The contrast between the rugged west coast of Australia’s smallest state, Tasmania, and the urban sprawl of Davao City in The Philippines could not be starker. Tasmania’s west coast is a pristine wilderness of misty mountains, winding rivers and impenetrable forest. It is here, in the isolated seaside village of Strachan, that Jacqueline Hamill was born, one of ten children, in 1953.
Little is recorded about her earlier years but at some stage Jackie placed her faith in Christ. According to someone who knew her as a young adult, she was a deeply committed believer with a strong sense of God’s calling, who had ‘looked carefully’ into her faith and ‘grew in love and strength.” ¹
Jackie had a deep love for those who were defenceless, lost or imprisoned. In 1985, at age 32, she moved from her small coastal village to Australia’s largest city Sydney, to attend Bible College and seek God’s will for her future. There she became active in a Pentecostal church at Girraween in Sydney’s sprawling western suburbs. While there she was invited by a friend to visit a prisoner at nearby Parramatta Jail, a chance she seized upon, relishing the opportunity to minister God’s love in a prison environment.
Around this time Jackie was sharing with friends her belief that God was calling her as a missionary to The Philippines. Her desire was to work among the poor and one day to open an orphanage for homeless Filipino children. However, other doors were about to open for Jackie that would dramatically impact her life and ministry.
Jackie joined a short term mission team being sent by her church to The Philippines so she could become acquainted with the country and its people. The experience made her even more determined to move to The Philippines full time and fulfil her calling to serve God there.
And so it was that on July 17th, 1989 Jackie arrived in the densely populated Davao City, 1000 kilometres south east of Manilla, where she had been invited to conduct outreach and teaching work with prisoners at the Davao Detention Centre. Davao City at that time was described by at least one newspaper as “a sprawling expanse of urban slums racked by poverty, violence, vendettas and desperate crime.”²
In Davao Jackie joined the Joyful Assemblies of God, a group who held Bible Studies inside the Davao prison facilities. Jackie was keen to identify as much as possible with the people she had come to live with, writing to family in Australia:
“I have been busy getting to know the people in the fellowship here, which is a joyful and also humbling experience. On Sunday afternoon we had a meeting regarding the establishment of a new fellowship in Davao City. A lovely young guy called George and I are arguing (nicely) over who is going to be boss. I can assure you it won’t be me……If this is the will of God then I will be involved in something different than what I imagined, but as long as I am involved in reaching out to win the lost I don’t mind….Don’t worry about me for God is with me and I have many beautiful friends.” ³
On August 13, 1989, not quite a month after her arrival, Jackie and some friends from the Joyful Assembly of God went to the prison to conduct an outreach meeting. When the meeting ended, food was shared with the inmates. One prisoner asked permission to take food to a nearby family living near the prison compound, but returned some time later carrying a rifle and ammunition. Other prisoners then ran from their cells and grabbed 21 hostages, including Jackie, a 9 year old boy and 13 others from the visiting Christian group. A siege had been carefully planned and was now underway.
News spread quickly about what was happening in the prison. The military surrounded the compound, while thousands of citizens gathered outside, throwing stones and confusing the situation even further. The siege continued through the night, the following day and the next night. Finally the prisoners were given a deadline by the military to surrender the hostages. The prisoners’ reaction was to walk boldly towards the front of the prison, some armed and holding hostages as human shields. At this stage Jackie was seen to be in the tight grip of one of the siege leaders, Felipe Pugoy.
There are differing accounts concerning the events that followed. Some say the military opened fire and others say it was one of the siege leaders who fired first. Whatever the case, in the confusion some hostages escaped to safety. One hostage was killed instantly and others were dragged back into the prison cells by their captors. The siege dragged on for several more hours. Later, when further volleys erupted some hostages were able to run towards safety along the side of the building. Jackie was among them and it was obvious she was wounded.
Sometime later one of the military officers spotted Jackie slumped against a wall, ran to rescue her and was able to bring her to the shelter of a nearby building. It is not known how long Jackie had lay wounded in that spot before being rescued. An ambulance was called, but Jackie was too badly injured to survive. It later emerged that she had been wounded in the first confrontation between the prisoners and the military earlier in the day.
At arrival at hospital, aged 36, Jackie Hamill was confirmed dead.
A surviving hostage, Ernest Mondido, later shared: “Jackie was singing songs even as she lay on the ground with gunshot wounds. She spread her arms and chanted praises to the Lord.”⁴
Jackie did not suffer only gunshot wounds. During her traumatic two days as a hostage, she and other female hostages had also endured repeated gang rape by their captors. This was confirmed by Rev. Castillo, one of the hostages who escaped. There are reports that Jackie also had her throat slashed by the prisoners.
In all, twenty one people died as a result of what became known as the Davao Hostage Crisis. Five of them, including Jackie Hamill, were hostages. There are a variety of reports from different sources concerning the details of how the events unfolded which remain disputed until this day. Some believe Jackie was shot by the prisoners during crossfire, while others blame the military.
What we do know from eye witnesses is that Jackie spent much of the traumatic experience singing hymns, encouraging her fellow hostages, and sharing the gospel with her captors. One report states that as a result at least one of the hostage takers threw down his gun and surrendered his life to Christ.⁵
Jackie’s friend, Reverend David Jones who officiated at her funeral, testified of her: “A beautiful young woman has captured our attention by the love she had for the poor and oppressed and by her bravery and care for the others with her as she died.”
All who knew Jackie personally remember her as a woman of great faith, but the outstanding characteristic of her life was the warmth and quiet joy that radiated out to everyone who encountered her.
At Ishshah’s Story, we celebrate the life and testimony of Jackie Hamill, who followed God’s call, unexpectedly faced sudden violence and early death, yet died singing songs of her Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Though tested by fire, yet she remained faithful.
“Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory…” 1 Peter 1:8 KJV
Acknowledgement: Many thanks to ‘Onesimus’ of The Onesimus Files for providing resources and personal memories of Jackie for this article.
¹ “Jackie, No Half Measures” Rev. David Jones, “On Being” magazine, November 1989
² Canberra Times, Aug. 16, 1989
³ “Jackie, No Half Measures”, Rev. David Jones, “On Being” magazine, November 1989
⁴ The Age Newspaper, August 17, 1989
Other References used in this article: