Tributes pour in for slain Filipino priest

Ambassadors, bishops and journalists describe Father Marcelito Paez as a courageous, patient and exemplary priest
Tributes pour in for slain Filipino priest

Religious lay people demand justice for the murder of Fr. Marcelito Paezwho was gunned down Dec. 4 in San Leonardo, Nueva Ecija province. (Photo by Angie de Silva)

Ambassadors, bishops and journalists paid tribute to slain priest Father Marcelito Paez recalling his "unflinching courage" and patience in building coalitions for justice.

Father Wilfredo Dulay, coordinator-general of the Missionary Disciples of Jesus congregation, remembered his former classmate at the San Carlos Seminary as "always smiling, often laughing, at ease with everyone and putting anyone he was with at ease."

"He was the caring pastor of parishioners wherever he was assigned. He was a good shepherd of the people," he added.

While Fr. Paez was unfailingly polite to authorities, even when being provoked, Fr. Dulay said he was open about standing up for the victims of oppression and injustice.

"That was his 'one mortal sin' that attracted the wicked purveyors of death," Fr. Dulay said.

Gunmen shot Fr. Paez on Dec. 4 in San Leonardo in Nueva Ecija province, 180 kilometers northeast of the capital. He died later at a local hospital.

The motive behind the priest's slaying remains a mystery.


'Servant of God and the people'

"He was true to what he believed in to the end; I mourn the passing of this servant of God and the people," former journalist and now Philippine ambassador to Iraq Elmer Cato wrote on his Facebook page.

Cato said he knew "Father Tito" (Paez's nickname) during his days as a central Luzon activist-journalist in the 1980s.

"As one of the leaders of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, the Pinagisang Gitnang Luson para sa Adhikain ng Sambayanan, and the Central Luzon Alliance for a Sovereign Philippines, Father Tito was at the forefront of the anti [U.S.] bases and anti-nuclear movement in the region," Cato said.

"We had many interesting conversations during the many protest actions in the region during those tumultuous times where we were all open targets. Father Tito and many others survived that dark period in our history although some of us did not," he added.

Carlos Marquez, another journalist from the region, said Fr. Paez was "the brain" in many mass actions he had covered.

But the priest he said, never appeared grim whatever the challenge they faced.

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Fr. Paez, a retired priest, served on the national board of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), a multi-denominational group of clergy, religious and laypeople that works with peasants and indigenous groups.

"His commitment to serving the rural poor is an inspiration to church people," the RMP said in a statement.

"He served the people to his last breath. He sought to align the social teachings of the church with the legitimate demands of the people. He fought for people's rights and interests," said the group.

Benedictine nun, Sister Mary John Mananzan, said Fr. Paez was a good friend and passionate activist who never lost his calm demeanor.

He was known among poor people in a region as "a wonderful listener," she said.

"It seems that church people are now the target. They should know that this will not stop church people from their commitments. History shows that the blood of martyrs water this commitment," said Mananzan.

Fr. Paez was an exemplary priest, and surely God has welcomed him in His Kingdom," said Balanga Bishop Ruperto Santos

"It is indeed very sad news, a very tragic event and a great loss to the Diocese of Cabanatuan. Justice must be served and the culprits must be apprehended and prosecuted," the bishop added.

Fr. Paez's death occurred four hours after he facilitated the release of a political prisoner.

His murder happened during a two-day period which saw ten activists shot dead in Luzon and the southern Philippines island of Mindanao.

He will be buried in San Jose Diocese on Dec. 11. 


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