Ambushed Ilocos Pastor had Death Threats

Ambushed Ilocos Pastor had Death Threats

The United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) pastor and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance) leader in Ilocos region who survived an assassination attempt by gun-toting men on a motorcycle along Del Pilar Street in Vigan City last Nov. 9 had received death threats prior to the attack. Rev. Billy Austin, who is in his 40s, had been receiving death threats through text messages sent to his mobile phone, reports from the Ilocos Human Rights Advocates (IHRA) show.

The United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) pastor and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance) leader in Ilocos region who survived an assassination attempt by gun-toting men on a motorcycle along Del Pilar Street in Vigan City last Nov. 9 had received death threats prior to the attack. Rev. Billy Austin, who is in his 40s, had been receiving death threats through text messages sent to his mobile phone, reports from the Ilocos Human Rights Advocates (IHRA) show.

{mosimage} The United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) pastor and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance) leader in Ilocos region who survived an assassination attempt by gun-toting men on a motorcycle along Del Pilar Street in Vigan City (405 kms north of Manila) last Nov. 9 had received death threats prior to the attack. Rev. Billy Austin, who is in his 40s, had been receiving death threats through text messages sent to his mobile phone, reports from the Ilocos Human Rights Advocates (IHRA) show.

Bayan-Ilocos chairman Rev. Billy Austin was attacked by two unidentified gunmen aboard a motorcycle around 9 p.m. last Nov. 9. He sustained two gunshot wounds, one on each upper leg. His two companions, Avelino Dacanay and Lenville Salvador, were unharmed after they scampered for safety.

Dacanay is the secretary-general of the Solidarity of Peasants Against Exploitation (Stop-Exploitation) while Salvador is also a UCCP pastor and Bayan Muna (People First) leader.

Based on an IHRA report, Austin and his companions were attending the Ecumenical Human Rights Training at the United Methodist Church in Vigan when the assassination attempt was pulled.

Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) chairperson Beverly Longid disclosed during a recent press conference that on the said evening, Austin was on his way to the Bayan office, a few meters away from the training area to do some paper work. She said the bullets lodged in Austin’s legs were from a .45 caliber pistol.

Longid said the human rights training is a response to the escalating human rights violations in the Ilocos region. She added that the activity included basic human rights familiarization, paralegal training and education on the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).

“Clearly Austin’s case is a part of one grand scheme of the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo government to silence her critics not only in Ilocos but all over the country, the Oplan Bantay Laya,” Longid stressed.

Longid further said that Austin is now out of danger and is guarded by police officers. She said suspicious men who refused to identify themselves insisted on seeing Austin in his room at the Lahoz Clinic and Hospital where he was rushed.

Sr. Alice SoberaƱas of the Association of Women Religious urged the people to unite and call for a stop to the killings. She said the escalating attacks on and killings of church workers is alarming and disturbing. She added that the killing of church workers and progressive group members is a disrespect to the sanctity of life, dignity of human beings and total disregard to the right to life.

Ngayon, kapag hindi ka umaayon (sa gobyerno) ay wala kang karapatang mabuhay” (Now, if you don’t agree with the government, you have no right to live), SoberaƱas said. She further said that if there is doubt on the legality of a person’s action, he should be punished under the due process of law.

Ecumenical Theolocigal Seminary President Rev. Luna Dingayan said Austin is not the first UCCP pastor or church worker to fall victim to the “senseless” killings. He said that some of his former students have been killed. He added that some of his current students miss their classes because they could not come back after weekend vacations due to military operations in their respective towns.

Dingayan said the church should serve all peoples and not only its members. He also said service to the people needs sacrifice and is risky. “A true servant of the Lord is willing to face the challenges and risks of serving the poor, the weak and the needy,” he said. “History shows that even the early prophets were persecuted and killed by the powers that be for exposing and criticizing their evil acts.”

Vigan City Mayor Ferdinand Medina has ordered policemen to investigate the shooting and come up with immediate results because it might affect tourist confidence here. “I hope it will not affect the outlook on Vigan,” the mayor said.

Vigan, Ilocos Sur’s capital, is one of the country’s primary tourist destinations in the North.

Based on data from Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights), there have been 780 victims of extra-judicial killings from January 2001 – when President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was catapulted to power through a popular uprising – to Nov. 11, 2006. Of this number, 339 are confirmed to have been political activists.

Austin is not the first church leader to be shot in Ilocos Sur. On Nov. 28, 2005, Jose “Pepe” Manegdeg III, a member of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), was shot by alleged assassins while waiting for a Manila-bound bus in San Esteban town. He was killed in the attack. Until now, authorities have yet gto get a breakthrough in Manegdeg’s killing.