Soldiers face criminal raps for killing of UP botanist

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The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has recommended criminal charges against eight soldiers and their commanders for the killing of a respected botanist and his two aides two years ago.

The CHR has also called for administrative charges against the soldiers and officers for the killing of Leonardo Co and his two companions in the forest of Kananga town in Leyte on Nov. 15, 2010.

The military claimed Co, a botanist of the Universitry of the Philippines and consultant to the Lopez-owned Energy Development Corp. (EDC), company forest guard Sofronio G. Cortez, and Co’s guide Julius Borromeo were caught in the crossfire in a fire fight between troops of the Army’s 19th Infantry Battalion and members of the communist New People’s Army.

Co’s other guide, Policarpio Balute, and Ronio Gibe, a contractual forester with EDC’s corporate responsibility department, survived the shooting.

But an investigation by the CHR found that there was no fire fight and that the death of Co and his companions was due to the military’s failure to distinguish civilians from combatants.

Attempts at cover-up

The CHR also cited alleged attempts to hide the crime by the soldiers and their battalion commander.

“This was a tragedy that should not have happened if the [military] had been more diligent in observing international humanitarian law in protecting the lives and safety of civilians,” the CHR said in a statement.

“There was a failure to distinguish civilians from alleged combatants. There was failure to provide prompt medical attention to the wounded victim who died as a result,” the statement said.

Borromeo was wounded in the incident, but instead of getting medical assistance he was interrogated by the soldiers, the CHR said.

Co and his two assistants were killed while working on a reforestation project in Leyte for EDC.

Commanders

The CHR said Col. Federico Tutaan, then the 19th IB commander, and 1Lt. Obald Odchimar, then Charlie Company commander, should be charged for failing to submit all the firearms used in the shooting for testing.

The CHR findings released on Tuesday, CHR Chairperson Loretta Ann Rosales cited gross violations of the human rights law

“Our position is while we can grant there was a legitimate operation, the truth is there was no legitimate encounter because it was one-sided, there was no exchange of fire,” Rosales told the Inquirer in an interview.

Rosales said the law prohibited the killing or shooting of people not identified as combatants.

DOJ clears military

She cited the findings of Dr. Racquel Fortun, a forensic expert, that Borromeo would have lived had he been immediately taken to hospital by the military for treatment instead of being interrogated although wounded.

The CHR’s recommendations have been sent to the Department of Justice (DOJ), which will determine what charges will be filed against the soldiers and officers.

The CHR’s recommendations came as President Aquino attempts to show that his administration is serious about cracking down on rights abuses that have afflicted the country for decades.

Mr. Aquino was elected two years ago on a platform against rights abuses, particularly the “culture of impunity” under which powerful men believe they can get away with abuses.

Shots from soldiers

The DOJ and National Bureau of Investigation also investigated the killing of Co. But their fact-finding team absolved the military and blamed the NPA for the deaths of Co and his companions.

But Fortun, who autopsied the bodies of Co, Cortez and Borromeo, disagreed with the panel’s findings that NPA guerrillas shot the victims.

The DOJ-NBI panel based its findings on the supposed flat trajectory of the bullets that killed Co and his companions.

But the CHR found that all the shots had been fired from the soldiers’ position on a rise in the forest.

The CHR also found that the bullets recovered from the bodies of Co, Cortez and Borromeo did not match any of the guns submitted by the military for examination. With a report from AFP

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  • zeroko

    This once and for all refute the doctrine that our soldiers and their Generals are truely protecting the people.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_WC2VPZRJETRO5KOU4VOZCJXEDY Tamarindwalk

       Sadly, the military still carries the stains of the Martial Law days when its abuse of power was immense.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y74B6RY5N37I5JG2KAFGKGFPFA F**kinMO

    You gotta face the music..

  • Nathanael Espino

    About time. Justice for Dr. Co!

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_3TWVIBNBHJIBKXLUC5IT2JYM5E Harry

      What Dr. Co? The military doesn’t care who they killed, they just want to produce some dead bodies to claim one or two medals for “courage” and “bravery”.

      I know Dr. Co’s father personally when he still cooked and ran an eatery in Kalookan. The  grief that he is suffering for the loss of his son is beyond our imaginations.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_WC2VPZRJETRO5KOU4VOZCJXEDY Tamarindwalk

    Until the military, stained by its conduct during Martial Law, begins to conduct itself in a professional and respectful way, it will never gain the support of the people.

