It was with shock and deep sadness that we received the news about the brutal and senseless murder of Fr. Marcelito “Tito” Paez by unidentified assailants on Monday, 04 December 2017. We extend our heartfelt condolences to our brother bishop, the Most Rev. Roberto C. Mallari, D.D., Bishop of Diocese of San Jose, Nueva Ecija, to his clergy, as well as to the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, which he volunteered to serve after his retirement.
We refuse to consider Fr. Tito Paez as just another addition to the already very long list of VICTIMS of extrajudicial killings in our country. No, Fr. Tito wasn’t just a victim; he should be counted among our MARTYRS. Victims have no choice with their fate; martyrs do. Fr. Tito had made the choice to witness to Christ at all cost since a long time ago. He had been consistent in his option to be on the side of the poor. His involvement in the defense of the human dignity of the downtrodden, especially rural farmers, spans several decades. In short, Fr. Tito embraced his ministry with full awareness of its possible hazards on his own safety. He knew about the risks of his kind of work on his life.
Most of the bullets that riddled Fr. Tito’s vehicle were obviously meant for the passenger who the killers thought was still with him. Fr. Tito had facilitated the release of a prisoner upon acquittal, earlier on that day. While bleeding profusely from two gunshot wounds, he even had the courage to face his assailants and proclaim what his life and ministry was about: “I AM A PRIEST!” On hearing this, his assailants ran away; they must have been surprised to find out that this priest had taken two of the nine bullets meant for the man they had really intended to kill.
Like Maximilian Kolbe, Fr. Tito, had traded places with somebody else. He is therefore a powerful witness to what Jesus said to his disciples in the Gospel of John, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15, 13)
We draw courage and inspiration from that “greater love” that Fr. Tito has witnessed to. We also call on the authorities in government to conduct a serious investigation on the murder of Fr. Tito, and bring to a resolution, not just his death, but the countless other “deaths under investigation” that have seriously disturbed our peace as a nation in the past several months.
From the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, 21 December 2017
+ ROMULO G. VALLES, D.D.
Archbishop of Davao
President, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines