Malacañang claims that the culture of impunity has been solved because the Aquino government has been doing something about it. And yet, unsolved cases of extrajudicial killings under the current administration continue to pile up.
By RONALYN V. OLEA
In May 2010, President Benigno Aquino III told ambassadors of the European Union (EU) who visited him in his residence at Times street that he would resolve the problem of extrajudicial killings.
“The extrajudicial killings would have to be solved. It does not mean just identifying the perpetrators but capturing them and also sending them to jail,” Aquino was quoted as saying in a report.
Bulatlat.com selected six prominent cases of extrajudicial killings committed during Aquino’s reign. These cases reveal that the human rights situation in the country remains to be bleak.
Italian missionary Fr. Fausto “Pops” Tentorio was shot dead October 17, 2011 inside the church compound in Arakan Valley, North Cotabato.
Before the incident, Tentorio was vilified as a supporter of the New People’s Army (NPA) and threatened by members of the Bagani Force, a paramilitary group linked to the 57th Infantry Battalion of Philippine Army.
More than two years later, however, no one has been charged for the murder. An inter-agency committee composed of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Commission on Human Rights Region XII, which is handling the case, has yet to release its findings. The task force only conducted two clarificatory hearings last July 24 and July 31 this year.
2) Gerry Ortega
Broadcaster and environmentalist Gerry Ortega was slain on January 24, 2011 in Puerto Princesa City.
The DOJ’s first panel of prosecutors absolved primary suspects former Palawan Governor Joel Reyes and his brother, Coron Mayor Mario Reyes, and only recommended charges to four alleged gunmen and their accomplices to the murder.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima formed a new panel, which reversed the decision of the first panel and found probable cause to indict the Reyes brothers for murder. The Court of Appeals, however, invalidated De Lima’s Department Order 710, which created the second panel. In October this year, the appellate court’s Special Tenth Division denied the motion for reconsideration filed by De Lima. According to a report, the six-page resolution said that De Lima failed to observe “proper procedural protocols” when the DOJ recommended murder charges against Reyes.
Anti-mining activist Juvy Capion and her two sons were killed when soldiers belonging to the 27th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army peppered their hut with bullets in the morning of October 18, 2012.
In March this year, Juvy’s father, Sulim Malid, filed murder charges against Lt. Col. Alexis Bravo of the 27th Infantry Battalion, as well as Lt. Dante Jimenez, head of the 27th IB’s Bravo Company, and 14 other John Does at the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office in Digos City, Davao del Sur.
One year after the massacre, Prosecutor Jayson Banjal dismissed the case against the suspects, saying that pieces of evidence filed by complainants are “circumstantial and insufficient to establish probable cause for murder.”
The Union of People’s Lawyer in Mindanao (UPLM), counsel for the family, filed a petition for review before the DOJ. The UPLM enumerated “undisputed facts” that warrant a finding of probable cause and prosecution of the respondents: a) Respondents admit that they were in the place of the crime at the time it happened; b) Respondents were armed with M-16 rifles; c) Among the shells recovered from the crime scene were those from an M-16 rifle; d) Three of the respondents admitted having fired their guns; e) Their shots were aimed at the men who hid behind the hut; g) The victims were inside the hut where the shots were directed; h) Respondents admitted that they moved the victims out of the hut— a very unusual thing to do when one seeks to administer first aid as it could be done without moving them and risk further injury; i) Respondents failed to refute the witnesses’ allegation that they cleaned the house; and j) Witnesses positively pointed to respondents as the persons present in the crime scene immediately after its commission.
Dutch development worker Willem Geertman was shot dead by two assailants in front of the Alay Bayan Luzon Inc. (ABI) office in Telabastagan village, San Fernando, Pampanga on July 3, 2012.
Geertman’s fiancé Maria Aurora Santiago filed a complaint-affidavit against two suspects for the murder. On December 27, 2012, the Office of City Prosecutor in San Fernando, Pampanga recommended in a resolution the filing of robbery with homicide charges against the two suspects and John and Peter Does.
