Philippines: priest killed after receiving death threats

A parish priest who worked for human rights in the Philippines was shot dead in his car yesterday, UCAN reports. A passenger was injured.

Eastern Visayas police say that Father Cecilio 'Pete' Lucero,48, parish priest of St Joseph the Worker Church in Catubig town died after about 30 gunmen opened fire on his car, as he was traveling along the national highway in Layuhan, San Jose, in Northern Samar province.

Bishop Emmanuel Trance of Catarman  said Fr Pete,  who directed his central diocese's human rights desk, had been  receiving death threats for some time.

Bishop Trance condemned the murder and demanded justice. He told UCA News that Father Lucero had just returned to San Jose from a family wedding on a nearby island when he and his companions were ambushed.

"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.

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.

Father Lucero had 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.

The slain priest was originally expected to arrive in San Jose the night before, but waited because of rough seas and took the first launch in the morning.

Police in the Eastern Visayas region have organized an investigative body that will look into Father Lucero's murder, the Philippine National Police (PNP) announced today.

Chief Superintendent Mario San Diego, Regional Director of Police Regional Office 8, which serves Samar, said a Special Investigation Task Group named SITG Lucero has been created to coordinate all investigative efforts of different PNP units involved in the probe of Father Lucero's killing.

San Diego said the investigation seeks not only to identify the persons involved in the murder but also to establish a strong case in court against those responsible.

Father Lucero's body will be brought to San Roque Parish, were he earlier served as parish priest. From San Roque it will be taken to his parish in Catubig, and then on to his hometown of Gamay, Northern Samar.

Sister Maria Clare Dabuet of the Catarman Diocesan Center told UCA News that priests would accompany the body from parish to parish. According to the Missionaries of the Child Jesus nun, burial plans have yet to be made.

Source: UCAN

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