing Lumad in search in Bagumbayan Police Station to different hospitals from Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat and South Cotabato Provincial Hospital in Koronadal City, to no avail. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

LODI Statement: Our name is our call

Freedom of expression and freedom of the press are among the most important basic rights enshrined in the Philippine Constitution. These civil liberties are also the best safeguards for all other rights: due process; free assembly, travel, and association; and the exercise of religious and political beliefs.

The first year and a half of President Rodrigo Duterte’s government has seen a flood of attacks on press freedom and freedom of expression. Duterte himself has led the assault, aided by a well-oiled machinery of disinformation peddlers and digital storm troopers.

Even before Duterte assumed power, he launched a campaign to undermine media, justifying attacks against journalists. He has since framed critical reportage – as he has all dissent to his policies – as part of imagined destabilization plots.

The President’s attacks have been amplified by a well-funded social media army, in part underwritten by taxpayers. They appropriated gains in freedom of expression even while unleashing violent threats on journalists, artists, activists and all other critics of the administration.

These threats are not simple rants on social media. They come with elements that clearly point to the potential of on-ground implementation, whether by state agents or their proxies.The Duterte administration did all these while pushing its propaganda’s alternative reality to Filipinos.

These attacks have a clear aim: Silence opposition to mounting human rights violations linked to his crackdown on suspected drug addicts and dealers and various parties he has dubbed as enemies of the state, including activists and rights defenders.

More than 10,000 have been killed in relation to his anti-narcotics crackdown. Rights groups have documented 143 political killings and more than a hundred illegal arrests. Duterte has just given soldiers the same reassurance he gave police implementing the crackdown against drugs – they can kill unarmed civilians and still enjoy his protection against justice.
More recently, Duterte has vowed to go after legal activists and opposition groups, claiming they provide aid to an underground communist-led rebellion that he has declared “terrorist”.

The President’s latest move only heightens the dangers poised on freedom of expression and the press, and all other freedoms, even as the government marches on with its plan to do away with democratic processes and bring the nation under one man’s dictatorial rule.

Artists in all fields, journalists, and media workers do not exist in a vacuum. A society enveloped by fear and repression is inimical to the development of the arts and the press.

The late great director, Lino Brocka, spoke these words in an earlier dark age. It is a lesson media took to heart in the fight against Duterte’s idol, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

“(T)he artist is also a public person. He does not work in isolation from society. Instead of working alone in his ivory tower, he is a citizen of the slums, of the streets, of the battlefield if need be. The artist is always a participant. He tries to be true not only to his craft but also to himself. For it is the supreme duty of the artist to investigate the truth, no matter what forces attempt to hide it. And then to report it to the people, to confront them with it, like a whiplash that will cause wounds but will free the mind….”

It is in this light that we have formed a broad alliance of artists, journalists, and media workers dedicated to uphold and protect the freedom of expression and human rights in the practice of our crafts and professions and in the lives of the people as a whole.

All artists, writers, journalists, and media workers in all platforms, who believe in this objective and who are willing to stand up for freedom of expression and human rights, are welcome to join the alliance. Organizations may also affiliate with the alliance.

It is not enough to call for a halt to government-led disinformation campaigns. We will combat it on all fronts.

We will expose these deceptions. And we will work together in all fields of the arts and media, and reach out to all sectors, to reveal the harsh truths we live in.

As the government relentlessly moves to bring the country once more under a dictatorship, our Arts and Media Alliance raises this challenge: Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity (LODI).

Our call is our name.

Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity (LODI)
Arts and Media Alliance

Duterte hints talks may still be ‘resuscitated’

President Rodrigo Duterte again hinted the peace negotiations he terminated with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) may still be “resuscitated.”

Speaking at the 84th Anniversary of the Department of Labor and Employment headed by Secretary Silvestre Bello III in Bulacan Friday, Duterte said the chairperson of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) negotiating panel with the NDFP “and company can always resuscitate it at some other time.”

Duterte said businesses and the military asked him to stop the peace negotiations with the NDFP because of the New People’s Army’s (NPA) revolutionary taxation and attacks against government soldiers.

Sabi ng mga negosyante at mga sundalo, ‘Mayor, ‘wag mo kaming pigilan diyan kasi nauubos na kami.’ So I have to stop the talks,” Duterte said.

“So itong mga Left, mga kausap ni Bebot, they have to agree to stop imposing revolutionary tax. We can subsidize the talks and even the billeting. Ako na ang gagastos, but you [NPA] have to stop [from imposing],” he added.

Duterte said he ordered Bello and the GRP Panel to take a breather to “give time for things to cool [down] with the CPP (Communist Party of the Philippines).”

