Roman Catholic priest survives assassination attempt in Casiguran, Aurora, Philippines

At around 2:00 in the morning of 26 June 2010, Fr. Jose Francisco “Joefran” Talaban was sleeping alone in his room inside the wooden house adjacent to the church that served as parish convent.  Four convent boys were sleeping in the room behind that of Fr. Talaban’s and near the kitchen.  Unknown to them, a brown van without license plate stopped about twenty meters from the church compound.  Armed men alighted from the van, lobbed a grenade and peppered the compound with bullets.  Fr. Joefran was awakened by a loud explosion and went down to seek shelter in the comfort room downstairs which is made of hollow blocks.  After ascertaining that the gunmen had already left, Fr. Joefran left his hiding place and checked on the boys.  

At around 5:00 in the morning, they went out and checked the vicinity.  They found the compound littered with plastic laminated black propaganda materials.  He also discovered that the elevated wooden signage about two feet in length with galvanized iron roofing bore the impact of the lobbed grenade.  The roof was ripped off and the signage blown to pieces.  The signage blocked the trajectory of the grenade and spared the convent from being damaged.  They also found shrapnel marks on the wall of the church.  Fr. Talaban also found bullet holes on the wall just about two meters from where he was sleeping.

At around 5:30 AM, Fr. Talaban sent one of the convent boys to the nearby Bianoan Police outpost which is a few blocks away from the compound.  He also called to inform his co-priest in Baler, Fr. Nilvon Villanueva and his Bishop in the Prelature of Infanta, Bishop Rolando Tirona. 

The Bianoan Police responded immediately and told him that the police heard the explosion and the gunshots.  They allegedly conducted a foot patrol but went back to their station when the burst of gunfire died down.  The Bianoan police viewed the scene and gathered the black propaganda materials.  They then contacted their headquarters in Casiguran for a thorough investigation.  The Casiguran Police found spent casings of M16 and M14 rifles.  They also found grenade shrapnel.

Plastic-laminated anticommunist black propaganda materials signed by ANAK-Bianoan contained threats to Fr. Joefran and other members of the Task Force Against ASEZA (TFAA).  Some of the laminated leaflets contained these writings in the vernacular:

“Watch out all of you colleagues and comrades of the intruder New People's Army (NPA) who brought the teachings of the devil like hatred and disunity among the people and the disintegration of the family.  You JOSE FRANCISCO TALABAN and all your colleagues should start packing so that you will be spared from the retaliation of those you have tormented.” - Alliance Against Communists

“Joefran, the minion of Satan!  How did you become a priest when your teachings are of the flesh and you support the godless NPA? - Alliance Against Communists

Prior to the strafing of the convent, the same brown van used by the gunmen was seen by neighbors of Councilor Danilo Roque, barangay councilor of the adjacent Brgy. Esteves, scattering black propaganda materials in front of his house.  He is also a member of the TFAA.

Names of other members of the task force were also printed in the leaflets including that of Atty. Rachel Pastores (lawyer of the Public Interest Law Center, based in Makati City, Metro Manila) who was once invited by the TFAA as speaker in a consultation on 22 January 2010.

This was not the first attack against Fr. Joefran and members of TFAA.  Between 2008 and 2009, on several occasions, streamers depicting Fr. Joefran and members of the TFAA as demons were hung along the Baler-Casiguran highway near military detachments.

 

Background of the incident:

The Aurora Special Economic Zone Authority or ASEZA was created by virtue of Republic Act 9490 or the Aurora Special Economic Zone Act which originated from the bills filed in both the Senate and House of Representatives by the father and son tandem of Sen. Edgardo Angara and Rep. Sonny Angara and passed into law in 2007.  The passage of this law was questioned due to its alleged failure to consult the residents who would be affected by the project.  This was strongly condemned by displaced residents, mostly indigenous peoples, and their supporters, due to its anti-people policy.  The Roman Catholic Church has actively called for the abolition of ASEZA.  Together with other organizations and individuals, they formed the TFAA in 2008 to defend the 500 hectares of prime agricultural land and residential lots from being converted by virtue of the  ASEZA.  Since then, organizations and individuals involved became targets of vilification by the 48th IBPA because its commanding officer Lt. Col. Elias Escarcha publicly announced that the military will protect development projects like the ASEZA.

TFAA intensified its campaign when its members learned that an amendment filed by Sen. Edgardo Angara to RA 9490 lapsed into law on 22 April 2010 as the approving authority (Office of the President) failed to take action.  The new law RA 10083 created the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport (APECO), extending the 500 hectares to about 13,000 hectares including the areas that are home to several indigenous communities, small farmers and fisherfolks in the San Ildefonso peninsula.  

The TFAA’s protest action culminated in “Kalbaryo at Pasyon ng Sambayanan” on Good Friday, a reenactment of the passion of Christ where around a thousand people, together with their priests walked from the affected area to Casiguran carrying the cross bearing these calls “No to ASEZA,” “No to Politcial Dynasties,” “Land to the Tillers,” and “Implementation of IPRA*”. These protest actions displeased the Angara clan.  

 

*IPRA or the Indigenous People’s Rights’ Act of the Philippines

 

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