“If he died in an encounter, they would not hear anything from us. Our family would just claim his body. But when we learned that he was still alive when he was taken by the soldiers and the police and ended up dead while in their custody, we are determined to fight for justice.” ˆGene Campaner, brother of slain NPA guerrilla
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — Gene Campaner, 33, would always remember his brother Roberto for being serious and hardworking.
“He taught us how to harvest coconuts and to keep the land we inherited very productive,” Gene said, “He woke up at 4:00 a.m. and start working at the koprahan. He is very hardworking. He did not rest if there was still work left to do.”
How and why Roberto decided to become a member of the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of Philippines, Gene said he does not know.
On March 1, 2014, Roberto was shot in front of a house in Sto. Nino Ibaba, Lopez, Quezon at around 9:00 a.m., following a confrontation with three men who introduced themselves as soldiers.
Witnesses said Roberto has already signaled his surrender when he put down his gun but one of the three soldiers continued to fire at him. The gunshot wounds Roberto sustained, witnesses said, were not fatal. But his remains were soon found in a hospital morgue bearing more wounds than what witnesses saw.
Roberto was 42 years old.
“If he died in an encounter, they would not hear anything from us. Our family would just claim his body. But when we learned that he was still alive when he was taken by the soldiers and the police and ended up dead while in their custody, we are determined to fight for justice,” Gene said.
In a press conference, Gene, along with members of human rights group Karapatan – Southern Tagalog, slammed the military’s violation of International Humanitarian Law and the rights of persons hors de combat. International Humanitarian Law prohibits attacks on persons recognized as hors de combat:
a) anyone who is in the power of an adverse party;
(b) anyone who is defenceless because of unconsciousness, shipwreck, wounds or sickness; or
(c) anyone who clearly expresses an intention to surrender;
Gene said his brother should have been brought to the hospital.
“He should have been given the chance to face the charges that would be filed against him. But he was not given that chance,” Gene said.
Danilo Roldan, 58, said he was on his way home when his wife Basyon, 55, told him that there were strangers – three men – who were waiting for him in their house. The three introduced themselves as soldiers and asked Roldan to hand them the gun he is keeping.
”I told them they are free to look into my belongings and find the gun they are looking for. But they did not. They just told me to cooperate with them,” he told Bulatlat.com in an interview.
From afar, Roldan said he saw two other men who were also walking toward their house. They asked water from his wife. He said two soldiers interrogated the two men, asking for their names and where they came from.
Before he knew it, Roldan said they exchanged fire. The man wearing a yellow basketball shirt, later identified as Roberto, then put his gun down and dropped to the ground to signify that he was surrendering. His companion was nowhere in sight.
“I shouted at the soldier: ‘Sir, he already surrendered. Why are you still firing at him?’” Roldan said. But one of the soldiers continued firing at Roberto. After hitting Roberto on his lower back, the soldiers ran away leaving Roberto in front of their house.
Roberto asked Roldan to bring him to the hospital. But Roldan told Bulatlat.com that he refused, saying that the soldiers might get back at him and his family. Roldan checked Roberto’s gunshot wounds and saw there were three: two surface wounds – one at the right temple, another at his right chest – and one deep wound in his right butt.
A truck full of soldiers, accompanied by the police, returned at Roldan’s house at around 11:30 a.m.
“They poked his gunshot wounds with a bamboo stick. He was shouting because it was painful. He told (the soldiers) to bring him to the hospital. They poked his gunshot wound on the head and asked for his name. He did not answer. They poked his wound at his butt and, finally, he said he would tell them what they need,” Roldan said.
Another soldier identified Roberto as “Ka Brando” and said that he used to be his neighbor.
Roldan was also interrogated and asked to hand over Roberto’s missing wallet. “I told them I did not steal anything,” he said.
At around 1:00 p.m., the soldiers and the police finally decided to bring Roberto to the hospital. Roldan and wife Basyon were told to follow. On their way to the village’s main road, Roldan said, they were repeatedly asked by soldiers to stop. Each stop would last about 30 minutes. On their last stop, Roldan said he was able to catch a glimpse of Roberto who was still alive at that time. But soon they got separated again and, this time, the police told the couple they should head to the police station.
“At that time, I did not know that he was an NPA. My only concern was that there was a man shot in front of my house and that it took a long time before he was taken to the hospital,” Basyon said.
When Gene heard of his brother’s fate, he immediately looked for the Roldan couple to inquire how Roberto died.
“All of them were surprised that he died. They all said that he was still strong and could possibly survive the gunshot wounds when he was brought out of the village,” Gene said.
Roldan, for his part, was surprised when he learned that Roberto’s remains had more wounds than he remembered seeing when he was still alive, particularly the one on his neck.
“I would have noticed (if there was really a wound in his neck) because I still managed to talk to him,” Roldan said.
“We decided to come out and help his family because we do not judge him by his affiliation. All we know is that he is a human being,” Basyon said when asked why they would be providing testimony for Roberto’s case.
Christopher Regencia, spokesperson of Karapatan-Quezon, said the results of the fact finding mission they conducted showed that soldiers violated International Humanitarian Law.
Glen Malabanan of Karapatan-Southern Tagalog said they have already informed the Commission on Human Rights about the incident.
Malabanan said, “We will file charges against the 85th IBPA for violating the rights of a person hors de combat. No matter who that person is, even if he is a member of NPA or whatever his affiliations are, his or her rights should always be protected.”