(DR. Tapang is on a research project and has no Internet acesss. This article is by Meggie Nolasco of AGHAM)
One friend of his recounted him writing in Filipino, “If ever something bad happen to me in line of duty (as a botanist), please organize a symposium with a suggested title ‘A People’s Botatnist is Murdered.’ I’m sure it will be well-attended by pine trees, grasses and weeds.”
The botanist who wrote that was Leonard Co, and the friend who recounted it was artist Lingling Maranan-Claver in her blogsite for a tribute to the beloved Co who was indeed murdered in line of duty four years ago.
On November 15, 2010 in Upper Mahiao, Lim-ao, Kananga, Leyte, renowned botanist Leonard Co was conducting a biodiversity research for the Energy Development Corporation (EDC) when elements of the 19th Infantry Battalion under the 802nd Infantry Brigade of the Armed Forces Philippines fired upon the research team of five persons killing Co and two of his companions, forester Julius Borromeo and and farmer Sofronio Cortez.
Lt. Col. Federico Tutaan, commanding officer of the Army’s 19th IB, initially claimed that the victims were killed in a crossfire between the AFP and guerilla rebels but results of the various investigations and testimonies of Co’s surviving companions reveal otherwise.
Results of the Fact Finding Mission (FFM) that was led by Agham and participated in by various organizations on December of 2010 revealed that the military officers fired upon the victims for almost 15 minutes even after Co’s group pleaded for the shooting to stop, there was no encounter with the red fighters, as earlier claimed by the AFP.
The FFM findings also documented that one of the victims, Julius Borromeo, could have survived the gunshot wounds that he bore during the shootout but the military denied him medical attention and hospital treatment, and that led to his death.
The case of Co was highly popularized through printed articles in daily broadsheets, documentaries in local networks and published stories online. Personalities from the academe, scientific and environmental organizations have indicated their support in seeking justice.
Hundreds have signed the petition urging President Aquino and the Commission on Human Rights to hold accountable the perpetrators. Several dialogues with the Department of Justice were held. The bereaved family and friends staged pickets and mobilizations in front of responsible government agencies.
On February 28, 2013, the results of the investigation of the Department of Justice were released. They found probable cause to indict the nine (9) members of the 19th Infantry “Commando” Battalion, 81D, Philippine Army (PA) for the crime of Reckless Imprudence Resulting in Multiple Homicide and Attempted Homicide and twenty-seven (27) military officers for Obstruction of Justice.
The family of Leonard Co filed a Petition for Review appealing the decision of the DOJ investigating panel charging only reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide and attempted homicide on April 1, 2013.
The family also filed a Petition for the Change of Venue on August of 2013 to transfer the cases to Quezon City. The two (2) pending cases filed at the Municipal Circuit Trial Court at Kananga, Leyte for the criminal charge of Reckless Imprudence Resulting in Homicide and at the Regional Trial Court of Ormoc, City, for the Obstruction of Justice have suspended the arraignments to wait for the decision of the Supreme Court on the petition for the change of venue.
Almost four years have passed, and not a single perpetrator has even beencharged and arrested. Worse, the number of Filipino field scientists being killed and harassed by the military continues to grow under President Aquino.
On January 24, 2011, a gunman shot dead Palawan veterinarian, environmentalist and broadcast journalist Doc Gerry Ortega along Puerto Princesa’s busy highway. On October 1, 2013, physicist Kim A. Gargar was detained by elements of 67th Infantry Battalion for being suspected as member of NPA while he was doing rehabilitation study on typhoon-Pablo devastated area in Brgy. Aliwagwag, Cateel, Davao Oriental.
On September 4, 2014. Engr. Fidela ‘Delle’ Bugarin Salvador, 50 yrs old and mother of 3 children, was working as an independent consultant on numerous socio-economic projects in areas devastated by typhoon Ondoy and Pepeng when she was caught and killed in the midst of ongoing military pursuit operations against revolutionary groups in Guinguinabang Village, Lacub, Abra.
Co, Gargar and Salvador are just a few of the hundreds others who have been killed or harassed by state forces. They have also been given tributes and symposiums by their loved ones and families who grieved their loss or called for their release. Thousands of families, colleagues and friends, are seeing their case drag on forever while known perpetrators remain uncharged and the culture of impunity remain unchanged.
The families and friends of victims have witnessed President Aquino repeatedly stating that he is different from his predecessor Arroyo and that there is no Jovito Palparan or butcher in his administration. But his zero-track record in bringing justice and the increasing number of HRVs show that Aquino is no different, or even worse than Arroyo.
Leonard Co said it would be highly unlikely that he would die early, referring to the local expression “ang masasamang damo ay hindi madaling mamatay.” But Leonard Co was a good person and brilliant scientist, and he did not die early, he was killed by the military.
The challenge remains for families, friends and those who believe in justice and respect for human rights to persist and intensify our calls and efforts in condemning the culture of impunity and seeking protection for the scientists and those from other disciplines who chose to work on the field and among the communities whom they serve.–By Meggie Nolasco, member of Agham Scientists for the People