Ernesto Javier Estrella

Pastor Ernesto Javier Estrella of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) in Antipas, Cotabato Province, was gunned down on Friday morning, 02 August 2019. He was 51.

While the motive of the killing was not yet established, police were reportedly trying to determine if it was linked to Pastor Estrella’s alleged connections with left-leaning groups. His wife told local journalists her husband had no enemies.

Pastor Estrella was on his motorcycle heading towards Magsaysay at 7:15 a.m. when two gunmen, also on motorcycles, approached and shot him several times, according to local press reports. Local health authorities declared him dead at the site.

Following his death, the Ecumenical Bishops Forum (EBF) condemned the “ideology of death” that they said perpetrated harassment and killing of Christian human rights defenders.

“The number of violent attacks against Christian human rights defenders has alarmingly increased in the three years of President Rodrigo Duterte’s government,” the statement read. “His avowed contempt for human rights has provided the institutional framework of this violence being committed against those who uphold the sanctity of human life and the dignity of the human person.”

The EBF appealed to Christians to speak and stand together in upholding human life and rights.

“Let us fight against the systematic design to undermine the participation and contributions of church people in the people’s struggle for equality, dignity and the common good,” the statement read. “Now is the gospel moment to speak out and stand together in the name of Christ in upholding the God-given value of human life, dignity and rights. In God’s righteousness, may we ourselves become the justice we desire and demand for the killing of Pastor Ernesto Javier Estrella, and for all Christians martyred for their witness to our faith.”

A fellowship of bishops from the UCCP, United Methodist (UMC), Episcopal Church in the Philippines (ECP), Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) and the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines, the EBF strongly criticized the Duterte administration.

“Our nation has been bleeding and our people suffering through one of the most trying periods in our history,” an EBF statement read. “The oppressive policies of the government led by President Rodrigo Duterte have brought about the further deterioration of democracy in our country and have continued to deny our people their rights.”

The church leaders said the Philippines has slid into a crisis that is not only social and political but also moral and spiritual.

“The regression of our country’s democracy, the embodiment of a tyrannical regime and the oppression of the people are fuelling the national catastrophe,” the statement read. “President Duterte is guilty of destroying democracy and in subverting the rule of law, and for such betrayal of our country and people’s interest, has lost all the legitimacy to lead the nation.”

Among those who signed the statement following Pastor Estrella’s death were bishops Deogracias Iniquez of the Roman Catholic Church, Rex Reyes of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines, Jr. Joel Tendero of the UCCP, Dindo Ranojo of the Independent Filipino Church and Ciriaco Francisco of the United Methodist Church.

A retired Catholic prelate on 22 July 2019 called on the international community to witness the “silent persecution” of Christians and others in the Philippines. The criticism by outgoing Novaliches Bishop Antonio Tobias came days after the Philippine National Police’s Criminal Investigative Detection Group filed a complaint of cyber libel and sedition against several people, including church leaders.

The government action came in connection with the series of online videos alleging that President Duterte and his family members were involved in the illegal drug trade.

During a “Mass for Truth” at St. Peter Parish in Quezon City hours before Duterte delivered his State of the Nation address, Tobias said the church was being persecuted even though she is helping the families of the victims of the administration’s war on drugs.

“When Duterte assumed office, he started with this war on drugs,” Tobias said. “He promised to get rid of the drug problem in six months. After three years, the number of drug users even increased and many died. It is the church that is looking after those who survived the killings…giving them a chance to lead a new life. The church also assists the widow who are looking for livelihood in order for their children to live.”

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Country:The Philippines




Date of Killing:02/08/2019

Previous Threats:Unknown

Type of Work:Cleric

Organisation:United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) pastor

Sector or Type of Rights the HRD Worked On:ESC Rights

More information:Front Line Defenders

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