The family of slain botanist Leonard Co on Tuesday filed a complaint accusing 38 members of the Philippine Army’s 19th Infantry Battalion of murdering Co and his two other companions in Leyte last year.
Those who filed the complaint were Co’s wife, Glenda, and parents Lian Sing and Emelina Co.
Co’s family had earlier protested a DOJ fact-finding panel’s report that cleared the military of any liability for the the killing of Co, forest guard Sofronio Cortez, and guide Julius Borromeo at the Energy Development Corp. (EDC) premises in Kananga, Leyte.
The military had claimed that the three were killed in a crossfire between the 19th IB and New People’s Army (NPA) rebels.
But Co’s family said they do not believe the military because the Army’s shooting was supposedly “specifically directed only at Co, Borromeo, Cortez and their companions.”
“We have basis to believe that no encounter occurred between the 19th Infatnry Battalion and the communist terrorists when Co, Borromeo, Cortez were killed and that they were in fact murdered by elements of the 19th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army,” they said in their complaint.
Those named on the charge sheet were:
# 1Lt. Ronald Odchimar,
# 2Lt. Cameron Perez,
# Corporal Marlon Mores,
# Private First Class Albert Belonte,
# PFC Michael Babon,
# PFC Elemer Forteza,
# PFC Roger Fabillar,
# PFC Gil Guimerey,
# PFC Alex Apostol,
# PFC WIlliam Bulic, and
# 28 other John Does.
Lt. Gen. Ralph Villanueva, commander of the Armed Forces Central Command, said they have yet to get a copy of the complaint but vowed to make available the soldiers involved in any investigation.
“We are fully cooperating with all investigative bodies… our soldiers will be there so they can give their side and explain what happened. We are ready to [face] any of these [investigating] bodies,” said Villanueva, whose command has supervision over the battalion involved.
In their complaint, Co’s family asked the DOJ to conduct a preliminary investigation to determine whether the respondents should be charged with murder for the killing of Co and his two other companions.
Lawyer Evalyn Ursua, counsel for the family, said a review of the DOJ panel’s report would show that “the findings and the conclusions of the report are flawed and contrary to evidence.”
Speaking to reporters, Ursua said that a scrutiny of the soldiers’ affidavits would show that they did not have personal knowledge of the supposed presence of communist rebels.
“We examined their affidavits and we saw their statements. Some were hearsay and unreliable regarding the presence of armed communist terrorists, and the shooting was directed especially at the team of Doctor Co,” Ursua said.
Co’s wife and parents added in their complaint: “It is understanding that these hearsay and unreliable statements about the supposed presence of three armed communist terrorists cannot give credence to the claim that Co, Borromeo, and Cortez were killed in the crossfire between government soldiers and communist terrorists.”
They likewise said that the fact that treachery, an element of murder, was present because Co, Borromeo, and Cortez were killed defenselessly.
“Under the law, the sudden and unexpected attack against Co, Borromeo, and Cortez when they were unarmed and completely defenseless constitutes treachery and makes their killing murder,” they said.
Which has more weight?
In a separate interview with reporters, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said she will assign a panel of prosecutors that will hande the Co family’s complaint.
She added that the filing of the complaint paves the way for a preliminary investigation, which is a more formal inquiry compared with the earlier fact-finding probe done by a DOJ panel of prosecutors.
The DOJ panel’s report blamed the deaths on the communist rebels, saying the trajectory of the bullets that killed Co and his companions came from lower grounds, where the NPA rebels were allegedly located.
She added that the imminent preliminary investigation on the murder charges “effectively” has more weight than the fact-finding probe done by the panel.
“In the preliminary investigation, the evidentiary rules will apply. The ultimate goal is to determine probable cause whether the respondents can be indicted. This is a different proceeding, it’s more formal and it will be done by a different panel,” she said.
De Lima likewise vowed the DOJ’s impartiality in the upcoming preliminary investigation.
“The panel that will be created will be presumed to be regular and diligent and efficient in the discharge of its mandate,” she said. — RSJ, GMANews.TV (SOPHIA M. DEDACE, GMANews.TV)