For decades Samar Island has been the scene of an armed conflict between the Filipino military and fighters with the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
Under the pretext of fighting the rebels the Filipino military for years has been responsible for abuses against the civilian population, in particular farmers. Many of those who dare to speak out against such abuses have been forced into silence.
Fr Lucero ran a human rights organisation, the Social Action Center (SAC). His death comes in the wake of a series of unsolved murders, 18 in the last six months..
For Bishop Trance political reasons could be behind the assassination. “For his work in defence of human rights and his inquiries into suspicious deaths that occurred in recent months, he had antagonised both the military and the Communists,” the prelate said.
The priest’s two brothers are in fact both politically active in the area. Wilmar Lucero, a former congressman, is slated to run for the presidency next year. Antonio Lucero is assistant governor in Samar del Norte province.
According to Flor Chantal Eco, general secretary of the human rights organisation Katungod Sinirangang Bisaya, Fr Lucero’s death is related to his work as a human rights advocate.
“Many farmers turned to him for assistance every time the military or the rebels violated their rights,” she said.
“Because of his activity in favour of the population he had received so many threats from the military that he had to travel with an escort,” she added.
Meanwhile the situation in the region remains tense. On Tuesday the ecumenical human rights organisation Promotion of the People’s Response (PCPR), which Father Lucero chaired from 2001 to 2003, organised a big demonstration to protest against his death and demand justice from the government.
For the demonstrators the clergyman was a “defender of the poor and the oppressed,” another victim of the spate of murders that has swept over the island in the recent past and which Father Lucero himself was investigating.
“We fully support every effort to bring those responsible for this cowardly crime to justice,” said Mgr Broderick S. Pabillo, chairman of the National Secretariat of Social Action (NASSA) of the Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.
For his part regional police chief Mario R. San Diego announced that a special forces unit will be set up to coordinate the overall police investigation.