By KIMBERLIE OLMAYA NGABIT-QUITASOL
The Search for justice continues
BAGUIO CITY—In commemoration of the first year anniversary of the senseless killing of the topnotch Filipino ethno-botanist, Leonard Co, the Community Heath Education Services and Trainings in the Cordillera Region (CHESTCORE) and his colleagues and friends offered a tribute and re-launched his book, “Common Medicinal Plants in the Cordillera Region” on November 15 at the University of the Philippines Baguio.
It can be recalled that Co, Cortez and Borromeo were fired at and killed by members of the 19th Infantry Battalion of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in Kananga, Leyte a year ago.
Contrary to the AFP claims, the surviving members of Co’s team and even Police Senior Supt. John Sosito attested that there had been no crossfire on that day. Sosito even said during the Commission on Human Rights hearings that Co’s team may have been mistaken for New People’s Army rebels.
Erlinda Palaganas, a colleague of Co and a professor at UPB, compared Co to “Oble”, or the Oblation, the university’s famous oblation sculpture. She said it is only proper to honor Co who practiced what the Oble stands for — the continuing search for knowledge and service to the people.
“He used his knowledge and skills in service to the country. He chose service to the people over a more comfortable life,” Palaganas emphasized. She added that Co came from a Chinese family who owns a restaurant.
Palaganas reiterated that it is unacceptable that state security forces who are supposed to protect the people were the ones who murdered instead one of the very few renowned ethno-botanists of the country.
“Leonard’s death serves as a challenge for us to continue what he has started. His memories and work will inspire us to realize our hopes for a better society,” Palaganas said.
She added that as they pay tribute to Co, they also salute his family, his wife, children and parents for their unwavering fight and she urged everyone to take part in the search for justice.
Chestcore Executive Director Romella Rasalan said November 15 also marks a year of calling for justice for Co and his companions who were killed with him, forest guard Sofronio Cortez and farmer guide Julius Borromeo. She explained that the relaunching of the book aims to honor Co for his dedicating most of his life to serving the neglected sectors of society.
Rasalan said Co was a Chestcore staff in the 1980s and he was among those who trained village health workers in the Mountain Province, Ifugao, Benguet and Kalinga. She said Co’s book was dedicated to the people as it provided alternative solutions to the inaccessibility and unavailability of medicines in the many interior communities of the region.
The book contains various medicinal plants found in the region. It includes their medicinal properties and how to prepare them.
“We honor him by continuing the struggle for the people’s right to health services,” Rasalan said.
In a statement read during the said program, Giovanni Tapang, convenor of the Justice for Leonard Co Movement (JLCM), said that the silence of the Aquino government on the case is similar to condoning the culture of impunity. He reiterated that the physical evidences and the testimonies of the survivors who witnessed the shooting clearly point to the AFP soldiers.
The JLCM calls on the Department of Justice to file murder charges against members of the 19th IB of the Philippine Army involved in Co’s death and the CHR to release its findings. The group also calls on the Aquino government to break its silence and act immediately.