April 14, 2010
The struggle for justice of victims of enforced disappearance and other human rights violations has been an uphill battle with victory almost out of sight for years. After eight long years, however, the families of six desaparecidos in Agusan del Sur scored a breakthrough with the conviction of Army Corporal Rodrigo L. Billones on 18 July 2008.
Yesterday, the families embark on another hard fight toward complete victory by filing a case of murder against other officers and members of the 62nd Infantry Battalion, 8th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army, which used to be stationed in Agusan del Sur, who were implicated by Army Sergeant Esequias Duyogan in the kidnapping and serious illegal detention case against Billones.
Agusan del Sur Provincial Court presiding judge Dante Luz N. Viacrucis found accused Billones guilty beyond reasonable doubt as an accomplice to his fellow soldiers in abducting at gunpoint the six workers of the Paper Industries Corporation of the Philippines (PICOP) on 14 October 2000. According to witnesses, Billones led the herding of the PICOP workers: Romualdo Orcullo, Jovencio Lagare, Arnold Dangquiasan, Joseph Belar, Diosdado Oliver, and Artemio Ayala to the 62nd IB camp. In his testimony, Sgt. Duyogan identified the following 13 other perpetrators and pinpointed their respective participations in the crime:
1. Bachecha, Cagadas, Castaneda, Angel Perilla, Patrimonio, Pitos and Sgt. Saballa, who manhandled and herded the victims at gunpoint from the videoke bar to the army camp;
2. 1st Lt. Enrico Calumag and Col. Eutiquio Mumar Cabando, Jr.: the former being the senior officer in the camp who, according to Sgt. Duyogan, reported by radio the apprehension of the six suspects to the latter, who instructed that what they did to NPA suspects Chris Duenas and Roberto Papintahan, who were slain in Desamparados, Talacogon, should also be done to the six captives;
3. Pfc. Bienvenido Veto, Sgt. Cesar Polito, Pfc. Ronda and Sgt. Saballa for smashing the heads of the six victims with iron pipes, killing them.
Based on Duyogan’s testimony, Judge Viacrucis in his July 2008 decision ruled that “there is cause now for the Department of Justice to start an inquiry into their criminal liability.”
To date, the inquiry conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has not yielded any positive finding. Hence, the instant murder case.
Had the anti-disappearance bill been enacted into law, this murder case would have been enforced disappearance. The bodies of the six remain missing as they were allegedly burned. Hiding the body of the victim or concealing his/her fate and whereabouts is one of the distinct elements of enforced disappearance.
Human rights advocates and defenders lament the failure of government to enact the anti-enforced or involuntary disappearance bill into law which measure the House of Representatives had already approved on Third and Final Reading in both the 13th and 14th Congresses.
It was one of the priority measures in the Senate during the last three weeks of session but was bypassed by the C-5 imbroglio in the plenary. The political bickering sidetracked the Second Reading of Senate Bill 3367, the Upper Chamber’s counterpart version to House Bill 5886. Both bills seek to penalize enforced disappearance as a special crime distinct from kidnapping and serious illegal detention and/or murder.
The Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND), a nationwide human rights non-government organization which has a chapter in Northern Mindanao, has rendered various assistance to the families of the workers more particularly in their legal actions since 2000. The Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) has also taken an active role in support of the present murder case.
The Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) watches closely the development in the prosecution of the perpetrators in the PICOP 6 cases even as the International Organization Against Torture (OMCT) has expressed deep concern over the same. The kidnapping and serious illegal detention case is on appeal before the Court of Appeals in Cagayan de Oro City.
FIND and PAHRA urge other families of desaparecidos to file criminal cases before the courts and to remain steadfast in their fight for justice even as they hold government accountable for the unabated commission of enforced disappearances in the country.
The filing of court cases against perpetrators of enforced disappearance and the immediate enactment of a law criminalizing the heinous offense are concrete moves toward breaking impunity of human rights violators.