Thousands call for release of jailed American pastor in PH

By Henni Espinosa, ABS-CBN North America Bureau

Posted at Jan 25 2014 02:41 PM | Updated as of Jan 25 2014 10:41 PM

REDWOOD CITY, California – The Philippines has been home to American pastor and missionary Thomas Randall. He and his wife founded the Sankey Samaritan Orphanage in 1988 in Lucena, Quezon and took in orphans and homeless children.

"Tom loves the Philippines and the Filipino people. He probably feels more Filipino than American. He loves the kids and the kids love him," said Pastor Joe Coffey in an interview with Balitang America.

Coffey and Randall work for the same Ohio-based church, Christ Community Chapel.

Weeks ago, Philippine authorities began investigating Randall and his staff, after they received a complaint that a worker kissed a 15-year old girl.

Earlier media reports stated that Randall was arrested for "allegedly abusing children" and his staff, Toto Luchavez and Jake Luchavez, was arrested for reportedly sending "orphaned girls to friends for sex." They supposedly faced charges of human trafficking and sex abuse.

Coffey said he was shocked when he heard of his friend’s arrest. "I know his character and what he has done in the Philippines," he said.

Coffey also maintained that Randall took immediate action when his authorities began investigating his worker’s conduct towards the teen.

"He met with the DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) and the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) and they went through a full investigation and found there was no evidence for these allegations," Coffey said.

But Randall was still arrested, not on charges of human trafficking or sex abuse as originally accused, but on charges of negligence.

His workers, the Luchavez', were also apprehended.

Randall has been detained at a cell in the NBI headquarters since his arrest. Coffey is concerned that Randall’s health issues would only worsen behind bars. He said Randall suffers from pneumonia and urinary tract infection.

And yet even in his darkest hours, Coffey said Randall’s worry is making sure the kids in his orphanage are being looked after.

About 30 orphans living at Randall’s orphanage have since been removed following his arrest. They were also reportedly questioned by authorities in connection with charges against Randall and his staff.

Philippine authorities have shut down the orphanage.

Coffey said he has reached out to US legislators, as well as to Ambassador Jose Cuisia, the Philippine Ambassador to the US to ask for their assistance in having Randall released.

Randall’s supporters from the church and from the community have also created the “Free Tom Randall” page on Facebook, which currently has over 35,000 “likes”.

Coffey said he and members of his church applaud the Philippine government’s efforts to combat human trafficking. But he pointed out that there are times when authorities become too aggressive in implicating someone, even if that person is innocent.

He concluded, "It's the judicial system's job to figure out who's innocent and guilty. And our prayer is that the judicial system in the Philippines would work well, that justice would be done and truth would be known. My message to Philippine authorities: The world is watching on how they handle this case."