Benjie Oliveros | Father Lucero’s Murder Signifies Escalation of Extrajudicial Killings


MANILA — Buried under the news of the devastation caused by two storms Ondoy and Pepeng is an equally alarming development — the killing of a parish priest the Reverend Cecilio Lucero in Northern Samar. Father Lucero was ambushed by heavily armed men suspected to be soldiers last September 6 at 8 a.m. The killing was well-planned as the killers waited in ambush as early as 6 a.m. Father Lucero died from multiple gunshot and shrapnel wounds. One of his companions, Isidro Miras, also sustained multiple gunshot wounds. Ironically, his police escort P02 Eugene Bation was the only one who escaped unscathed.

Surprisingly, the news of Father Lucero’s killing did not get much attention from the media and the general public. Probably because Northern Samar is so far from Metro Manila, the news of his killing did not land in the headlines. The fact-finding mission that investigated Father Lucero’s killing, which was held from October 7 to 10, could have brought more information to the general public. But the devastation caused by Ondoy and Pepeng had been filling the news.

This is unfortunate as Father Lucero’s killing signifies a very alarming development. First, it shows that extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances still persist and impunity still prevails.

Just recently, October 8, a news item appeared stating that European Union (EU) Alistair Mc Donald and Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita signed a financing agreement whereby the EU committed to provide 3.9 million euros or about $5.8 million to help the government stop extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. The funding is aimed at strengthening the criminal justice system and supporting the Commission on Human Rights in prosecuting the perpetrators, establishing a national monitoring system, and providing human rights awareness training to the police and military. Why the EU channeled the funds to the Arroyo government when it is primarily responsible for the impunity is anybody’s guess. Barely a week after the signing, the EU announced that it is working out a bilateral agreement with the Arroyo government.

Second, not only do the killings and disappearances persist, those responsible are becoming bolder and more desperate. Father Lucero is the first Catholic priest to become a victim of extrajudicial killings ever since the ouster of the Marcos dictatorship. The perpetrators had the temerity to risk the political implications of killing a Catholic priest who was even involved in human rights advocacy. If they could kill a priest, pastors, doctors (Dr. Rogelio Peñera was the most recent victim who was a medical doctor. He was killed in Davao City June 24), lawyers, barangay officials, they could kill just about anybody.

During the first three months of the year, extrajudicial killings were being committed at a rate of one victim per week.

If extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances continue to receive little attention from the media and the general public, it would surely escalate once more. The number of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances declined in 2007 because of pressures from the international community and the general public. But the fact that no perpetrator has been brought before the bar of justice shows that the Arroyo government has no intention of putting a stop to the killings and abductions; it is merely lying low while the pressure is strong.

Impunity prevails not merely because of the ineptitude of the police in investigating the killings. It prevails because the Arroyo government has no intention of prosecuting and is obviously protecting the perpetrators. Worse, impunity prevails because extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances are part of official policy: it is integral to and a main feature of Oplan Bantay Laya, the Arroyo government’s counter-insurgency program. The Arroyo government has seven months before it would relinquish power, if it would do so. A lot could still happen in seven months if the Filipino people, as well as the international community, would not remain vigilant. (

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