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    The extrajudicial killing of Benjamin E. Bayles and the developments in the case

    Case information sheet

    Who was Benjie?

    Benjamin Estrope Bayles, or Benjie, was 43 years old, single and a resident of Sitio Pamandayan, Barangay Buenavista, Himamaylan City, Negros Occidental, Philippines.

    A rural poor himself, Benjie dedicated all his work and energy towards social justice and peace.  He defended human rights amidst socio-economic conflicts and an on-going heavy militarization campaign.  He was a genuine peasant leader who vocally advocated the interest of the marginalized population in Barangay Buenavista and neighboring communities.  Particularly, he fought against forced eviction, militarization and human rights violations.

    He denounced abuses committed by the officers and men of Philippine Army against upland farmers and agricultural workers.  Being a member of the September 21 Movement- Southern Negros, a local human rights alliance which is an active member organization of the nation-wide human rights alliance KARAPATAN, he facilitated the families of the victims to meet with the para-legals of September 21 Movement and KARAPATAN.  He actively joined fact- finding missions and quick reaction teams sent to investigate human rights violations in the hinterland barangays of Himamaylan City.

    His advocacy for human rights and people’s concerns was developed and nurtured by his involvement in church activities in the Parish of San Ramon Nonato of Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI or Philippine Independent Church) at Barangay Su-ay, Himamaylan City.  From being a sacristan, he rose to become a lay worker and a lay leader, and a district coordinator of the Aglipayan Forum, the organization of members of IFI active in human rights and other social issues.  As a lay leader, he was active in anti-mining campaigns and in peasant advocacies.  He was also a member-organizer of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) and a local leader of the Bayan Muna Party.

    A truly compassionate man, he selflessly gave his entire work and energy to the poor.  Eventually he gave his life.  He was aware of the risks.  Characteristic of an eventual killing, the military put him under surveillance and started vilifying him weeks before the incident.  He knew he was marked.  Despite all this, he remained a soft-spoken and peaceful person.  Full of hope of a just society, he never gave up his faith and belief in fellow men.  Violence by no means was a remote experience to Benjie and his family.  In 1989, his brother was shot to death by the CAFGU – a notorious paramilitary group established by Corazon Aquino under operational command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).  His father rushed to help his son and was killed in the same incident too.

    The Killing and Arrest

    On June 14, 2010, at around 4:30 p.m., Benjie was waiting for a ride at the crossing Sitio Antolo, Barangay Su-ay, Himamaylan City when two men wearing helmets on board a black Honda TMX 155cc motorcycle with no license plate stopped nearby.  The back rider disembarked and walked towards Benjie.  At about 3 meters away from him, the gunman shot him at different parts of his body.  When he fell down, the driver of the motorcycle also came near him and shot him to ensure his death.  Then the perpetrators left the area on board the motorcycle.  Bystanders took him to the Valeriano Gatuslao District Hospital at Himamaylan City but he was pronounced dead-on-arrival.

    Among the bystanders who witnessed the incident was a government official who immediately called someone he knows from the Himamaylan City Philippine National Police (PNP) to report the incident.  The Himamaylan City PNP alerted the nearby Kabankalan City PNP.

    Meanwhile, at around 5:20 in the afternoon of the same day, Police Officers Joey Santiago, Alvin L. Alvior and Arnold C. Tadiaque, all members of the PNP assigned at Kabankalan City, were on board their patrol car roving around Kabankalan City when they received a radio message that Himamaylan City Police Station (Himamaylan City is adjacent to, and to the north of, Kabankalan City) requested assistance to intercept two suspects responsible for a shooting incident at Barangay Su-ay, Himamaylan City who were sighted heading to Kabankalan City area, prompting them to proceed to Barangay Hilamonan road (Kabankalan) which was the possible exit point of the suspects who were described riding in tandem on a black Honda TMX 155cc motorcycle and wearing helmets and sweatshirts.

    While they were in position, the police officers saw an approaching motorcycle resembling the description which turned to the circumferential road (around 5 meters before their position) heading south.  After few minutes of chasing the motorcycle which was moving fast, they were able to stop it, ordered its two riders to drop to the ground and frisked them.  They recovered from one of the suspects who identified himself as RONNIE LIZADA CAURINO, one STI Custom Shop caliber .45 pistol bearing serial number 129528 with one empty magazine, and from the other suspect who identified himself as ROGER MAREZA BAJON, one lightweight Colt Defender Series 90 caliber .45 pistol bearing serial number 195879 with one magazine containing two live ammunitions.

    They immediately brought the suspects, the confiscated firearms and the motorcycle (with motor number KB509E034382 and chassis number KB509034379) to the Kabankalan City Police Station.  A few minutes later, members of the Himamaylan City PNP arrived and, after proper turn-over, brought the suspects, the firearms and the motorcycle.

    The two suspects were subsequently positively identified by witnesses as the assailants of Benjie.

    In a Spot Report dated June 14, 2010 signed and submitted by the Chief of Police of Himamaylan to the Negros Occidental Provincial Police Director, it was stated that at about 5:25 p.m. of the same date, the Kabankalan City Police Station informed the Himamaylan City Police Station that they had intercepted two persons (the suspects)…claiming themselves as members of the Philippine Army.

    On the same date, the Kabankalan police, in their statement to radio station DYEZ “Aksyon Radyo” Bacolod, said that the suspects confessed to be “organic” members of the 61st Infantry Battalion, Philippine Army (IBPA), and that the two were turned over to the Himamaylan PNP and detained at the Himamaylan City Jail.

