By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — The New People’s Army (NPA) blamed the military for the murder of botanist Leonard Co and two others and denied that there was an encounter.
Co, Sofronio Cortez and Julius Borromeo, were killed inside the Energy Development Corporation (EDC) complex in Kananga, Leyte, on November 15, 2010. They were part of a team conducting a research for the EDC.
Officers of the 19th Infantry Battalion (IB) of the Philippine Army claimed that the three were killed in crossfire between the soldiers and the NPA rebels. Later, the Department of Justice (DOJ) reported that the NPA were the ones who shot dead the three victims.
In a statement sent through email, the Mt. Amandewin Command of the NPA-Leyte denied any responsibility and said that what happened on November 15, 2010, was a plain massacre by the 19th IB.
The NPA said that the EDC area is disadvantageous to them because it is “too heavily guarded by the 19th IB, the police, paramilitary and private security guards.”
“Why would the NPA put itself at unnecessary risk when there are far better options for launching a tactical offensive? Moreover, even if the NPA had been on a tactical offensive at that time despite the obvious odds, it still would not have engaged the 19th IB since Co and the other civilians would be put in harm’s way. The NPA strictly complies with the laws of war and respects the rights of civilians,” Dodong Malaya, spokesman of the Mt. Amandewin Command, said.
The NPA statement is consistent with the testimonies of survivor Ronino Gibe and police officer John Quiniones Sosito. In one of the hearings conducted by the CHR, Gibe and Sosito said that there was no other armed group in the area on the date of the incident except the military.
Malaya added that the 19th IB was on a frenzy of search-and-destroy operations in Leyte when Co and two others were killed.
“The militarization in Leyte was parallel to that in Samar in the waning months of 2010, as Oplan Bantay Laya 2 was drawing to a close at yearend, and due to be supplanted with Oplan Bayanihan. Many civilians were abused in widespread military operations in the towns of Albuera, Burauen, Kananga, Carigara and Capoocan. Sad to say, Co and his assistants suffered worst of all, because they were attacked after the 19th IB had been dealt serious losses in an NPA ambush,” Malaya said.
The Oplan Bantay Laya 2 is the counterinsurgency program of the Arroyo administration extended by the new Aquino administration. Oplan Bayanihan is the new internal security plan of the Aquino administration.
Malaya was referring to the ambush by the NPA Mt. Amandewin Command against a platoon of the 19th IB in Salvacion village, Albuera, Leyte on October 1, 2010. Malaya said seven soldiers were killed and two wounded.
The rebel leader said that the 19th IB “covered up its defeats to this very day, even when the media and public were skeptical why alleged crossfire in an encounter could kill the three civilians, when the 19th IB had been saying for years the NPA was over in Leyte.”
Due to the ambush, Malaya claimed that the ranks of the 19th IB “were demoralized and liable to extreme paranoia and cowardice in their operations,” Malaya said that Lt. Ronald Odchimar of the 19th IB and his troops shot Co, Cortez and Borromeo because the three victims were apparently mistaken for rifle-toting NPA fighters at a distance.
Peak of Impunity
Malaya said that the massacre of Co, Cortez and Borromeo is “the peak of the impunity currently enjoyed by the 19th IB.”
“It should also not be forgotten that many other civilians today continue to suffer at the hands of the fascist battalion, apart from the more than a decade of massacres and other human rights violated it committed,” Malaya said.
Malaya expressed sympathy for the families of Co, Cortez and Borromeo and urged them to press on with the struggle for justice because, Malaya said, the truth was on their side.
The NPA leader also urged other sectors to support the struggle for justice for the Kananga massacre victims, as well as for the other victims of the 19th IB’s impunity for violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.
Malaya said that the bloodshed of civilians is bound to persist because the new Oplan Bayanihan is hell-bent on persevering with US-guided “counter-insurgency.”
Malaya said civilians are becoming targets of the Aquino government’s “counter-insurgency.” He said that despite the uproar over the massacre of Co’s team, the 19th IB remained relentless in military operations in the towns of Kananga, Carigara, Capoocan, Ormoc, Albuera, Baybay, Burauen and Jaro.
The rebel leader said that many peasant families in Leyte suffer from hunger after being forbidden from farming their land as well as doing other means of livelihood because they are accused of supporting the NPA. “Other peasants are also forced to guide the soldiers during dangerous military operations. The soldiers also routinely base themselves in the houses of civilians, in barangay halls, and schools. Villagers are often interrogated and harassed by the fascist troops,” he said.
The NPA also clarified that they did not violate the ceasefire last December. The NPA ambush on December 14, Malaya said, was conducted two days before the declared ceasefire. In the said ambush in Carigara, Leyte, ten soldiers were killed and five were wounded.