Search Team for Two Missing Youths Denied Access to ‘Sacred Place,’ Padlocked Camps

March 25: The run around

The soldiers in the camp appeared surprised when the search team headed by Valdez arrived at Fort Magsaysay around 10 a.m. All of them, from the Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations Lt. Col. Leonido Bongcawil down to the gate guards, denied having been informed by the court about the camp visit although court records show that Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, the 7th ID PA Personnel Office, Solicitor General Agnes Devanadera, Police Director Gen. Avelino Razon, Lt. Col. Edison Caga of Brgy. Sto. Niño 2, San Jose, Nueva Ecija, Lt. Eric Bolosan, Regular W/RC Brgy. Dimacong, Aurora Province, and Jr. Supt. George Gaddi, chief of police of Angeles City, had been furnished copies of the court order.

Valdez said the search team wanted to investigate the headquarters of the SOCOM and the SFR because during the Dec. 4 search, farmers inside the camp told Romulo’s mother, Lolita, that the aviation area and the firing range were near the said military quarters.

Karapatan’s Fr. Dionito Cabillas said the search team wanted to inspect the area around the aviation facility and firing range because two former detainees of Fort Magsaysay – Oscar Leuterio and Raymond Manalo – have testified that the safehouse where they were kept was near the said military facilities.

Court records show that Leuterio was abducted April 17, 2006 and was kept in detention for more than six months until he escaped in October of the same year. Manalo was abducted together with his brother, Reynaldo, on Feb. 14, 2006 and was detained for 18 months in different military camps in Central Luzon, including Fort Magsaysay and the 24th IB detachment in Limay, Bataan. The Manalo brothers escaped from a military detachment in Pangasinan on Aug. 14, 2007.

The testimonies of Leuterio and Manalo have both been used to trace the whereabouts of Robiños and Supan and others who have been enforcedly disappeared in Central Luzon.

At first, the military officers had been accommodating. Bongcawil, however, told the team that the 7th ID was only the “camp administrator” and is therefore “not in-charge” of the area near the aviation facility and firing range.

Bongcawil asked his men to accompany the team to the SOCOM which, the military officer said, is in-charge of the said area.

When the team reached the SOCOM, Lt. Col. Emmanuel Isaac, chief of the Civilian Military Operations (CMO) of the SOCOM toured the search team around the area and showed their artillery. However, similar to what Bongcawil had said, Isaac told the team that they are not in-charge of the area near the aviation facility and firing range. He then referred the team to the SFR.

Lt. Col. Paolo Miciano, SFR Regional Inspector General, also told the search team that they were not in-charge of the target area. Hence, the team was told to go to the firing range.

“Paikot-ikot na tayo, parang ginagawa lang tayong bola ng basketball,”(We are going around in circles, we are being passed around like a basketball.) Lolita said in between sobs as she was beginning to realize that the team was being given the run around.

It was around 4 p.m. when the team, accompanied by operations officer of the 7th ID Service Battalion Lt. Randy Cordero, had reached the firing range and was told that they are “not in-charge” of the forested area between the aviation facility and firing range.

The search team decided to call it a day and informed Cordero that they will be back the next day to continue the search.

March 26: No entry to the “sacred place”

The team had arrived as early as 8:30 a.m. at the gates of Fort Magsaysay but to no avail. Wearing a white shirt and fatigue shorts, Cordero arrived at the gates riding a red Isuzu motorbike without a plate number.

“We have a court order,” Valdez told Cordero but the military officer insisted the team could not enter the forested area between the aviation facility and firing range.

“We will honor the court order but you should have set an appointment with the CG. You should have permission of the CG,” Cordero argued.

CG is Brig. Gen. Emmanuel Mariano, Commanding General of the 7th ID.

Valdez insisted the team wanted to visit the forested area between the firing range and aviation facility where a grotto and a pond are located. While admitting that there was such a place and claiming it was “sacred,” Cordero said it was also near the CG’s office.

“So for security reasons, you cannot enter the place,” Cordero told the team.

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