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Slain Filipino pastor’s family awaits justice

Jonathan Sta. Rosa recounts how his brother, the Rev. Isaias Sta. Rosa, was abducted from his home and killed by masked gunmen in August 2006. More than 800 people in the Philippines have been killed under suspicious circumstances since 2001. A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert.

First in a series

By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Nov. 19, 2007 | MANILA, Philippines (UMNS)

Jonathan Sta. Rosa was sitting quietly at home when masked gunmen stormed into his house demanding information about his brother, the Rev. Isaias Sta. Rosa.

The gunmen ordered him to take them to his brother's house and knock on the door.

"They pointed their guns at us and ordered us to lie on the floor," Jonathan recalled with a shaky voice. "They tied (Isaias) up and beat him and then dragged him out of the house. We heard gunshots and we ran outside and called for help from our neighbors."

The family found Sta. Rosa’s body a short distance away near a creek.

On Aug. 3, 2006, the Rev. Sta. Rosa became one of more than 800 people killed in the Philippines under suspicious circumstances since 2001 when President Gloria Arroyo took office. More than 200 others have disappeared. Human rights organizations blame the nation's military personnel for allegedly killing political activists including lawyers, community leaders, journalists and clergy. Victims have included church workers and others who work with the poor and marginalized.

Sta. Rosa, who was in his mid-40s, was a local pastor, freelance writer and project consultant for nongovernmental organizations, as well as a member of Legazpi City United Methodist Church. He was well known for his work with the poor.

At the time, United Methodist Bishop Leo A. Soriano, who leads the church’s Davao Area, condemned the killing and urged civil and military authorities to bring the guilty parties to justice.

BIshop Leo A. Soriano

"While we grieve and express sympathy to the bereaved family, we also express outrage over this diabolical act," the bishop said. "Therefore, I urge all United Methodists and all God-fearing people to be vigilant and fight all forms of injustice and condemn these acts in the strongest possible term."

The family is still waiting for justice.

Found next to the pastor's body was another dead man identified as an army corporal. On his body, police found military orders for Sta. Rosa's death. Jonathan says the discovery of the second body links his brother's death to military involvement.

Jonathan and other family members have been called to testify, but the case was dismissed "due to lack of evidence," he said.

Now Jonathan lives in fear for his life. He is unable to go back to Malabago, Daraga, Albay, where he and his brother lived. The church is providing a safe place for him in the meantime.

"I am thankful for The United Methodist Church because they are providing assistance for the victims and their families," he said. "We need people to speak out, to add to our voices."

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn. She compiled this report based on her trip to the Philippines in August.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.


A Call for Justice

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