Murdered for protecting Community

More and More People are being murdered for protecting their communities from miners loggers and dam builders

Fr, Sean McDonagh, SSC

2016 was a perilous year for people who were defending their community’s lands, natural resources and wildlife. These killings are not isolated in one country. They happen with greater frequency in Latin America and Central America, in Africa and Asia. According to the watchdog group Global Witness, 200 environmentalists, wildlife rangers and indigenous people were killed in 2016.[1] Since 2015, 132 and environmental defenders have died in Brazil. During that same period, 75 people have been killed in the Philippines defending their natural resources or protesting against mines or dams. [2] In 2016, research shows that environmentalists were being killed at the rate of four each week..

Unfortunately, it would appear that murder and other crimes against those who protect their land will be even worse in 2017. In August 2017, data provided exclusively to the Guardian reported that 98 environmentalists have been murdered in the first five months of 2017 [3] No one is immune: In December 4th 2017, a gunman killed Fr. Marcelito Paez, a 72-year-old Catholic priest while he was driving through the town of San Leonardo, Nueval Ecija on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. The attack took occurred hours after Fr. Marcelito Paez had facilitated the release of a political prisoner, Rommel Tucay in Cabunatuan, which is the provincial capital. Mr. Tucay was an organiser for farmers’ groups in the area and he had been arrested in March 2017. Fr. Marcelito was a member of the board for the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP). The RMP is a national, inter-diocesan and inter-congregational organisation of sisters, priests and lay people that works was peasants and indigenous people. Fr. Paez was the group’s Central Luzon coordinator.

Redemptorist priest, Father Oliver Castor, also a member of the RMP, knew Fr. Marcelito very well. He told ucannews.com that (President) Duterte’s offensive against political dissenters follows the pattern of his crackdown against suspected addicts and drug dealers. “It is a systematic killing directed towards a specific section of the population. In the past the targets were drug users, this time it is leftists.”[4] Fr. Castor said that “labelling people’s organisations and their supporters, including Church people, as leftists and destabilisers is chillingly reminiscent of the years of Marcos regime in the Philippines, Marcos.” [5] Harry Roque, a spokesman for President Duterte, said that groups and individuals suspected of “conspiring with the underground movement would be included as targets.”[6]

Fr. Paez’s superior, Bishop Roberto Mallari of San Jose condemned his killing. He pointed out that for many years Fr. Paez had been in charge of the justice desk of the diocese’s social action commission. This would have brought him into close contact with poor workers and farmers, whose rights he had always promoted. Elmer Cato, former journalist and the current Philippine ambassador to Iraq wrote on his Facebook page that Fr. Paez was “true to what he believed in to the end; I mourn the passing of this servant of God and the people.”

Fr.Wilfred Dulay, coordinator of the Missionary Disciples of Jesus congregation remembered his former classmate at San Carlos Seminary in Manila. He ” was 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 and a good shepherd of the people.” 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.[7] Fr. Dulay believes that “was his ‘one mortal sin’ that attracted the wicked purveyors of death,” [8] Benedictine nun and theologian, Sister Mary John Mananzan, said that Fr. Paez was a good friend and passionate activist who never lost his calm demeanor. He was known among poor people in the region as “a wonderful listener,”[9]. Fr. Paez’s murder took place during a two-day period which saw ten activists shot dead in Luzon and in the southern Philippines on the island of Mindanao.

On December 12th 2017, more than a thousand people attended the funeral Mass for Father Marcelito Paez. One hundred priests concelebrated the Mass with two Filipino bishops, San Jose Bishop Roberto Mallari and Cabanatuan Bishop Sofronio Bancud,  who both presided at the Eucharistic celebration. The Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Gabriele Giordano Caccia, also attended the Mass at the Saint Joseph Cathedral in San Jose, in the province of Nueva Ecija. The bishops wore red and violet stoles to proclaim the “martyrdom” of Fr Paez. Fr. Peaz was truly a martyr for poor people.

[1] Jonathan Watts and John Vidal, “Revealed: killings of environmentalists double in five years, The Gaurdian, 14th July 2017, pages 14 and 15

[2] ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] Inday Espina-Varona, Mark Saludes and “Maria Tan, Rage, grielf sweep Philippines after murder of priest,” UCANews.com. December 8th 2017.

