Paez retired from church service in 2015 but served the diocese for more 30 years since its establishment in 1984. Facebook/Marcelito Paez

CBCP: Killing of activist priest an attack on the Church
(philstar.com) - December 15, 2017 - 3:55am

MANILA, Philippines — The Catholic Church on Friday said the killing of activist priest Marcelito "Tito" Paez, as a reflection of the "deterioration of values and respect of human life" in the country.

In a statement, the National Secretariat for Social Action - Justice and Peace/Caritas Philippines of the Catholic Bishops' of the Philippines (NASSA/Caritas Philippines) condemned the killing of Paez as "an attack on the Church and her mission for social justice and empowerment of the poor."

It stressed: "It slowly creates social awareness among Filipinos that no one is safe anymore in the present socio-political situation in the country."

Paez was gunned down while he was on his way home on the night of December 4. He was immediately brought to a hospital in Nueva Ecija, but was declared dead a few hours later.

Human rights groups from all over the world continue to criticize the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte for creating a culture of impunity, criticism that past administrations have also received.

Police have tallied more than 6,000 drug-related deaths in the 18 months of the Duterte presidency while critics and human rights groups have estimates as high as 13,000.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, on September, issued its strongest statement to date slamming the rising spate of killings.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas, then-president of the CBCP, said: "The Church must be at the forefront of the intense and fervent struggle against a culture of death or the Church betrays Christ."

Paez was rights advocate

Paez is a former parish priest of Guimba town and was a coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines in Central Luzon when he was killed.

The 72-year old priest earlier helped facilitate the release of political prisoners in Nueva Ecija—an act that the NASSA/Caritas Philippines said may have been the "mistake in the eyes of the persecutors" that cost the priest his life.

"He was very active in the social action programs of the Diocese of San Jose, particularly in the Justice and Peace Office which the primary goal is to uphold the human rights of the poor," the NASSA/Caritas Philippines also said.

The Church also called for the government to "conduct a thorough investigation of the incident and arrest the perpetrators to give justice for the death of Fr. Tito."

It also demanded the government to "stop its security forces from acts of violence on Church people who commit themselves to serve and work with the poor towards empowerment and development."

The Church noted in its statement that "assailants are suspected to be state security forces or their assets."

The Malacañang vowed to probe into the killing of Paez.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, however, was careful to brand the killing of the priest as "political." He stressed: "We do not know yet if this is a political killing pursuant to the definition of the Supreme Court on extralegal killings, which is the killing of political activists and the killing of journalists."

The Church reiterated its plea with the government as it said: "As long as the government only serves and works for and with the 'few,' conflicts of interest may fuel government to attack anyone or groups who work for social justice and common good."

The Church also rallied the faithful to "denounce the latest killings and all brutal and senseless killings in the name of change."

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