The Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) has called for a “complete pullout” of Army troops from the Bicol Region amid what he described as “the alarming number of tortures and extrajudicial killings” in the area. This call comes in the wake of the torture and killing of a Bicol peasant accused by his Army captors of being a member of the New People’s Army (NPA).
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
The Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) has called for a “complete pullout” of Army troops from the Bicol Region amid what it described as “the alarming number of tortures and extrajudicial killings” in the area.
Dante Jimenez, who hails from the Bicol Region, said this in an interview with Bulatlat last week. “Instead of winning the hearts and minds of the people, they are the problem,” the VACC leader said of the Army troops in the Bicol Region.
His call comes in the wake of the torture and killing of Toribio Mesa, a Bicolano peasant accused by his Army captors of being a member of the New People’s Army (NPA).
The VACC leader said Mesa’s case had been reported to the VACC’s office. He also told Bulatlat that one of Mesa’s children is a former student of his.
In a Nov. 23 letter to Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, of which Bulatlat was given a copy, Jimenez narrated the details behind the case of Mesa, a resident of Jamorawon village, Bulan, Sorsogon. Wrote Jimenez:
Mesa died while in the custody of the 92nd Recon Company, 9th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army, under extremely dubious circumstances last Nov. 16, 2006.
The said Mesa – father of 13, had been forcibly taken from his family without warrant of arrest, and his home was arrogantly searched without any valid search warrant on Nov. 15, 2006. The following day subject was declared dead and found sustaining two gunshot wounds and deep cuts on his left arm.
“We found that extremely suspicious, so we requested Sorsogon and Bulan police to re-autopsy the victim’s body,” Jimenez told Bulatlat. “It turned out his captors had performed a live autopsy on his arm and then they shot him.”
“We are calling for the complete pullout and replacement of the Army in the Bicol Region because of the alarming number of tortures and extrajudicial killings there,” the VACC leader also said.
In his letter to Esperon, Jimenez said the VACC calls for the “immediate relief” of the unit’s commanding officer, as well as the preventive suspension of Pfc. Warren Mangubat and Pfc. Jonathan Ongog pending investigation of the case.
“We suggest that the Philippine Army be replaced by the Philippine Marines of the Navy, or Philippine Air Force until such time that Army soldiers in the region learn the basic knowledge of due process, rule of law and above all, respect for human rights,” Jimenez wrote to Esperon.
Not the first time
This is not the first time that Army soldiers have been directly identified as perpetrators of extrajudicial killings in the Bicol Region.
On May 7, 2004, Mylene and Raymond Golloso – then 13 and 6 years old, respectively – were killed by armed men within the sanctity of their own home in Brgy. Recto, Bulan, Sorsogon.
Mylene and Raymond, together with brother Resty, had hid in their parents’ bedroom upon hearing gunshots near their house that day. In the end that failed to protect them: they were later found dead, their heads shattered by gunshots.
In a written and signed statement, a copy of which was received by Bulatlat, 11 officials and 42 other residents of Brgy. Recto said no other armed group was in the village that day except seven soldiers from the 2nd Infantry Battalion, 901st Infantry Brigade of the 9th Infantry Division; and two members of the paramilitary Citizen Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU). The Brgy. Recto officials and residents specifically identified among them Cesar Luares, a CAFGU member.
Adelia, Mylene and Raymond’s mother, identified Luares in a sworn statement as a native of Bulan. Bulatlat received a copy of her sworn statement.
Army soldiers were likewise positively identified by no less than the municipal police of Daraga, Albay as the perpetrators of the killing of Methodist Pastor Isaias Sta. Rosa last Aug. 3.
Based on sworn statements and affidavits by Sta. Rosa’s wife Sonia, his brothers Jonathan and Ray Sun, and neighbor Alwin Mirabona, a number of hooded armed men barged into the house of Jonathan and Ray Sun, at around 7:30 p.m. that night, and took them hostage.
After a few minutes, Jonathan was dragged at gunpoint to Isaias’ house nearby, where the pastor was watching videos on a laptop computer with his daughter. Jonathan was brought to a room together with Sonia and her children, while Isaias was dragged into another room and beaten up. A few minutes later, they saw the armed men dragging Isaias out. Sonia called for help from her sister Madelyn, who lived nearby. Madelyn roused the neighbors with her cries for help.
After a while, nine gunshots were heard nearby. Isaias’ corpse was found about 50 meters from his house, beside one of the assailants.
A responding team from the Daraga Municipal Police Office recovered from the hooded man’s body an ID card revealing him to be Cpl. Lordger Pastrana; as well as a mission order issued to the ID card bearer by the 9th Military Intelligence Battalion of the 9th Infantry Division, authorizing him to carry a firearm outside the headquarters. The mission order – of which Bulatlat received a copy – was issued by Maj. Ernest Rosal, commanding officer of Pastrana’s unit, which is based in Pili, Camarines Sur, and referred to a “secret mission” with duration from July 1 to Sept. 30, 2006.
A news item from the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) and data from military sources show that the 9th Infantry Division has been under the command of Maj. Gen. Ricardo Nobleza since December 2004.
Killings in Bicol
Based on data from Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights), there have been 797 victims of extrajudicial killings from January 2001 – when Arroyo was catapulted to power through a popular uprising – to November 2006. Of this number, at least 340 are confirmed to have been affiliated with cause-oriented groups.
The total number of extrajudicial killings for this year alone, Karapatan data further show, is 185. Of these, 53 were perpetrated in Central Luzon, 30 in the Bicol Region, and 20 in Southern Tagalog – making these the top three regions in terms of the number of extrajudicial killings.
Last June, Arroyo declared “all-out war” against the Left and directed the AFP to finish off the “communist insurgency” in two years. Arroyo named Central Luzon, the Bicol
Region, and Southern Tagalog as “priority areas” in her directive to the AFP.
“Perhaps there is a plan, or it’s part of the strategy,” Jimenez said when asked whether he thought there was any connection. “But you cannot win the hearts and minds of the people that way.”
“It’s worse than the death penalty because in the death penalty, they follow due process,” added the VACC leader, a known capital punishment proponent. “In extrajudicial killings there is no due process, that’s why they are called extrajudicial killings.” (Bulatlat.com)