26 November 2010
An independent citizen-based fact-finding mission, endorsed by the family of the country’s top botanist, the late Leonardo Co, and led by the Justice for Leonardo Co Movement, sets off for Kananga, Leyte, today to probe the real cause and circumstances of the death of the renowned scientist and his two companions.
The fact-finding mission is composed of representatives from the Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (AGHAM), in coordination with friends and families of the victims, environmental groups the Philippine Native Plant Conservation Society (PNPCS), the Center for Environmental Concerns (CEC), the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, the human rights alliance KARAPATAN, the Advocates for Science and Technology for the People (Alyansa ng mga Grupong Haligi ng Agham at Teknolohiya para sa Mamamayan or AGHAM), Center for Environmental Concerns, the U.P. Institute of Biology, forensic experts and lawyers, as well as Bayan. Also participating are UP College of Medicine professor Dr. Romy Quijano, botanist Anthony Arbias, ecologist and former Visayas State University President Dr. Pacencia Milan, KARAPATAN human rights lawyer Atty. Kathrina Castillo of Karapatan-Eastern Visayas and Mr. Dennis Abarientos and four human rights workers of the Karapatan-Central Visayas Region. Other participating organizations are the church-based Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR) and some media organizations.
The mission will be conducted on November 26-28, 2010. It is headed by Dr. Giovanni Tapang of AGHAM.
“This mission becomes more imperative because of the AFP’s insistence that what happened was a ‘legitimate military operation’ and that the local command of the 19th IB-PA also insisted that Mr. Leonard Co and his companions were killed in an alleged ‘crossfire’ in an encounter with New People’s Army rebels. The local police has already suggested that the bullets that killed Co were not in the Army’s armaments. That is why we are very much worried that the death of the country’s finest scientist in the field would be whitewashed and covered-up by state authorities,” Karapatan said.
Co was conducting a biodiversity research commissioned by Lopez-owned Energy Development Corp (EDC) in the Manawan Kananga Watershed in Leyte, along with four other companions when Armed Forces of the Philippines troops under the Philippine Army’s 19th Infantry Battalion (IB) of the 802nd Infantry Brigade shot at the team.
Sofronio Cortez, a forest guard of the EDC-Environmental Management Division, and Julius Borromeo, a member of the Tongonan Farmers Association (ToFA) were killed along with Co.
Policarpio Balute, a ToFA member, and Roniño Gibe, a contractual forester of EDC’s corporate social responsibility department, survived the assault. Karapatan expressed concern that the survivors and their families might be threatened by the military as in similar cases where the AFP is involved in the killings.