The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is deeply concern over the delay in the conclusion of the investigation into the deaths of two farmers who were last seen alive taken by soldiers in Sta. Catalina town in Negros Oriental province in central Philippines on February 2, 2009.
Their bodies had been discovered when the investigators exhumed a gravesite after the witnesses had accompanied them to locate it; however, the investigation in this case has not reached into a conclusion in order to file charges in court.
CASE DETAILS: (According to information received from the Alliance for the Advancement of People's Rights (KARAPATAN-Central Visayas))
The two victims, Julito Quirante and Ronel Raguing were last seen alive on January 31 and February 1 respectively.
Julito left from his house to loan corn from his cousin, Francisco Namoco, who lives in Sitio Buwang, Barangay Milagrosa, Sta. Catalina. On the other hand, Ronel, had gone to his farm to harvest pumpkins and other vegetables that he intended to sell in Sitio Lag-asan, Barangay Nagbinlod, of the same municipality.
Prior to this, however, Julito's wife, Alejandra, has said that on 15 January 2009, the soldiers attached to the 79th Infantry Battalion (IB) of the Philippine Army (PA) already had her husband taken into their camp where they had him subjected to questioning. The soldiers were allegedly accusing him of having been involved in the New People's Army (NPA).
Though the couple were not harmed; however, the soldiers had them taken to a police station in Sta. Catalina where they were subjected to investigation. The soldiers' actions, however, is contrary to the existing rules on criminal procedures; firstly, soldiers had no authority to summon any individuals for questioning; secondly, only the police has the authority to subject an individual into investigation but there should be sufficient reason of their suspicions before they could do; and that the person must be accompanied by a counsel.
However, in remote areas, the soldiers had developed the practice of routinely summoning individuals over mere suspicions they were involved in illegal activities, in particular with a rebel group. In these places, once a person refused to comply with the soldier's order it would result to needlessly discriminating against a person and emboldens their biased suspicion a person is indeed involved in illegal activities. Thus, it results to persons and their families being forced to submit themselves, for lack of choice, against their will.
This is what has happened to Julito and his wife Alejandra.
However, the soldier's alleged involvement into Julito and Ronel's death was also a result of witnesses having seen them being taken by the undetermined number of soldiers in Sitio Kalabasaan, Barangay Nagbinlod, Sta. Catalina. They were last seen being taken to a forested area but when the soldiers emerged from the forested area the two victims, whom the witnesses had seen together with them, were already gone.
On 20 February 2009 the victims' families though had asked assistance from a police station in Sta. Catalina, who had jurisdiction where the incident took place, but they did not take action into the victim's case, who were at that time reported disappeared. When the families approached the KARAPATAN, the latter held a fact finding mission on 27 February 2009 in Sitio Kalabasaan, Barangay Nagbinlod, which resulted to them having been able to speak to witnesses who had come forward.
The witness pointed to the site where soldiers had the victims taken. An inspection of the area generated a suspicion of a possible gravesite. It was on 9 March 2009 when a team of investigators from the National Bureau of investigation (NBI) in Region VII have provided assistance to the fact-finding team which prompted then to exhume the gravesite located in Sitio Junob, of the same municipality. The place is about an hour walk from Sitio Kalabasaan. At about 4pm that day, two male decomposing bodies had been exhumed with their hands tied behind their backs.
The dead bodies, however, were identified by their relatives as belonging to the disappeared victims through the dress they were wearing and the sack that belongs to Julito. At about 6pm of 9 March 2009, the bodies were brought to Clarin Funeral Parlor in Poblacion, Sta. Catalina for an autopsy, however, the NBI Region VII is yet to release the result of the autopsy.
The victims' wives, Virginia Raguing and Alejandra Quirante, has already sought the appropriate assistance in a letter from the regional office of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in Cebu City requesting them of affording possibility of financial and other assistance that could facilitate in pursuing their complaint. However, so far there has not been information whether the victims' wives had been given assistance.
On 20 March 2009, the same unit of soldier had Julito's son-in-law, Noli Bendersin, forcibly taken from his house in Sitio Lukdo, Barangay San Pedro. The soldiers took him to the camp of the 79th IB headquarters in Siaton of the same municipality where they had him forced into signing a sworn statement exonerating the soldiers from any involvement in the killing of his father-in-law, Julito and Ronel.
After the incident, Noli had to leave the place to elsewhere for fear of his safety. He told his wife, who is pregnant, that he needed to leave as the soldiers, should he continue to remain, would return to get him back. Noli's absence from his family has already affected the emotional and mental condition of his pregnant wife, who is due to give birth soon.