Mt. Amandewin Command sheds light on massacre
and calls for justice for Leonard Co, Sofronio Cortez and Julius Borromeo*
Mt. Amandewin Command
March 9, 2011
The Mt. Amandewin Command of the New People's Army-Leyte today said there was no crossfire in an encounter but plain massacre in the killing of a prominent botanist and his assistants on November 2010, and that the 19th Infantry Battalion had gone on a rampage after previously sustaining heavy casualties from the NPA. "There was no NPA unit in the area of the Energy Development Corporation in Kananga, Leyte on Nov. 15, 2010, when Leonard Co and his assistants were attacked by the 19th IB," said MAC spokesperson Ka Dodong Malaya. "The NPA regards the EDC area as disadvantageous for maneuverability as it is too heavily guarded by the 19th IB, the police, paramilitary CAFGU and private security guards. Why would the NPA put itself at unnecessary risk when there are far better options for launching a tactical offensive? Moreover, even if the NPA had been on a tactical offensive at that time despite the obvious odds, it still would not have engaged the 19th IB since Co and the other civilians would be put in harm's way. The NPA strictly complies with the laws of war and respects the rights of civilians."
Malaya added that the context of the massacre is that when Leonard Co, Sofronio Cortez and Julius Borromeo were killed, the 19th IB was on a frenzy of search-and-destroy operations in Leyte but had been heavily hit by the NPA. "The militarization in Leyte was parallel to that in Samar in the waning months of 2010, as Oplan Bantay Laya 2 was drawing to a close at yearend and due to be supplanted with Oplan Bayanihan. Many civilians were abused in widespread military operations in the towns of Albuera, Burauen, Kananga, Carigara and Capoocan. Sad to say, Co and his assistants suffered worst of all, because they were attacked after the 19th IB had been dealt serious losses in an NPA ambush."
The MAC spokesperson said that the 19th IB covered up its defeats to this very day, even when the media and public were skeptical why alleged crossfire in an encounter could kill the three civilians, when the 19th IB had been saying for years the NPA was over in Leyte. "The 19th IB is keeping the public in the dark about the revolutionary advance in Leyte and the background that led to the massacre. A month before the massacre, at 6 a.m. of Oct. 1, a platoon of the Mt. Amandewin Command ambushed operating troops of the 19th IB in Brgy. Salvacion, Albuera, Leyte. Seven soldiers were killed and two wounded. According to NPA intelligence reports, the 19th IB was completely stunned at the rout and sought hard to hide the information from the media, though many witnesses in the area can confirm this. Meanwhile, the ranks of the 19th IB were demoralized and liable to extreme paranoia and cowardice in their operations, as indeed happened when Lt. Ronald Odchimar and his troops shot Co, Cortez and Borromeo on Nov. 15. The three who were carrying their equipment were apparently mistaken for rifle-toting Red fighters at a distance.
"The 19th IB also sustained even heavier losses in December. Despite the media furor after the massacre, the 19th IB remained relentless in military operations that abused civilians in the towns of Kananga, Carigara, Capoocan, Ormoc, Albuera, Baybay, Burauen and Jaro. These month-long, widespread operations utilized all available troops in the target area, and went on up to the December ceasefire declared by the AFP. While the 19th IB had been rampaging for months, it had the gall to accuse the NPA in the media of bad faith for ambushing the fascist troops on Dec. 14, two days before the AFP and NPA separately declared ceasefires. In the said ambush between Brgy. Tigbaw and Brgy. Candigahob, Carigara, 10 soldiers were killed and five wounded. The extent of casualties was hidden from the media but is too widely known by many people in Carigara, even to the police and Mayor Evi Apostol from whom the 19th IB are known to have requested assistance for their dead and wounded."
Ka Dodong Malaya sympathized with the families of the victims massacred by the 19th IB, and urged them to press on with the struggle for justice because the truth was on their side. "The massacre of Leonard Co, Sofronio Cortez and Julius Borromeo is the peak of the impunity currently enjoyed by the 19th IB. It should also not be forgotten that many other civilians today continue to suffer at the hands of the fascist battalion, apart from the more than a decade of massacres and other human rights violated it committed. Many peasant families in Leyte today suffer hunger after being forbidden from farming their land as well as doing other means of livelihood because they are accused of supporting the NPA. Other peasants are also forced to guide the soldiers during dangerous military operations. The soldiers also routinely base themselves in the houses of civilians, in barangay halls, and schools. Villagers are often interrogated and harassed by the fascist troops."
The Mt. Amandewin Command spokesperson also urged other sectors to support the struggle for justice for the Kananga massacre victims, as well as for the other victims of the 19th IB's impunity for violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. "The massacre of Co, Cortez and Borromeo occurred as the much hated Oplan Bantay Laya concluded nearly a decade of rights violations. But such bloodshed is bound to persist because the new Oplan Bayanihan is hell-bent on persevering with US-guided "counter-insurgency." As the NPA has clarified, civilians are becoming targets of the Aquino government's "counter-insurgency," whether explicitly or implicitly. Thus the NPA urges the people to stand up and fight for their rights. The impunity of the 19th IB must end, all its violations of human rights and international humanitarian law must be investigated, and the battalion must be demobilized for being a gross violator of the laws of war."