Rights Group Asks Justice Secretary to Scrutinize Panel Findings on Botanist Slay (PR)

Press Release
21 January 2011

“How can two assistant state prosecutors and an NBI lawyer forming a three-man team of government investigators refute the facts just to stick to the military story that the NPA killed Leonard Co and his two companions and absolve complicity of government authorities in the crime?”, thus asked human rights group KARAPATAN about the recent DOJ panel findings on the November 2010 slaying of the country’s top botanist.

“Justice Secretary Leila de Lima should look into this before submitting the report to the Commission on Human Rights,” KARAPATAN secretary-general Jigs Clamor said.

“If all else fail, we shall pursue this in the international community. People are losing faith on state authorities when it comes to the defense of human rights,” Clamor added.

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KARAPATAN joined last December an independent, scientific and civilian fact-finding mission recognized by Co’s family to investigate the killings. Their report holds the AFP solely responsible for the death of Co and his two companions, forest guard Sofronio Cortez and farmer Julius Borromeo, based on firsthand eyewitness accounts of two survivors, and material and physical evidence relating to the deaths.

“Now three government-hired men, after two months, conveniently disregarded the facts, defended the AFP, maliciously blamed the NPA and even the Lopez-owned Energy Development Corporation who was the private employer of Co,” Clamor said.

KARAPATAN questioned the ballistic tests conducted by the government team. “Of course the bullets found on the bodies wouldn’t match the guns offered by the military. A killer wouldn’t implicate himself. It was a cover-up. The 200-meter peripheral investigation overlooks the supposed close-quarter combat while the trees themselves spoke of ballistic fire from the AFP position,” KARAPATAN said.

Co’s two other companions, Policarpio Balute, a member of a local peasant association, and Roniño Gibe, a contractual forester with EDC’s corporate social responsibility department, survived the attack and gave their testimonies.

“So much for ‘kayo ang boss ko’ of the Aquino administration. The government would only listen to its men and not the people’s lament,” Clamor added.

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