UCCP Pastor abducted and tortured in Rizal, Southern Tagalog, Philippines

On May 2, 2008, Pastor Rodel Canja was to attend the annual meeting of the Northeast Southern Tagalog Conference of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) in Jala-jala town of Rizal province. He traveled with acting UCCP-JIMELY Secretary Maruja Satanes. The two arrived at the UCCP Parish in Pililia at around 9 o'clock in the morning, where they would await other delegates before proceeding to the venue of their conference.

Pastor Canja decided to go outside to look for a store to reload his mobile phone credits. He was walking towards the direction of Tanay when an unknown man, presumed to be in his forties, suddenly alighted from a closed van and put his arm around him. The pastor asked who he was, but the man only told him not to react and instead to get inside the van.

Inside the van, he saw another man pointing a gun at him. Too frightened and shocked, he boarded the vehicle. There were two other men inside the van, including the driver. Once inside, the first man placed a handkerchief on his nose that made him black out afterwards.

When he came to, he was already in a brightly-lit room with the two men. He wasn't handcuffed. Pastor Canja asked them what they want from him, and pleaded for them not to hurt him. One of his captors said they won't hurt him but he would need to answer their questions. While slumped on the cement floor, he was repeatedly asked about Pastor Berlin Guererro, (a UCCP pastor abducted last year, on May 27, 2007 in Biñan, Laguna and is currently detained in the Provincial Jail in Trece Martirez, Cavite). Pastor Guerrero was a roommate and classmate in the seminary.

The captors would raise their voices at Pastor Canja, insisting that he knows of Berlin's identity and activities and that he should confess it to them. He was kept in that room for 4 days and 3 nights. On the first day, he was not given any food and was still continuously interrogated about Guererro.

On his second day in captivity, he was given food by one of the captors. Pastor Canja was too frightened to eat because his guard kept on cocking a pistol while walking around the room. On the third day, his mobile phone and wallet were taken from him, and afterwards, he was threatened that something might happen to his sisters especially now that they are in possession of their IDs. He was then given a new pair of denim shorts to replace his already dirty pants, and was told that he should tell them everything he knows of Berlin and the "P" for it was his last chance to confess. Just then, one of the men approached him and grabbed his hair while forcing his gun inside Pastor Canja's mouth and said, "Oo o Hindi!?" ("Yes or No?!"). A shot was fired (but was directed outside the house) and he thought he was already dead. On the fourth and last day, there were already four (4) men inside the room. One of them ordered him to get dressed, warning him to hush up on the event, otherwise something bad may happen to him.

He was blindfolded and led outside and into a waiting van. During the long trip, the captors were talking aloud about killing him instead of letting him go. It was already dark when he was made to disembark at a place unfamiliar to him. Not knowing where he is, he started walking towards the direction of lighted houses. Afterwards, he was able to spot a balut (duck egg) vendor and immediately asked for directions. He continued walking in the same direction after confirming that it leads to Cogeo, Antipolo (still in Rizal). Unsure of the time, he inquired from a bystander when the jeepney starts plying its route to Cogeo, and was told that it starts around 6am. He tried looking for his brother's jeep, or of someone he knows, but couldn't find them so he slept sitting down in front of a closed grocery store.

He woke up at dawn and saw a jeepney that is about to depart and whose driver was familiar to him and his brother. Having no money, he braved riding the jeep, and was lucky enough to find that he knows one of the passengers. This friend accompanied him to make sure he gets home safe.

Pastor Canja now fears for his life and the life of his family after the interrogation and torture he went through. #