  • demonYOU

    Shoot first ask questions later! yan ang SOP buti may nabuhay pa at nagpatunay na hindi sila rebelde! paano kung lahat patay eh di kahit tanungin hindi na sila makakapag depensa sa bintang………

  • WeAry_Bat

    For once(?), the CHR did something right, prosecute some trigger happy military kung basta kung UP ay leftist na agad.

  • Magsasaka

    ganyan talaga sila kaduduwag kaya kahit isa kang sibilyan at wala kang baril ratratratin ka pero kapag kapwa nila may baril ang mga kaharap para lang silang manok
    sabagay ano mapapala natin sa isang institusyon na pinamumunuan ng mga member ng philippine magnanakaw association

  • johnlordphilip

    TRIGGER HAPPY MILITARY!!! And they continue to do this with impunity because other government agencies use to cover-up these abuses. Good work Madam Rosales! With you in this new administration, there is greater HOPE for the Filipinos.

  • robertcarino

    the AFP as an institution will not weaken if it punishes erring officers and men.  on the contrary, judicious use of punishment will go a long way in instilling discipline and, by extension, developing competence and garnering true respect.

  • Andre Mitchell

    Malaya pa rin ang mga bandidong NPA?
    Mga nagpapanggap na Robin Hood sa Leyte?
    Binibiktima ang mga negosyante, para sa proteksyon “kuno” ng mga taga Leyte?
    Pero alam ba ng taong bayan ng Leyte kung bakit ayaw ng mga negosyante sa lugar nila?
    Alam ba nila kung bakit wala silang kabuhayan?

    We applaud you, Chairperson Loretta Ann Rosales, for uncovering the truth!
    That was a huge victorious battle, but there is a bigger war yet.
    The real mystery is – bakit malaya pa rin ang mga bandido sa lugar?
    Sino ang nagbibigay ng proteksyon sa kanila?
    Ang Brgy Captain? 
    Mga konsehal?
    Ang Mayor?
    Governor?
    Mga pulis at mga commander?

    There is a bigger war, chairperson.
    And we hope you can uncover these also.

  • koolkid_inthehouse

    The AFP are impotent to punish the command responsibility.  They should investigated as well without coverup and going forward to  make tactical changes to avoid collateral damages.

    PMA grads are corrupt?

  • ManilaByNight

    It’s about time!

    Those soldiers who did the shooting are a bunch of IDIOTS!

    Justice should be served!

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/M3LQ4MUAU3Z36MIQGIGSOKBCQE Rosauro

    Soldiers are present in areas where there are rebels. Shoo away those rebels from there and you will not see government soldiers there. Why this CHR is always blaming the soldiers? Have we heared even for one time only that they castigated the NPA? Is the NPA saint to them?

    • robertcarino

      @rosauro.  before you start lionizing some and demonizing other people, it would do you good to read the results of the investigation.  you didn’t know Dr Co and his group made prior arrangements with the army prior to entering the forest?  you can find info on the case if you only wanted to.  what the military needsand wants right now are discipline and competence, not mindless propaganda and cheering from rah-rah soldier wannabes.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_CRBW2RJR4WNWVIDZVSCLFQK4KQ Spike

    puro kasi mga bobocop ang mga pulis at sundalo natin

  • basilionisisa

    ‘But an investigation by the CHR found that there was no fire fight and that the death of Co and his companions was due to the military’s failure to distinguish civilians from combatants.’

    am not condoning the military, but sometimes can’t blame them. they face ‘faceless’ and dangerous enemies, like Talibans. why are these civilians in that place? did they or the admin responsible for their safety notify the army of their ‘working’ presence there?

    perhaps something will come out of these: new MOs and training for the army? new rules and regulations re places frequented by NPAs? or whatever necessary. but let’s give the army a bit of understanding, it’s easy to point fingers when people die and justice must be served, but they (army) are not the enemies, they serve justice, and now they need it, they have a difficult job.

    • robertcarino

      difficulty of the job never excuses lapses.  you would know that if you’ve served in uniform.

    • panhase

       You ask “why are this civilians in this place?”
      Because they are there? It´s their country, why shouldn´t civilians be in that place? Why are you in a place? That´s not the busines of the government and not of the military. And this guy was a known botanist and the authorities have been informed of his presence.

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