“We have waited this long, only to suffer another injustice. By ignoring the need for justice, they have also ignored the life of service that Leonard and his companions had done up to their last breath.” – Mrs. Glenda Co
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – After more than two years, justice remains bleak.
Glenda Co, wife of renowned botanist Leonard Co, expressed disappointment with the Department of Justice (DOJ) resolution.
In a 19-page resolution, the DOJ said there was no probable cause to file murder charges against nine members of the Philippine Army’s 19th Infantry Battalion. Co and his two companions were killed during an alleged military operation in Kananga, Leyte on November 15, 2010.
“We are not happy with the resolution. We do not agree that the killing of my husband Leonard, and his companions Sofronio Cortez and Julius Borromeo, is a simple case of homicide,” Mrs. Co, who filed murder charges against the suspects, said in a statement.
A panel of prosecutors ruled that a key element of murder—intentional felony or motive to kill—was absent in the case.
The DOJ recommended the filing of reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide, attempted homicide charges against the soldiers. Those ordered charged were 1st Lt. Ronald Odchimar, Corporal Marlon Mores, Private First Class (Pfc) Albert Belmonte, Pfc William Bulic, Pfc Elmer Forteza, Pfc Alex Apostol, Pfc Roger Fabillar, Pfc Michael Babon, and Pfc Gil Guimerey.
The nine were also charged with obstruction of justice, along with 27 other individuals.
Mrs. Co lamented that the DOJ ignored the results of the independent fact-finding mission led by the Justice for Leonard Co Movement 10 days after the incident.
Results of the independent investigation belied claims by the Armed Forces of the Philippines that Co, Cortez and Borromeo were killed in a crossfire with members of the New People’s Army (NPA). On the contrary, the fact-finding team found out that there was no firefight; and that the continuing bursts of gunfire that felled Co and company was one-sided, originating only from where the soldiers of 19th Infantry Battalion were positioned.
“We have waited this long, only to suffer another injustice. By ignoring the need for justice, they have also ignored the life of service that Leonard and his companions had done up to their last breath,” Mrs. Co said.
Meanwhile, Hustisya secretary general Cristina Guevarra said the DOJ’s stand to downgrade the charges against elements of 16th IB “manifests a slipshod attempt to whitewash the incident and free the soldiers of their accountability.”
Hustisya, an organization of families of victims of human rights violations, dismissed what it calls as “flimsy alibi” that the killing incident was merely an “honest mistake” as claimed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
“Amid their posturing to subscribe to due process, their attempts to mislead the public and cover up the dastardly act makes them all the more guilty of murder. The massacre of Leonard Co and company was not an accident, the soldiers were there to kill,” Guevarra said.
In a separate statement, the Katungod-Sinirangan Bisayas, the regional chapter of Karapatan in Eastern Visayas, said the resolution is “very contemptible.”
Rev. Irma Mepico-Balaba, regional coordinator of Katungod-SB, pointed out that the soldiers denied one of the victims immediate medical attention that eventually caused his death. “This particular fact establishes that harm was indeed intended against the victims,” Balaba said.
Katungod-SB also cited that a survivor appealed to the soldiers to cease firing at them since they are civilians but the plea was not heeded. Even forensic analysis presented during the public hearing at Leyte Park Hotel suggested that Co was shot in a closer position, which could have clarified the victims’ identity as civilians, the group said.
“With these circumstances in mind, we have enough reason to get repulsive to such a downgraded recommendation. It merely portrays even vividly how government institutions under President Noynoy Aquino orchestrate continuing human rights violations by projecting a totally different public image while it condones state-induced violence,” Balaba said.
Katungod-SB deemed that the DoJ’s recommendation becomes “a prodding for the military to commit more acts of violence against the people in the smokescreen of upholding peace and development especially under Oplan Bayanihan.”