Ecija priest’s murder sparks solidarity against ‘tokhang’ vs activists
Another pro-poor soul was gone.
This was how a friend of Fr. Marcelito “Tito” Paez expressed his grief over the cleric’s death in the hands of still unidentified assailants on the night of December 4, 2017 in Nueva Ecija.
Fr. Oliver Castor, standing in the midst of protesters at the Boy Scout Circle in Quezon City, recalled how the 72-year-old Fr. Tito, who was affiliated with the Diocese of San Jose, Nueva Ecija since 1984, would often refuse to speak during protest actions.
“Ang mami-miss namin sa kanya yung kanyang gentleness. Mas aktibista pa nga ko kaysa sa kanya, mas hayag akong magsalita,” Castor, on the verge of tears, told INQUIRER.net.
(What we would miss about him is his gentleness. I am more of an activist than he was, I am more vocal.)
“Pero si Fr. Tito napaka-gentle na tao, gentle soul; laging may ngiti. Ni hindi mo nga yan mapagsasalita sa rallies eh,” he added.
(But Fr. Tito was such a gentle person, gentle soul; always with a smile. You couldn’t even let him speak in rallies.)
Since seminary days, Castor, 53, has always regarded Fr. Tito as a “mentor” whom he looked up to for standing up for the rights of the vulnerable through their organization, the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP).
Like Fr. Tito, Castor is a board member of RMP, actively fighting for the rights of urban poor, farmers, and political prisoners.
Around 8:00 p.m. last Monday, Fr. Tito was driving his vehicle along a road in Barangay (village) Lambakin in Jaen town when motorcycle-riding gunmen ambushed him. He was brought at the Gonzales General Hospital in nearby San Leonardo town but died around 10:45 p.m. while undergoing treatment.
Castor said the timing of the attack against Fr. Tito is highly suspicious. He noted that Fr. Tito’s murder came after he facilitated the release of Rommel Tucay, a purported political detainee and a peasant organizer of the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson-Nueva Ecija (AMGL-NE), from the Nueva Ecija provincial jail earlier that day.
Duterte administration involved?
For Castor and the human rights group Karapatan, the killing of Fr. Tito is yet another attack against activists opposing President Rodrigo Duterte’s policies.
“We accuse them (Duterte and his government) of complicity in this heinous crime. Sapagkat kung kaya nila itong gawin sa isang taong simbahan, kaya nila itong gawin sa ating lahat,” the priest said.
(We accuse them of complicity in this heinous crime. Because if they can do this against a person of the Church, they can do this to all of us.)
“Ginagawa na nila ito; 13,000 na ang napatay sa war on drugs. Kailan tayo magsasabi na tama na, sobra na, itigil na ang pagpaslang?” he asked.
(They have been doing this; 13,000 are already dead in the war on drugs. When are we going to speak up that enough is enough, this is too much, that the killings must stop now?)
According to Castor and Karapatan, the murder of Fr. Tito was not the first incident.
Karapatan claimed that on December 3, Lovelito Quiñones, 57, a pastor of Kings Glory Ministry of Sitio Anapla, Brgy. Don Pedro, Mansalay, Oriental Mindoro, was allegedly shot by elements of the Regional Mobile Group (RMG).
“According to the victim’s family, at around 8-8:30pm, Quiñones was on his motorcycle, on his way home, when he was shot. He was already five minutes from his residence when he was shot in the chest. The pastor died instantly,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said in a statement.
“Kin of the victim attested that elements of the RMG even planted a .45 caliber near Quinones’ body. The victim was subjected to a paraffin test, which yielded a negative result,” she added.
On the same day in Mindanao, Palabay said eight members of the T’boli and Dulangan Manobo tribes in Sitio Datal Bong Langon, Brgy. Ned, Lake Sebu, South Cotabato were killed while occupying the area allegedly “land-grabbed by the Consunjis.”
“Indeed, this fascist and terrorist regime has turned the entire country into a killing field, which renders nobody safe. Priests, doctors, lawyers, students, human rights defenders, peasant and indigenous communities, and urban poor communities are open targets by the State’s security forces, emboldened and reassured by their commander-in-chief,” she said.
Karapatan and RMP were not the only organizations that condemned the recent killings.
The Diocese of San Jose also slammed the death of Fr. Tito, who was one of their own.
In a statement issued on December 5, the Diocese of San Jose City denounced the killing of their priest and called on authorities to investigate his death.
“Kami, ang kaparian ng Diyosesis ng San Jose City, Nueva Ecija, kaisa ng mahal na Obispo, ay mariin na kinukundina ang di-makatarungan at marahas na pagpaslang kay Fr. Tito Paez. Kami ay nananawagan sa mga kinauukulan sa pamahalaan na bigyang linaw at katarungan ang kanyang kamatayan,” said the statement by the diocese, signed by Bishop Roberto Mallari.
(We, the priests of the Diocese of San Jose City, Nueva Ecija, one with our beloved Bishop, strongly condemn the unjust and violent killing of Fr. Tito Paez. We are calling on authorities in government to resolve and give justice to his death.)
Meanwhile, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque assured that the Philippine National Police (PNP) would look into the killing of Fr. Tito, Quiñones, and the eight indigenous peoples.
“[L]ike all killings, they will be investigated by police authorities. And if there’s sufficient evidence to charge anyone, then authorities are duty-bound to file the necessary information,” Roque said in a press briefing.
Despite the assurance, Roque reminded the public that the killings have yet to be considered as “political or extrajudicial killings.
“Number one, we do not know yet if this is a political killing pursuant to the definition of the Supreme Court on extra-legal killings ‘no, which is a killing of political activist and a killing of journalist,” he pointed out.
“However, it will be investigated. And if authorities decide that this is an instance of a killing of an activist, then we have AO [Administrative Order] 35 that was created precisely to investigate and prosecute these cases,” he added.
The PNP has ordered the creation of a Special Investigation Task Group (SITG) to look into the case of Fr. Tito.
“The SITG will work 24/7 to resolve the case by arresting and prosecuting the suspects responsible in the killing of retired priest Fr. Paez,” PNP spokesperson Chief Supt. Dionardo Carlos said in a statement.
A ‘tokhang’ victim?
But for Castor, his friend’s death was just one of the apparent patterns of killing perpetuated by those with means and resources against certain people or groups with advocacies that disagrees with certain policies of the Duterte government.
“Magkaparehas po ang pattern ng pagpaslang at propesyunal ang pagkakagawa. Ang makakapagpagawa lang po ng ganitong uri ng pagpaslang ay yung may enough resources to be able to conduct such a coordinated way of killing at di nyo sya mate-trace,” Castor said.
(The patterns of killing are similar and professionally executed. Those who can do this kind of murder are only those who have enough resources to be able to conduct such a coordinated way of killing and you cannot trace them.)
“So palagay ko po ito ay tokhang war ni Pangulong Digong. Dati against drug users, ngayon sa mga leftist at sa mga hinihinalang supporters ng leftist movement,” he added.
(So, I think this is the drug war of President Duterte. Before it is against drug users, now against leftist and suspected supporters of the leftist movement.) /kga
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