Philippines, killed a priest-defender of human rights
|GIORGIO BERNARDELLI 05/12/2017|
Yet another priest killed in the Catholic Philippines. Yet another priest who has been engaged for decades in battles for social justice in rural areas of the country. The other night, in the district of Nueva Ecija, in the central part of the great island of Luzon, a killer on a motorbike shot Father Marcelito (Tito) Paez, a 72-years-old priest of the local diocese of San José who died shortly afterwards in hospital.
Father Titus had been responsible for social pastoral care in his diocese and was currently the local coordinator of the Rural Missionaries, a body that in the Philippines brings together religious men and women from various congregations engaged to defend the rights of the poorest in the rural suburbs of the Philippines.
What shocks about the Priest’s death, is that just yesterday, Father Tito was able to obtain the release of an activist belonging to the local peasant movements which is protesting against the advance of mining companies and the spread of large plantations in the area. Rommel Tucay – arrested in March on charges of flanking the Maoist guerrilla warfare of the Npa – had been released after almost nine months, thanks to the legal battle carried out in his favor by the priest. In the evening someone must have decided to kill Father Paez for this very reason.
“We strongly condemn the brutal and unjust killing of Father Tito Paez – the bishop of San José, Monsignor Roberto Mallari wrote in a note – We ask the authorities to investigate and do justice to his death”.
It is not the first time that a priest has been killed in such circumstances in the Philippines: there are many similarities, for example, between this murder and the death of Father Fausto Tentorio, the Italian missionary of the Pime killed in Mindanao in 2011. Father Tentorio was also linked to the Rural Missionaries; and he, too – for his commitment to defending the rights of the Manobo populations in the Arakan valley – was pointed out as a NPA supporter, in a context where ruthless paramilitary groups have economic interests and are on the pay-role of corrupted politicians.
It should be added that it is also the general context in which Father Paez’ murder takes place that is worrying. On 23 November last year, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared formally closed the peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front, the organization considered to be the political arm of the Maoist guerrilla warrior. The dialogue was the result of a mediation led by Norwegian diplomacy, and at the beginning of his mandate, Duterte said he was willing to relaunch it. But instead, things broke down triggering new clashes between the Npa and the Filipino army, especially in rural areas, strongholds of the militiamen.
Duterte has therefore ordered an all-out fight against the Maoist guerrilla warfare, but the fear is that it could become the pretext for getting rid of many other uncomfortable voices in the rural areas.