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Shooting of Transport Leader Denounced

Leader shot before nationwide transport strike

MANILA  - As progressive transport groups in the Philippines prepared for a nationwide strike to protest the alleged price manipulation of oil prices by oil companies, a leader of one such group was shot early today in Albay province.

Joel Ascutia, president of Condor-Piston-Bikol, an organization of jeepney drivers and operators, was shot at 4:30 a.m. Monday, July 13, in Daraga, near Legazpi City in Albay. Colleagues said two gunmen onboard a motorcycle fired five shots at Ascutia, hitting him in the leg and abdomen. He was pronounced out of danger and is undergoing treatment at a hospital.

The shooting of Ascutia, which occurred less than 200 meters away from a police station, occurred as public-transport operators and drivers across the Philippines were preparing for today's protest against the profiteering of big oil companies and the government's failure to regulate them.

"We condemn the attack," Condor-Piston-Bikol said in a statement. It said that the shooting of Ascutia did not prevent the drivers in that region to hold the strike.

The labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno also denounced the assault on Ascutia, calling it a "form of government-sponsored intimidation."

"We strongly condemn this shooting, which is clearly politically motivated. It is not an ordinary crime, but an attack on the militant people's and drivers' movement in the Bicol region and in the country as well," said George San Mateo, secretary-general of Piston. "It is meant to scare people away from participating in today's people's protest and transport strike. It is meant to sow fear in the hearts of the people of Bicol and drive them away from joining nationalist and democratic organizations of the people."

San Mateo said the attack on Ascutia was the first shooting involving a transport leader during a strike.

"How could the perpetrators of this crime be so bold and brazen? Could it be that powerful and wealthy people are behind the gunmen? Local government officials, perhaps? Military and police officers? We want to get to the bottom of this case," San Mateo said in a statement.

KMU chairman Elmer Labog, meanwhile, said the shooting "adds to the climate of fear that the US-Arroyo ruling clique wants to impose upon the people through the nationwide bombings, the release of a so-called 'oplan' for destabilization, conflicting statements of government officials on the bombings on the oplan, and Mrs. Arroyo's much-publicized meeting with the head of the Central Intelligence Agency." (