A local human rights group cast doubts on what the military claims to be a mass grave of the communist movement’s purge victims. They said the site was actually a “no-man’s land”, where the village population evacuated to escape military operations.
BY JOHANN HEIN B. ARPON
Tacloban City – A local human rights group here cast doubt on the alleged mass grave of victims of the communist movement’s anti-infiltration campaign in the 80s, saying the site was a “no-man’s land” where the village population left to flee from militarization.
On Aug. 26, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) claimed that they found a “mass grave” of victims of anti-infiltration campaign of the Communist Party of the Philippines in the early 1980’s. Soldiers of the 43rd Infantry Battalion under the command of Lt. Col. Mario Lacurom said the skeletal remains were victims of the “Anti-VD Campaign.”
Alex Lagunzad, secretary-general of the human rights group KATUNGOD-KARAPATAN (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights) said that they found out that it was military troops who roamed the area where the supposed “mass grave” was discovered. Lagunzad cited as source records in the archives the Concerned Citizens for Justice and Peace (CCJP), a human rights group in the 80s.
Lagunzad showed Bulatlat CCJP documents which read:
“Brgy.(village) Caulisihan, Inopacan, Leyte like many mountain barangays in the Fifth District of Leyte were declared “no man’s lands” in the height of the campaign of the Philippine Constabulary and Task Force Liberato. Task Force Liberato was a vigilante group that was notorious for the killings of “communists” during the time. One of the identified members of the Task Force Liberato is a certain SPO2 Romy Loreto.”
In communities declared as “no man’s land”, the whole population was made to evacuate. All those who refuse to leave their farm and homes were considered “outlaws” or “enemies” and could thereby be targeted by military operations.
Lagunzad said that another possibility was that the digging was done at a village graveyard. It is possible for Caulisihan village to have its own cemetery, since it is located far away from the town center or poblacion. Burying a dead relative nearby would be a preferred option.
Lagunzad reacted to the military’s claims that clothing and mouth gags were still found intact in the skeletal remains, saying that it was “unthinkable” that it did not wear out despite the long period that passed.
He said that if the military’s claims that the victims’ bodies were dumped in a shallow grave were true, then without a decent coffin, and without insulation, the clothes could have weathered away with the decaying flesh.
Lagunzad said that his group had conducted several exhumations and can attest that exposure to elements, such as water and the victim’s blood can cause the clothing to decay with the flesh.
“We have observed this in the case of Jolito Tobino who was missing for a week and was found in the advance stage of decomposition along with his clothing in a shallow grave.”
Lagunzad also doubted if the military had actually matched the dug-up bones with the names of missing persons. In a statement, Katungod-SB said, “Commenting on the recent political killings, the NBI said that the PNP and NBI in the region lack expertise to do forensic investigation. The Scene of the Crimes Operatives (SOCO) Team of the PNP Regional Office 8 headed by P/Supt. Nicandro Canaleja could only offer initial technical identification and numbering. To establish identity of the cadavers would therefore be very difficult. Tell-tale marks of torture, as they alleged these dead were subjected to, could easily wear away with the twenty years of exposure to the elements”.
KATUNGOD-SB, in its assessment said that the military were just involved in a ploy to gain media mileage and to twist the real score on the political killings. “We are re-directing the challenge to the military to prove their claims. This big accusation hurled on their enemy at the expense of the lives of the alleged victims must not be founded on unsubstantiated allegations but hard evidence”.
On Sept. 12, peasants from seven villages from the towns of Mahaplag, Baybay an Inopacan went to the office of Leyte Gov. Jericho Petilla to submit resolutions asking the provincial government to help them find “justice”. The village officers were accompanied by soldiers of the 43 rd IB led by 1st. Rommel Canto, information officer of the battalion. The said petition was signed by close family members of the alleged victims of “purging” as well as by village officials. The resolutions however had noticeably the same wordings, blaming Prof. Jose Ma. Sison, Rep. Satur Ocampo and Mr. Luis Jalandoni.
Lagunzad said that having soldiers “accompanying” village officials to the provincial capitol was reminiscent of the time when now-retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan was in the region. During that time, soldiers made it compulsory even for sick peasants to attend anti-communists rallies in several towns of Samar.
Fr. Santiago Salas, spokesperson of the National Democratic Front in Eastern Visayas (NDF-EV), in a statement accused the Armed Forces of the Philippines to be behind the resolutions. He said that the military is only pushing the victims of the Anti-VD hysteria to free the Arroyo regime of any culpability for the killings.
He assailed those leading the petitions like Virgilio Tanaid and Zacarias Piedad who are self-confessed military assets and should be “rightfully rejected as in the pay of the military and working as psywar operatives”.
Salas reiterated his sympathy for the families of the Anti-VD hysteria’s victims.
In his latest statement he said, “the revolutionary movement has always sought to render justice to the victims and their families. There may be some that the revolutionary movement has not yet reached out to. We pity them if they will only be deceived and exploited as tools of fascism and reaction by a cruel regime that is causing great suffering to the people. We assure them that their grievances will be surely heard and heeded because their revolutionary movement acknowledges its mistakes and rectifies them to serve and lead the people well.”
Salas said the Inopacan “mass grave hoax” will not be the last, as the military “resorts to transferring the skeletal remains of unknown individuals from place to place, and then “exhuming” these in front of the mass media as alleged victims of the NPA.”
He added that in March 2002 in Candelaria, Quezon, the AFP Southern Luzon Command announced that they had “discovered” the mass graves of 64 victims of the New People’s Army. These were in addition to 200 skeletal remains that the military had allegedly found around Mt. Banahaw, as well as the claim that 4,000 NPA fighters had been executed in the preceding decade.
“All of these claims were exposed by the CPP as false. In May earlier this year, National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales and the 26 th IB announced the finding of mass graves in San Fernando, Bukidnon. This too, came to be false with the “mass grave” they were claiming turned out to be a graveyard of the Lumads.” (Bulatlat.com)