“But the main question here is, where did they really find those clothes?”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Tattered clothes allegedly exhumed along with human skeletons from a mass grave in Inopacan town in Leyte were presented as evidence yesterday, Feb. 9, as the trial against peace consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) continued at a Manila trial court.
In his direct examination, Police Chief Superintendent Edwin Zata of the Scene of the Crime Operatives (Soco) of the Philippine National Police-Region 8 identified dozens of clothes, mostly underwear, shirts, and shorts. The clothes were supposedly exhumed from a mass grave of victims of the anti-infiltration campaign of the Communist Party of the Philippines who were killed in 1985.
Zata claimed he participated in the exhumation of the controversial mass grave in Inopacan, Leyte in 2006.
But the peace consultants who were accused of ordering the killing and the mass grave said clothes – such as underwear fabric – buried in the heart of a rainforest could not withstand more than 20 years and still be intact by the time it was allegedly exhumed.
“Those who have been to the mountains would know that clothes buried in the rainforest for more than 20 years would not appear like that. It should have completely decomposed by now,” Benito Tiamzon, NDFP peace consultant, matter-of-factly told Bulatlat during the hearing.
Another accused NDFP peace consultant, Vicente Ladlad, found the state of the clothes “questionable.” He said that the “tattered” look of the clothes is inconsistent with the colors of the prints, which were still vivid, such as the case of the underwear that still had the sign “Playboy” on it.
The seeming deterioration of the clothes could be artificially induced using chemicals, Ladlad added.
“But the main question here is, where did they really find those clothes?” Tiamzon said, citing that Zata earlier testified that there were already men digging up the mass grave when they were brought there and that some men also brought sacks containing skulls, which they claimed they found in a separate mass grave down the next hill.
On Aug. 26, 2006, the Philippine Army’s 43rd Infantry Battalion claimed it found a mass grave in Inopacan, Leyte. The victims were supposedly killed in the anti-infiltration campaign of the Communist Party of the Philippines in 1985. This mass grave served as basis for the filing of multiple murder charges against NDFP peace consultants and known progressives.
This is not the first time that Zata had testified. In December 2014, he was rejected as an “expert witness” and admitted as an “ordinary witness” by the court during the bail proceedings for accused farmers leaders from various towns in Leyte, namely: Dario Tomada, Oscar Belleza, Norberto Murillo, and Bernabe Ocasla.
Yesterday, however, was the first time that the clothes were presented before the court.
Handed over to military?
During the direct examination, Judge Thelma Bunyi-Medina of the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 32 said she wanted to look into the chain of custody of the supposed skeletons and clothes that were exhumed with it.
Zata said that after the exhumation, the skeletons were handed to the military for safekeeping. The clothes, on the other hand, were brought to the dangerous drugs evidence room in their police camp where it was washed and dried.
“It just shows that they did not secure the so-called evidence. And they even turned it over to the Philippine Army. Why?” Wilma Austria asked.
Human rights advocates and lawyers have assailed that the case against NDFP consultants and known progressives was meant to silence government critics. They have also debunked the alleged Inopacan mass grave as a case of “traveling skeletons” with five of the alleged victims whose skeletal remains were exhumed were also found in a mass grave in Baybay, Leyte back in 2000.
In a related development, another accused former Jagna town mayor Exuperio Lloren did not enter a plea in his arraignment today. His lawyer had initially argued that the court should defer his arraignment as they are seeking a certiorari before the Court of Appeals, where they argued that the charges and the warrant had stipulated the name of a certain “Exusperado,” which he said is not is client.
His camp also argued that he was denied due process as there was no preliminary investigation done before the filing of the case against him, adding that this is a violation of his statutory right. When the case was filed, Lloren was mayor of Jagna town in Bohol and did not receive any subpoena on the case.
Another accused, NDFP peace consultant Adelberto Silva, was absent in the hearing because the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology officials failed to bring him there. Silva is currently detained at the Special Intensive Care Area at the Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City.