A HUMAN rights activist Roman Catholic priest died while being treated in a hospital after motorcycle-riding gunmen shot him in Jaen, Nueva Ecija on Monday night.
Police said Father Marcelito Paez, 72, was on his way home driving his vehicle when assailants attacked him along the road in Barangay Lambakin at about 8 p.m. He died while being treated at Gonzales General Hospital in San Leonardo town also in Nueva Ecija.
Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said the priest earlier on Monday helped facilitate the release of political detainee Rommel Tucay from the Cabanatuan City Provincial Jail.
In March, Tucay, an organizer of the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon-Nueva Ecija was arrested by the Philippine Army’s 56th Infantry Battalion in his house in Carranglan town.
Palabay said Paez is the first Catholic priest to become a victim of a political killing under President Duterte’s administration.
Paez served the Diocese of San Jose for 32 years since 1984 and was coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines in Central Luzon.
He is known as an activist who was not spared from threats and harassment from certain authorities.
In the 1980s, Paez led a campaign against the US military bases and the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant under the Central Luzon Alliance for a Sovereign Philippines and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-Central Luzon.
He is a native of San Jose City and has been assigned as parish priest in the towns of Santo Domingo, Guimba, Nampicuan, Rizal and General Natividad, in the province. He retired in 2015 but remained active in working for the rights of the poor and farmers.
Malacañang on Tuesday assured that the government will investigate the killing of Paez to determine if it is politically motivated and covered under Administrative Order (AO) 35 that probes extra-judicial killings.
Palace spokesman Harry Roque said it is too early to tell if the killing of the activist priest is “political.”
The AO 35 signed by former president Benigno Aquino 3rd created the inter-agency committee on extra-legal killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other grave violations of the right to life, liberty and security of persons.
Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Jose condemned “the unjust and brutal killing” of Paez through a statement signed on Tuesday by San Jose Bishop Roberto Mallari.
“We call on the authorities to conduct an investigation and give justice to his death,” it said.
The Diocese also called on Catholics to pray that justice be served for Paez’ death and for the repose of his soul.
In a radio interview, Mallari said Paez rose to the challenge of serving the people, “up to the point of offering one’s life.”
“This is also a challenge for us priests to be ready to stand for truth, justice, for the good of the people especially those who have no voice,” Mallari said over Church-run Radio Veritas.
WITH CATHERINE S. VALENTE AND ASHLEY ERIKA JOSE