    In the morning of June 15, 2010, the Himamaylan PNP retracted from the Kabankalan police’s initial statement to the same radio station, claiming that the suspects are not connected with the military.

    The Criminal Case and Its Developments

    Police Reluctance.  Aside from visiting the crime scene and gathering basic information, the Himamaylan PNP was for unknown reason initially reluctant in further investigating, gathering evidence and pursuing the filing of a criminal case against the suspects.  The police did not attempt to find willing witnesses.  In the evening of June 14, 2010, members of the September 21 Movement investigated the case, looked for and secured witnesses, and brought them to the police station to identify the suspects.  The family of Mr. Bayles had to meet the Mayor of Himamaylan who had to intercede so that the police would do their job properly.  The media castigated the police publicly on air for obviously neglecting their duties.  There was no thorough crime scene investigation.

    Case Status.  Finally, on June 18, 2010, a complaint for murder was filed by the Chief of Police of Himamaylan City against the suspects at the Office of the City Prosecutor of Himamaylan.  An inquest 1 on the case was scheduled on the same date.  The September 21 Movement and KARAPATAN mobilized about a hundred of their members to the Office of the City Prosecutor to publicly show their demand for justice for the killing of Mr. Bayles.  However, the two suspects signed a waiver of the provisions of Article 125 2 of the Revised Penal Code and requested instead for a regular preliminary investigation.

    A hearing for preliminary investigation was to be conducted on June 29, 2010.  However, on June 21, 2010, the two suspects filed a waiver of their right to preliminary investigation and to appear on the June 29 hearing.  They did not also file any counter-affidavit to answer the complaint and refute the evidence filed against them.  They instead asked the prosecutor to immediately resolve the case based on the sufficiency or insufficiency of the evidence submitted by the complainant against them.

    On June 15, the Himamaylan police subjected the two suspects to a paraffin test at the Negros Occidental Provincial Police (NOPP) Crime Laboratory at Bacolod City.

    An autopsy was conducted on the cadaver of Bayles on June 16. The city medico-legal officer found 25 wounds (entry and exit) and recovered three (3) slugs from the cadaver.  On June 22, the Himamaylan police indorsed to the NOPP Office for ballistic examination the 3 slugs, the confiscated firearms and the 2 empty shells of caliber .45 recovered by the police from the crime scene.

    On July 2, the City Prosecutor of Himamaylan issued a Resolution finding probable cause for murder against the two suspects.  Thereafter, on July 5, an Information (or charge sheet) for Murder (a non-bailable offense) entitled “People of the Philippines, Complainant, vs. Roger Bajon and Ronnie Caurino, Accused” was filed by the City Prosecutor at the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Himamaylan where the case is docketed as Criminal Case No. 2474.  The RTC is yet to schedule the arraignment of the accused.

    Ballistic Examination and Paraffin Tests.  The result of the ballistics examination is particularly crucial in this case.  It could directly link the arrested suspects to the murder of Benjie as it could be established whether the slugs taken from his cadaver (which caused his death) were fired from the firearms taken from the suspects during their arrest less than an hour from the shooting incident.  Said proofs (slugs and firearms) were turned over to the custody and control of the police who conducted the ballistic examination.  There was no way of independently ensuring, for example, that the barrels of the firearms are not changed prior to the examination, or that the result would not be “doctored”.  On July 14, 2010, the Himamaylan PNP and City Prosecutor’s Office orally informed us that the ballistic examination and the paraffin tests in this case returned negative results.  We are yet to receive an official copy of the results.  The accused, through their counsel, already filed a Motion to Quash the Information based, among others, on the said results.

    Concerns.  The serial numbers of the firearms taken from both accused and the motor and chassis numbers of the motorcycle they used could lead not only to the real identities of both accused (who have been very silent up to now) and to the motive behind the killing, but also to the possible mastermind(s) of the killing or to other people possibly involved in the killing.  Information along this line could also possibly help in curbing impunity existing in the country.  However, up to the present, there has been no indication that the PNP or any other agency of the government is pursuing this.

    Other Case-related Developments.  Mr. Larry Trinidad of Radio Mindanao Network and Jaime Lim, 41, a Bacolod-based journalist, are reported of receiving death threats for having indicated the involvement of the military in the killings of Benjie Bayles.
    Prepared by:

    Atty. Benjamin T. Ramos, Jr.
    PDG Compound, Mohon, Barangay Binicuil,
    Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental

    1  An inquest is a summary inquiry conducted by a prosecutor to determine whether the warrantless arrest of a person was based on probable cause.  Probable cause is the existence of such facts and circumstances as would excite the belief in a reasonable mind (or a reasonable ground to believe) that a crime has been committed and that the respondent/person charged is probably guilty thereof.

    2  Article 125 of the Revised Penal Code reads:  “Art. 125. Delay in the delivery of detained persons to the proper judicial authorities. – The penalties provided in the next preceding articles shall be imposed upon the public officer or employee who shall detain any person for some legal ground and shall fail to deliver such person to the proper judicial authorities within the period of twelve (12) hours, for crimes or offenses punishable by light penalties, or their equivalent; eighteen (18) hours, for crimes or offenses punishable by correccional penalties, or their equivalent; and thirty- six (36) hours, for crimes or offenses punishable by afflictive or capital penalties, or their equivalent.

    In every case, the person detained shall be informed of the cause of his detention and shall be allowed, upon his request, to communicate and confer at any time with his attorney or counsel.”#

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