At 5 pm, the digging and scraping has reached the hole’s edge. Datar said that based on the materials gathered and examined by the UP, CHR and Karapatan experts on the site firewood and rubber tires were placed at the hole’s bottom before the victim was placed in a fetal position wrapped in a mattress. “These foreign objects and the victim’s position explain why the hole is relatively small,” he said. Datar added that the gravesite was covered with un-burnt soil in the perpetrators’ efforts to conceal the spot.
Datar however hastened to add that it would be impossible to extract DNA from the “carbonized” bones. He also said that he still has to study the specimens in the laboratory to ascertain which parts of the body the bones came from.
Still, Datar commended Raymond’s fortitude. “May lakas siya ng loob na sabihin (ang nalalaman),” he said. (“He was courageous to speak out.”). “It was clear there were human activities in the areas he pointed out,” Datar added.
“Nabuhayan ako ng loob,” Raymond said. “Kung wala tayong nakita e di lalo na nilang sasabihing sinungaling ako,” he added. (“I had a morale boost. If we found nothing here, the military will say I lied all the more.”)
Raymond’s legal counsel Rex JMA Fernandez is optimistic about the results of the fact-finding mission. “What Raymond said (about their abduction and killings) was proven today. Moreover, there was deliberate purpose to sanitize the burial place. If you take a closer look, the camp was big. It was not cursory but a protracted occupation of the place (by the military). That Palparan was involved in the tortures would be validated by these findings. Even if the military would try to undermine the results of this mission, Raymond is a very credible witness,” the lawyer explained.
Fernandez added that he wants the area declared a crime site. “I think they should continue digging and investigating. They should also interview the locals,” he said.
The mission ends, the quest for justice continues
Before dusk of the second day, all the holes were backfilled as the mission camp was being dismantled. Raymond walked one last time to the gravesite, accompanied by the Karapatan team and Datar. The CHR team chose not to join them.
Cris Hizarsa summed it up for the relatives. “Katulad ng ibang mga pamilyang naghahanap, umaasa akong hindi kasama ang asawa ko sa mga pinatay dito. Yun ang pag-asa ko at ng mga anak ko. Sana, yun ang regalong maiuuwi ko sa kaarawan ni Shara.” (“Like the other relatives of the victims, my family and I hope my husband was not one of those killed here. I hope that is the news I bring home to my daughter Shara for her birthday.”)
Raymond Manalo then walked one last time to the gravesite, accompanied by the Karapatan team and Dr Datar. The CHR team chose not to join them. Fr. Diony Caballes led the prayers while the mission members joined hands around the makeshift grave. After the prayers, shouts of “Justice!” rang several times.
Then everyone broke down. Copious tears flowed on Raymond’s scarred face, his shoulders askew in physical and emotional pain. The chests of relatives of the forcibly disappeared heaved in grief while Datar’s own eyes were moist and red.
As the sun was setting behind Mt Samat the mission members walked away from the grave now looking more desolate with the weak flicker of candles amid the creeping darkness. Finally, Raymond turned his back on the site where Manuel Merino was killed, leaving the wild flowers to bloom in a land that has seen such horror finally coming to light. (Bulatlat)