“Let’s [again] start to talk, [but] let’s start by raising the level to walang atake. Absolutely,” Duterte said.

Duterte added things actually started with “slight insults” which he could not allow.

E di (curse), tuluyan na natin…The best way there is just to keep silent,” he said.

Duterte’s ‘rampage of killings’

The NDFP however said it is Duterte’s “rampage of killings” along with his declaration of the CPP and the NPA as terrorists that closed the door to the peace negotiations.

In an online forum with peace advocates in Quezon City, NDFP senior adviser and former chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni said that while their side is always willing to negotiate with any GRP that is serious in addressing the root causes of the armed conflict, Duterte does not appear to do so anymore.

“The question now is, is there still hope for the peace talks with the Duterte regime? According to [NDFP] chief political consultant [Jose Maria Sison], wala,” Jalandoni said.

Aside from tagging the CPP and NPA as terrorists, Duterte also ordered that all NDFP consultants released for the negotiations are to be arrested and that the so-called legal fronts of the CPP shall be attacked and harassed, Jalandoni added.

Jalandoni said events in the last few days has shown that the Duterte regime is on a rampage of killings, citing the killings of two human rights defenders in Negros Oriental, Pastor Lovelito Quiñones in Oriental Mindoro, Fr. Marcelito Paez in Nueva Ecija, Anakpawis Representative Ariel Casilao’s staff member in Davao City, and the massacre of eight Lumad in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato.

Jalandoni also cited the arrest of transport leader George San Mateo and the forced evacuation and food blockade of more than a thousand Lumad in Surigao del Sur.

“All these follow the many thousands killed by Duterte’s war against drugs,” Jalandoni said.

Jalandoni said the Filipino people love the NPA for its health and health services in the countryside, as well as its land reform and defense of communities against attacks by the Armed Forces of the Philippines and paramilitary forces.

“The truth is, it is Duterte who is a terrorist. He has become a fascist, a tyrant against the people,” Jalandoni said.

Jalandoni warned of massive, strong and militant protests against the killings under the Duterte government.

“As in the days under (President Ferdinand) Marcos, ultimately, it will be the people who will decide,” Jalandoni said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

LODI: Artists and journalists form alliance to combat ‘flood of attacks’

Artists and journalists launched an alliance to defend freedom of expression and other human rights in Quezon City Friday from what they call “a flood of attacks” under the Rodrigo Duterte government.

The Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity (LODI) arts and media alliance blamed Duterte himself for leading the assault on civil liberties and other rights, “aided by a well-oiled machinery of disinformation peddlers and digital storm troopers.”

“The President’s attacks have been amplified by a well-funded social media arm, in part underwritten by taxpaeyrs. They appropriated gains in freedom of expression even while unleashing violent threats on journalists, artists, activists and all other critics of the administration,” LODI said.

“Even before Duterte assumed power, he launched a campaign to undermine media, justifying attacks against journalists. He has since framed critical reportage – as he has all dissent to his policies – as part of imagined destabilization plots,” the newly-formed alliance said.

LODI said threats against human rights, freedom of expression and press freedom are not simple rants on social media, but come with elements that point to the potential of on-ground implementation by either state agents or proxies.

“These attacks have a clear aim: Silence opposition to mounting human rights violations linked to his [Duterte’s] crackdown on suspected drug addicts and dealed and various parties he has dubbed as enemies of the state, including activists and rights defenders,” LODI said.

The group said the President’s order to go after legal activists and opposition groups only heightens the dangers poised on freedom of expression and the press as well as all other freedoms.

Marcos martial law survivor and acclaimed film director Joel Lamangan said that attacks on freedom of expression and activists may be more sinister under Duterte compared to “his idol Marcos.”

“Many of us were just jailed by the late dictator. Now, we may just as well be killed without accorded the chance to defend ourselves,” Lamangan said.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines for its part said five journalists have been killed under the 16-month old Duterte government.

LODI said it is not enough for journalists and artists to call for a halt to government-led disinformation campaigns, vowing to combat the threat on all front.

“We will expose these deceptions. And we will work together in all fields of the arts and media, and reach out to all sectors, to reveal the harsh truths we live in,” LODI said, announcing its participation in mass mobilizations on Sunday, December 10, International Human Rights Day.

LODI’s launching event was attended by Joel Lamangan, Bonifacio Ilagan, Mae Paner, Frank Rivera, Ricky Lee, Inday Espina-Varona, Kenneth Guda, Dabet Castañeda-Panelo, Tonyo Cruz, Soc Jose, and other well-known artists and journalists. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

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)