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid

[9] ibid

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  1. Mary Vallely says:

    Fr Paez, God rest him, was following in a long line of dedicated missionaries, male and female, true ambassadors for Christ and Christ’s mission. It is a sobering thought to think that greed, injustice and cruelty are as rife everywhere despite over two thousand years of Christianity. There are many lay workers too of course who have spent years fighting poverty and injustice and they are all wonderful examples of Christianity in action. Fr Paez, we have no doubt, is at peace with his loving Saviour now.
    Thanks to Fr Sean McDonagh for continuing to highlight these heartbreaking stories. We are not immune from the same diseases of greed, injustice and cruelty ourselves as we only have to witness the increasing numbers of homeless on the streets of our cities. Meanwhile our big brash neighbour across the Atlantic continues to allow the rich to become even richer whilst the poor sink deeper into poverty and despair.
    It’s always good to be shaken out of our cozy, tinselly comfort zone at this time of the year when we are bombarded with images of happy, smiling, healthy, well-off families on our televisions and the vast abundance of sumptuous and tempting goodies with which to keep the smiles on all our faces.
    Still, I don’t want to sound despairing. There is so much good work going on and that light always shines in the darkness so I wish you all a wonder- filled, peaceful celebration of the Nativity and a big thank you to all those missionaries who continue to inspire us by showing us how to put love into action.

  2. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    These deaths are attributed to excess wealth and the control it brings. What brings excess wealth? Planned obsolescence schemes. Who partakes in these schemes? Who doesn’t?

    So as we support planned obsolescence schemes (and the top of the pyramid of these schemes being the fossil fuel industry), how can we expect to see balance? We are being served opportunities to relax capitalism to its early stages (cooperative living) yet we don’t take advantage of them. It is a life that is completely compatible with the advances in technology this generation tries desperately to bring to market in haste.

    The truth : if you support planned obsolescence, you are also indirectly supporting the extreme circumstances this disparity creates. Care for our common home and the poor has to be central to Catholic teaching because if it is not, anything else we proclaim is wishful thinking. It starts and ends there. If we are all guilty of this, does that mean it is now not sinful? No. It means we are able to enjoy the forgiveness


    Ireland is making unbelievable progress in theory but not yet in application because people feel too uncomfortable to initiate the change needed to make the biggest difference – Catholic hierarchy is not equipped to, that’s for sure. #72 is where my feet are firmly planted – it is the most challenging but rewarding item on the list. Having met with my local bishop on the 20/12, he was quick to exclaim that they had looked at the possibility but decided it wasn’t feasible. It wasn’t feasible to care for our common home and the poor (remember: cooperative systems eliminate the need for economic disparity). “It wasn’t feasible…” He then declared “priest push-back”. I took three minutes to explain a few things to him and then I confirmed that he would never have a problem with “priest push-back” for care for our common home and the poor.

    After explaining to him the source of my motivation and determination (a father of 2 children who live with endocrine disorders) he knows my passion will never run dry on this topic. It took me no more than three minutes for him to write “immediate meeting with the social justice committee” in his planner. I don’t have to debate with climate change sceptics. The truth is in the effects pollution and plastics have on our health and well being.

    We owe it to future generations to “wake up” to the realities of who we are and what our combined legacy is and continues to be. “Loud Odyssey” is being launched on our shores in 2018. It is a platform I will give to the reform groups in Ireland FOC. Our first scheduled featured artist (in our *carbon-free* parish fund raiser) will be Sean O’Conaill with his novel “The Chain That Binds The Earth”. Each month onward, a new artist will be featured (6 men/6 women) and will provide donor rewards during a yearly subscription period. At the end of the 12 months, a bulk order will be processed for solar panels. Industry professionals will then continue the process of converting the parish.

    Can cooperative solar save us from planned obsolescence? Perhaps if we see the gift of giving for what it really is – an opportunity to shine our own precious light in the darkness that pervades our planet.

    Merry Christmas to the ACP and ACI teams/supporters from this “Crazy Canuck”. All the best in 2018.

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