By TYRONE A. VELEZ
DAVAO CITY – Two families demanded the newly-deployed Philippine Army 9th Infantry Battalion to bring out soldiers allegedly involved in the murder of a youth and the disappearance of his friend two weeks ago in Maco, Compostela Valley.
The families sought help from human rights group Karapatan after saying authorities failed to act on them.
Brothers Jayson Vargas and “Ian” (a minor), told reporters here that their brother Welmer, aged 20, was strangled to death last March 23 by drunk soldiers who joined them in a drinking session in their community of Barangay Elizalde.
Welmer’s companion Emar Tomampos was also strangled but managed to escape. Tomampos immediately went to his family and sought barangay officials for help. But Emar’s stepsister Jenelyn Gigantos said she could no longer reach her brother and believed the military might have a hand on his disappearance.
Gigantos said that based on accounts of the victims’ friends, they were having a drinking session in a videoke house on Sunday morning as it was a day-off from their work in small scale mining operations.
She said the friends saw a number of soldiers in another videoke house drinking, while dancing and swaying with their firearms.
“They said the soldiers were swinging their rifles in the air while singing, some were dancing provocatively and singing profanities,” Gigantos said.
The soldiers belonging to the 9th Infantry Battalion were newly deployed a week earlier to Maco after coming from Bicol Region.
The soldiers reportedly joined the miners later on the other side, in which the miners obliged out of respect.
Jayson said the friends recounted that soldiers were enticing his brother Welmer to enlist in the army just as his other brother did.
He said by late afternoon, Welmer tried to leave the table but was repeatedly held back by soldiers. But by 6 pm, around four soldiers accompanied him and Emar out of the videoke house.
Jayson said that the two were led to a place near the soldiers’ detachment and were strangled by the soldiers using the sling of their rifles.
Gigantos said Emar pretended to lay dead and saw Welmer being ganged up by soldiers. He managed to slip out and fled to their house and recounted the incident.
When word of Welmer being ganged up reached his family, his parents and younger brother “Ian” went up near the detachment to try to save him. They found Welmer’s near lifeless body on the ground, but he died while they were bringing him to the hospital.
“Ian” said his brother had bruises on his ribs and knees.
Karapatan obtained a medico-legal report that said Welmer died due to “asphyxiation due to strangulation.”
Jayson said he is frustrated that officials failed to act on this incident.
“That is why we are here, to ask Karapatan to help us find justice. We filed a blotter to the police in Maco but they did nothing. Not even to investigate,” Jayson said.
Gigantos also appealed to Maco officials to find her brother.
“He was last seen on Sunday night and was accompanied by barangay officials to seek our mayor (Alvera Rimando) for help,” Gigantos said.
The families were accompanied by a local human rights group Humawac, whose spokesperson Reynante Mantos demanded the 9th IB to pull out of communities in Maco.
“They have barely arrived for a week and now a life has been taken away. This has caused fear in farmers in the community of Elizalde and other barangays in Maco. Thus, we call for the pullout of the 9th IB,” Mantos said.
Mantos added that the soldiers violated the International Humanitarian Law by camping near the community besides schools, houses, barangay halls and day care centers as part of the military’s Oplan Bayanihan counter-insurgency campaign.
Meanwhile, the New People’s Army Comval sub-region command released a statement last week condemning the 9th IB over the killings, adding that “AFP death squads” would face justice from the revolutionary movement.
NPA Comval Davao Gulf spokesperson Daniel Ibarra said the new battalion committed other violations in Maco such as “census-taking, interrogation of suspected members of the underground peasant organization, interview of non-residents and control of the entry and exit of villages, and ransacking of a house in Brgy. Panuraon.”
Ibarra said the deployment of the 9th IB complements the 71st IB operations in Maco, Pantukan, Mabini and Mawab, all in the second district of Comval, where expansion of mining exploration by American firm St. Augustine Gold and Copper Ltd and Malaysia-owned Apex Mining are being made, and soldiers are acting as “protector and private army” of St. Augustine mining.