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    Rights, church groups bring case of killing of botanist to the UN

    The families of the victims and their supporters have expressed fear of a possible whitewash with the report of the Department of Justice and National Bureau of Investigation clearing the military of any responsibility.

    By RONALYN V. OLEA [1]

    MANILA – Human rights groups in the Philippines filed a complaint against the Philippine government for the killing of botanist Leonard Co and two others before the United Nations, March 14. The groups also called the attention of the international community on the ongoing trial of the Maguindanao massacre and continuing human rights violations under the new administration.

    Co, Sofronio Cortez and Julius Borromeo were killed on November 15, 2010 while conducting a research inside the Energy Development Corporation (EDC) compound in Kananga, Leyte. A survivor, Ronino Gibe and other witnesses pointed to the elements of the 19th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army as perpetrators [2].

    Members of the Ecumenical Voice for Peace and Human Rights in the Philippines (Ecumenical Voice) handed over the complaint of scientist group Agham (not the party list) to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Christof Heyns. Co was a member of Agham. The group also submitted a copy of the report [3] of an independent fact finding mission on the incident.

    Agham urged Heyns to investigate the killing of Co, Cortez and Borromeo, “up to and including all levels of the military command concerned with their shooting.” The families of the victims and their supporters have expressed fear of a possible whitewash with the report of the Department of Justice [4] and National Bureau of Investigation clearing the military of any responsibility.

    According to Karapatan, the killings of Co, Cortez and Borromeo were among the first 30 cases of extrajudicial killings committed under the administration of President Benigno Aquino III.

    Members of the Ecumenical Voice went to Geneva, Switzerland for the 16th session of the United National Human Rights Council. The delegation is headed by Philippine Independent Church Bishop Bishop Felixberto Calang and Marie Hilao Enriquez, Karapatan chairwoman.

    Maguindanao Massacre, Mindanao Killings

    In an oral statement, Calang, also of the Initiatives for Peace in Mindanao (InPeace Mindanao), highlighted the “slow pace of the trial on the Maguindanao massacre” and cases of extrajudicial killings in Mindanao.

    Calang expressed concern over the conduct of the prosecution in the Maguindanao massacre. The massacre of November 23, 2009 claimed the lives of 58 individuals, including 32 journalists and two lawyers. Members of an alleged warlord political family in Maguindanao province are suspected to be the perpetrators.

    “The victims’ kin are apprehensive of attempts to bribe witnesses and prosecutors in apparent moves to weaken the ongoing legal case against the powerful Ampatuan family. The victims’ families complain of the slow pace of the judicial processes while witnesses remain unprotected and some have already been killed,” Calang said.

    Calang called on the UN Human Rights Council to monitor the prosecution of the accused in the Maguindanao massacre. He also urged the international community to call for the adequate protection of witnesses and for a speedy and public trial of the case.

    Calang’s statement was read by Ephraim Cortez of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) during the general debate on Item 3 at the 16th session of the UN Human Rights Council.

    Calang also said that of the 1,206 documented cases of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines under former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, 375 of the victims were from Mindanao. He cited the recent murder of B’laan chieftain Rudy Dejos [5] and his son Rody Rick in Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur and the killing of Benjamin Bayles [6] , a member of the Philippine Independent Church. Calang said the incidents “show that extrajudicial killings continue under the prevailing climate of impunity in the country.”

    Other members of the Ecumenical Voice are Dr. Merry Mia Clamor, one of the Morong 43, Cristina Palabay of Karapatan; Girlie Padilla of the Ecumenical Movement for Justice and Peace and Rhonda Ramiro of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-USA chapter. (

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