Army probes soldiers in Davao del Sur massacreBy Nikko Dizon, Orlando Dinoy and Allan Nawal
Inquirer Mindanao, Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—The military has relieved nine Army personnel, including their battalion commander, to pave the way for an impartial investigation of the encounter with a supposed antimining leader that left his wife and two children dead in Davao del Sur on Thursday morning.
Relieved of their assignments were 27th Infantry Battalion (IB) Commander Lt. Col. Alex Bravo, company commander 1Lt. Dante Jimenez and seven squad members, according to Lt. Col. Lyndon Paniza, spokesperson of the Army’s 10th Infantry Division.
Paniza said Brig. Gen. Ariel Bernardo, commander of the 10th Infantry Division, has ordered the formation of a board of inquiry to determine if there were violations of the rules of engagement by Army troops who engaged in a gunfight with an armed group led by Dagil Capion in Sitio Aliong, Barangay Kimlawis.
Bernardo said it was a “legitimate encounter” between Capion and the Army but he deemed it best to recall the officers and men involved to give way to an investigation.
“Let’s just wait for the result of the investigation. We have not charged anyone yet and we deem it proper to investigate our people, how it happened, how (there was) collateral damage, (if there were) violations in our rules of engagement,” Bernardo told reporters in Camp Aguinaldo by phone.
The Army maintained that Capion, a member of the B’laan tribe, was not an antimining activist as claimed by militant and human rights groups, but a bandit.
Paniza said that even before Xstrata’s Sagittarius Mines (SMI) operated in the province, Capion was already a “notorious bandit.”
Paniza said Capion had been making demands from SMI and when the company ignored him, he used it as an issue against the company “to justify his activities.”
Paniza said Capion was behind the ambush of some police officers and an SMI security officer who was killed.
Killed in ‘crossfire’
Capion’s wife, Jovy, who was reportedly two-months pregnant, and children, Pop and John, were killed in the crossfire. His seven year old daughter, Vicky, was wounded.
A statement from the Army said the 27th IB led by Jimenez went on patrol at 6 a.m. after receiving a report on the presence of armed men in Sitio Aliong, Barangay Kimlawis.
“The 27th IB led by (First Lt.) Dante Jimenez went on patrol around 6 a.m. Upon reaching the area they were fired upon by the bandit group,” Bravo said.
He said the soldiers returned fire and engaged the “bandits” in a five minute firefight. Capion, he said, was wounded but managed to escape, along with his followers. The bandit group withdrew towards Mount Bololomot.
Recovered from the encounter site were a rifle grenade, empty shells of M16 rifle and two M16 magazines with live rounds, the statement said.
Bravo said the soldiers were operating along with policemen and were helping enforce the warrants against Capion for murder. He said Capion is also allied with the New People’s Army.
“We did not know his wife and children were in the said hut, where the suspects fired from,” he said.
Bravo said they welcome any investigation on the incident and was confident the military would eventually be vindicated.
“The victims were simply caught in the crossfire between government troops and a bandit group led by her (Juvy’s) own husband,” Capt. William Alfred Rodriguez of the Army’s 1002nd Infantry Brigade based in Malungon, Sarangani, said in a statement.
Human rights and proenvironment groups immediately condemned the killings and asked the Commission on Human Rights to conduct a deeper investigation.