Thousands rally for ouster of terror priest

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NAGUILIAN, La Union  – More than 6,000 faithful and parishioners from various barangays here have joined the ‘peace rally’ Saturday morning to call for the ouster of the parish priest who was accused for bad behavior and numerous irregularities in church administration.

The protesters, holding placards denouncing Reverend Raul Panay, marched from various directions and trooped to the town plaza at around 7:00 a.m. for a prayer and reading and signing of the petition written in large tarpaulins.

Incidentally, coinciding with the rally is the burial of four persons who was delayed because Panay was out of nowhere and a guest priest was invited to officiate the funeral mass.

At least 27,000 parishioners have already signed the petition seeking the relief of the Panay, parish priest of St. Augustine of Hippo Parish here, for alleged bad behavior such as threatening, insulting, and harassing faithful and the officers of Parish Pastoral Council (PPC).

The complaint against Panay has reached the office of La Union Bishop Rodolfo Beltran, La Union local government officials, and Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.

Based on the petition, among the numerous complaints against Panay is that he allegedly was heard by some PPC officers uttering to shoot Mr. Henry Bambao, president of the United Naguilian, La Union Circle of America, Inc, – an organization conducting fund-raising drive for church’s projects in America.

The threat sowed fear among PPC officers and parishioners because someone had seen Panay keeping a gun at his room at the convent.

Panay was also accused of insulting Mrs. Cresencia Belen, PPC president of Barangay Ortiz, by putting her in an embarrassing situation during the first PPC meeting on February, 28, 2015. He even finger-pointed Josefina Aromin, the PPC president.

He also allegedly used PPC fund to buy cases of beer and pulutan for his guests inside his room during his assumption as parish priest on Feb. 16 and no financial report has been made since he took office. He also allegedly wants to control the PPC fund.

Parishioners also complained that Panay has increased the rate of funeral services (from P1,000 to P1,500) and baptismal services (from P50 to P100) without consultations and even shortened the time of masses. He allegedly complained if given lesser amount during outside services such as blessings and prayers.

He also pressured Mr. Ireneo Belen to resign as PPC officer and Everlyn Aquino as secretary of the parish office.

Panay also allegedly changed the policies in the parish and one of it is by making his room as the place for counting donations and offerings and not the parish office.

Parishioners claimed that mass attendance is now dwindling because of Panay’s attitudes who sometimes insults people inside the church.

For his side, Panay denied all the allegations when he appeared at the office of Mayor Reynaldo Flores and was also defended by Bishop Beltran by warning that Bambao and Belen would be excommunicated by sowing disorder in the church.

Mayor Flores, however after conducting consultations, stand by the side of the PPC officers and parishioners and convinced that Panay is lying which should be relieved or transferred to another parish.

Flores said the Bishop should have initiated an investigation and not castigates immediately the complaining PPC officers and parishioners.

“Actually before the assignment of Fr. Panay on Feb. 16, 2015, we, the parishioners and the former parish priests had very cordial and very effective relationships which resulted in the planning and accomplishment of various projects. It is only now that we are having a problem with our priest,” Belen said.

It was learned that parishioners in nearby Sto. Tomas and Rosario towns also deplored Panay’s action and policies when he was their parish priest.

By Dexter A. See

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