The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), counsel for Santiago, filed a petition for review before the DOJ, arguing that the investigating prosecutor failed to appreciate the facts and the evidence that the main purpose of the perpetrator was to assassinate Geertman and not to rob him. “If the purpose of killing Wilhem was to facilitate the alleged robbery, then they [suspects] should have shot him immediately…Instead, they went into the trouble of making him ignominiously kneel down thereby costing them several minutes before they were able to carry out their alleged plan,” the NUPL said in its petition. “These acts clearly show that they intended to kill him, and they divested him of his personal belongings only after killing him.”
The NUPL is asking the DOJ to set aside the prosecutor’s resolution and file two separate charges of murder and robbery against the two suspects and several John and Peter Does.
5) Leonard Co, Sofronio Cortez and Julio Borromeo
Botanist Leonard Co and four of his companions were doing a field research at the Energy Development Corporation (EDC) compound in Kananga, Leyte on Nov. 15, 2010 when they heard gunshots.
After about 15 to 20 minutes of gunfire, Co and Sofroneo Cortez were dead while Julio Borromeo was wounded but still alive. Co’s two other companions, Policarpio Balute, was able to flee while Roniño Gibe was unhurt.
It turned out that the men who fired at them were elements of the 16th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army. Borromeo eventually died as the soldiers did not give him immediate medical treatment.
The military claimed the incident was a legitimate encounter with the New People’s Army (NPA). Gibe belied this in an affidavit, saying that no firefight occurred.
In its report and recommendation, the Department of Justice and the National Bureau of Investigation Fact-Finding Investigation Panel on the Cause of Death of Leonard Co, Sofronio Cortez and Julio Borromeo ignored Gibe’s statement, upheld the statement of the military and absolved the soldiers of any responsibility.
In a resolution dated February 28 this year, the DOJ recommended the filing of homicide, instead of murder, against the soldiers involved in the killing.
6) Jimmy Liguyon
Tribal leader Jimmy Liguyon, vocal in his opposition to large-scale mining in their ancestral domain in Dao, San Fernando, Bukidnon, was gunned down inside his home, March 5, 2012.
Witnesses pointed to Alde Salusad, the leader of paramilitary group New Indigenous People’s Army Reform (NIPAR), as the culprit behind the murder.
Liguyon’s widow, Sharon, filed a criminal case against the suspects. The criminal case was later on raffled to Branch 10 of the Regional Trial Court in Malabalay, Bukidnon presided over by Judge Josefina Gentiles Bacal. Salusad was charged with murder and a warrant of arrest was issued on April 30, 2012.
To this day, however, Salusad remains at large. Leaders of the United Church of Christ of the Philippines (UCCP), to which Liguyon was a member, sought the help of the DOJ and the Department of Interior and Local Government to effect the arrest of the primary suspect but to no avail.
On December 7, 2012, the UCCP bishops wrote to President Benigno Aquino III, appealing to his administration “to swiftly restore order in Dao village.” The letter partly read:“[w]e continue to hear reports that Butsoy [Alde] Salusad roams freely throughout Barangay Dao and the greater San Fernando area armed with a baby armalite. We appeal for an urgent investigation into why the Philippine National Police has failed to arrest Alde “Butsoy” Salusad. Salusad should immediately be taken into custody.”
The UCCP claimed that NIPAR was conniving with the Special Civilian Armed Auxiliary of the 8th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army. SCAA is reportedly headed by the suspect’s father, Benjamin Salusad. They further stated that:“The climate of impunity is only strengthened as warrants of arrest are not served, alleged perpetrators remain at large, and paramilitary forces are permitted to make death threats, harass, intimidate and sow terror amongst the indigenous peoples in far-flung areas.”
In all these cases, perpetrators were identified by witnesses but none of them has been jailed.
It has been more than three years since Aquino vowed to address the spate of extrajudicial killings. Not one case has been satisfactorily resolved. Worse, human rights abuses continue. Human rights watchdog Karapatan recorded 152 cases extrajudicial killings and 168 frustrated killings, 18 enforced disappearances, 358 illegal arrests and detentions on trumped up charges, torture and other gross human rights violations.