Even with the memory of the Reverend Cecilio Lucero’s death still fresh in the minds of the people of Northern Samar, the military continues to implement the counter-insurgency program in the province, targeting civilians.
By RITCHE T. SALGADO
CATARMAN, Northern Samar – Sept. 6 was just like any other Sunday in the laid-back town of San Jose, Northern Samar.
Along the National Highway, a little less than a kilometer away from the cemetery, Nena*, 30, was doing her laundry outside the house of Maria Rosales. Maria was feeding her baby while the rest of her kids were watching Sunday cartoons on television.
At around 8 a.m., a speeding maroon van passed by and the calm was broken by a series of gunshots. Nena stood up but froze in place, shocked and fearful for her life. It was then that she noticed a man suddenly come out from behind a clump of banana trees near the well across the street. It is from this well where Nena gets her water for her laundry. She related that when she fetched water earlier, she did not notice anything suspicious.
Maria, on the other hand, instinctively gathered her children and hid inside the house. She, too, was able to catch a glimpse of a man carrying a long firearm running after the van.
In the cemetery, Carlos was delivering some materials to Jose who was working on a grave that will be used that day. When they heard gunshots they immediately dove prone to the ground to avoid any stray bullets.
The van skidded until it finally came to a halt opposite the cemetery. Five armed men continued shooting at the van until a loud explosion was heard up to the town center, which was then full of activity as there was a medical mission being conducted by the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office just in front of the police station.
Jose said the people who assaulted the van were the same ones he saw at around 6 a.m. that day, loitering around the cemetery premises. When he returned two hours later, they were no longer there, only to surface for the ambush.
When the suspects stopped firing, four ran to the direction of Barangay Aguadahan, while one came towards Carlos, aimed a gun at him and said in waray, the local language, “What are you doing here?” to which he replied, “I’m just working, sir.”
The Escape and PO2 Bation
Around 8:45, Mario, 37, was working on the copra he gathered when four men, who he immediately assumed to be members of the military, passed by. They were of heavy-build, well-armed and carrying backpacks.
Mario said the four were headed toward Sitio Palusong in Barangay Aguadahan. Out of fear, he did not dare look at them, instead he continued with his work, surmising that probably the soldiers had just had an armed encounter with New People’s Army (NPA) fighters.
Back at the ambush site, people started to gather when they realized that the victim was the peace-loving, human-rights advocate the Reverend Cecilio P. Lucero, 48, parish priest of Catubig, Samar.
His police escort, PO2 Eugene Bation escaped the ambush unscathed with only splashes of the priest’s blood on his forehead and shoulder, despite the rain of bullets that literally crumpled the van.
The only other passenger Isidro Miras was in critical condition after sustaining multiple gunshot wounds on his body and head.
According to autopsy reports, Father Lucero died of “shock due to multiple gunshot and shrapnel wounds on different parts of the body.”
By 9 a.m. PO2 Bation arrived at the San Jose Police Station, which is approximately a minute away from the ambush site, to ask for back up. According to the blotter written by PO3 Rodolfo Anabiso, the police left the station 15 minutes later. Eyewitness accounts, however, claimed that the police arrived at the scene at around 10 a.m. Their arrival was followed by a burst of gunfire, scattering the people who started to gather at the crime scene. Anabiso was transferred to Rosario Police Station after the incident.
First Priest Killed in 400 years
The incident drew public outrage. Father Lucero was the first Roman Catholic priest to be killed in the island since Catholicism was introduced 400 years ago. Human-rights activists in the region said Father Lucero was a victim of the Arroyo government’s counter-insurgency campaign dubbed Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL).