Board member of NE-CBHP, one of ASTM’s partner organizations in the Philippines, assassinated

ASTM was deeply shocked, saddened and angered to learn that Father Marcelito Paez, treasurer of our partner organization Nueva Ecija Community Based Health Program, has been brutally murdered. He was shot on 4 December in his car by assassins on motorbike and died shortly afterwards in hospital. He was 72.
Various members of ASTM met him during visits to the Philippines, the last time being last August when one of our Board members appreciated being able to discuss the current situation in the Philippines with him over dinner.
Marcelito “Tito” Paez was born in San Jose City, Nueva Ecija, and served as a parish priest in the Province until his retirement in 2015. Since the time of martial law under dictator Ferdinand Marcos he had always been firmly committed to serving the poor and to the defence of human rights, particularly the rights of small and landless farmers, and continued this work after his retirement.
He had been at the forefront of campaigns against militarization in Nueva Ecija and Central Luzon, and led church service for communities and victims of human rights violations. In the 1980s he was active in the campaigns for the removal of the US military bases from the Philippines and against the planned Bataan Nuclear Power Plant. As a result of his political engagement and pro-poor activities he had frequently been threatened and harassed by the military under the past administrations, especially under that of President Gloria Arroyo.
Father Paez was a long-time member of the Board of Trustees of ASTM’s partner organization, Nueva Ecija Community Based Health Program, which helps local rural communities in the Province to develop autonomous health-care systems to compensate for the lack of public health provision. He was elected Board Treasurer in 2012.
He was also the local coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, a body that brings together religious men and women that are engaged to defend the rights of the poorest in the rural suburbs of the Philippines.  
Just hours before his death, Paez had facilitated the release from the Provincial jail of a peasant organizer belonging to a local peasant movement that is protesting against the activities of mining companies and the spread of large-scale plantations in the area. There is no doubt in the minds of those working with him that his murder is directly linked to his securing the release of the prisoner.
Father Paez is the first Catholic priest to become a victim of the political killings under President Duterte that have increased dramatically over the past months since the President ordered a crackdown on organizations opposed to the high level of human rights abuses under his administration. According to the Philippine human rights organization Karapatan, 104 critics and human rights defenders have been killed since Duterte since he came to power in 2016.
ASTM strongly condemns the assassination of Father Paez and extends its deepest sympathy to his family and to the Board and staff of NE-CBHP at this great loss.

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