Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Line of Fire

A month after the heavily-Catholic Philippines mourned its especially devout former president, a priest who oversaw his diocese's social action efforts was shot and killed on a roadway on Sunday:
[P]olice reported that about 30 armed men shot at the vehicle of Father Cecilio "Pete" Lucero of St. Joseph the Worker Church in Catubig town. The parish priest was traveling along the national highway in Layuhan, San Jose, in Northern Samar province, at the time.

The priest, 48, reportedly died on the spot. His lay companion, Isidro Miras, was wounded in the incident.

[Catarman] Bishop [Emmanuel] Trance condemned the murder and demanded justice....

"After being wounded by several rifle shots, one man walked up to his (Father Lucero's) window and put a bullet in his head to be sure he was dead," Bishop Trance said quoting police reports from witnesses.

No one has claimed responsibility for the killing, and the police and military said they have no leads. Bishop Trance says it could be any of several groups who may have been threatening his priest.

"Since he was in human rights work, and traveled all over to investigate crimes ... he had angered the military and insurgents," the prelate explained.

Additionally, the slain priest's older brother, Wilmar Lucero, had served as congressman and is running in the 2010 elections, so Samar clergy cannot rule out a political motive either, the bishop said. Many political killings have occurred in the province, where unauthorized firearms reportedly are rife.

"Many murders are never solved, and that was Father Lucero's work -- to demand justice for those killed," the bishop added.

The prelate said Father Lucero had reported receiving death threats. He added that Father Lucero said he had no idea who was threatening him in the letters that started arriving last February, when the mayor of Catubig was murdered.

Father Lucero asked for police protection. A security escort, Eugene Bation, was traveling with him when he was shot and reportedly fired back at the gunmen, prompting them to flee.

"We feel Father Lucero was being tailed, because when he arrived at San Jose, the assassins were waiting for him," Bishop Trance said.
In a statement on Lucero's death, a church-backed rights group he was affiliated with termed the murder another of the "extra-judicial killings of church people that was perpetuated by the state" -- a count now numbering 26, according to the group, the Promotion of Church People's Response.

Clerics "who actively denounced the abuses of government officials and military forces [have] received series of death threats and were tagged as communists or [opposition] supporters by military," the PCPR added.

"The killing of Fr. Lucero is an attack to the Christian faith and humanity that aspire freedom, genuine peace and justice," it said. "Time and again, the religious and faithful are being called to stand firm in defending human life and protecting the democratic rights of the people."

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Meanwhile, in other matters Pinoy, while the country awaits Pope Benedict's appointment of the next head of its marquee diocese -- the 3-million member Manila church -- a leading prospect to succeed 77 year-old Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales was moved off the shortlist this morning by receiving a transfer elsewhere.

The lead protege of the titanic Cardinal Jaime Sin, 48 year-old Bishop Socrates Villegas was named archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan, a million-member fold some 100 miles north of the capital.

Ordained a bishop at 40 and given his first diocese three years later, Villegas becomes the youngest Filipino archbishop.