Impunity Must End

From the United Church of Christ in the Philiipines- February 25, 2011

Killings of Leonard Co, Sofronio Cortez and Julio Borromeo are Opportunity for Aquino Administration to Demonstrate Resolve for a Just and Lasting Peace

On November 15, 2010 ethno-botanist Leonard Co, forester Sofronio Cortez and Julio Borromeo were massacred in Kananga, Leyte; evidence points that members of the 19th Infantry Battalion of the Armed Forces of the Philippines are responsible. Although the Armed Forces of the Philippines denies culpability and claims that Leonard Co and his team were caught in a crossfire with the New People’s Army (NPA), surviving team members insist that the firing only came from one direction. In light of two previous incidents of massacre purportedly committed by the 19th Infantry Battalion—namely, the killing of nine farmers in Kananga in 2003 and nine farmers in Palo in 2005, the United Church of Christ in the Philippines is compelled to condemn the death-dealing actions of the state through the conduct of the 19th Infantry Battalion-Armed Forces of the Philippines. We urgently call for an honest and thorough investigation of the November 15, 2010 killings and the aggressive prosecution of the military men alleged to have massacred these civilians.

The team of Leonard Co was in the highly forested area of Kananga, collecting indigenous tree seedlings for a conservation project of the Energy Development Corporation.  According to the surviving witness team members, the military likely mistook the research team for NPA rebels as they opened fire directly on them. Atty. Jose Sosito, PNP provincial director of Leyte at the time of the incident, testified at the Commission on Human Rights that there was no crossfire; however, a Department of Justice-National Bureau of Investigation(DOJ-NBI) fact-finding panel concluded that the military men were not responsible for the deaths of Co, Cortez, and Borromeo during the crossfire and even that the death-dealing bullets could not have come from the 19th Infantry Battalion. The DOJ-NBI fact-finding panel also recommended that the Energy Development Corporation and the NPA be held culpable.

With witnesses who survived the incident, the time is ripe for the Aquino Administration to end the culture of impunity and prosecute those members of the 19th IB alleged to have killed the environmentalists. Formal peace talks and the general task of peace-building will be greatly encouraged through concrete actions that break the trend and perception that the military is beyond the rule of law, especially with respect to human rights. After three massacres in eight years, the people of Leyte will also be affirmed that the 19th IB is accountable to the citizenry for their actions, thus reducing the atmosphere of fear and militarization that currently prevails.

Committed to peacemaking, the United Church of Christ in the Philippines calls the Aquino administration to address the root causes of dissent through government that is caring and compassionate to its citizenry. In the November 15, 2010 massacre, the Philippines was deprived of the further contributions of much needed environmentalists Leonard Co, Sofronio Cortez and Julio Borromeo. Not only do we grieve the loss of those who were concretizing efforts to care for Creation in this era of unsettling climate change, we also grieve the seemingly never-ending violence that claims the lives of innocent civilians. We urge that impunity be ended. Now is the time to end the cyclical intensification of violence and human rights violations that impunity inevitably perpetuates. We urge the Aquino Administration to give justice to the Environmentalist team of Leonard Co, end the culture of impunity, and thereby demonstrate resolve for the pursuit of a just and lasting peace in the Philippines.

Bishop Reuel N.O. Marigza, General Secretary

Bishop Elorde M. Sambat, Northern Luzon Jurisdictional Area

Bishop Roel P. Mendoza, Middle Luzon Jurisdictional Area

Bishop Arturo R. Asi, South Luzon Jurisdictional Area

Bishop Jaime M. Moriles, West Visayas Jurisdictional Area

Bishop Dulc Pia-Rose, East Visayas Jurisdictional Area

Bishop Melzar D. Labuntog, Northwest Mindanao Jurisdictional Area

Bishop Modesto D. Villasanta, Southeast Mindanao Jurisdictional Area

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