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The human rights group, Karapatan, is reporting that Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) soldiers killed a couple, Vic and Rosario Valenzuela. Initial reports suggest that the couple was targeted by the AFP and that they were not killed in a “firefight” with the New People’s Army (NPA):
On Nov. 27, a fact-finding team went to sitio Calabaggin, San Miguel village, Echague in response to reports that civilians were killed by soldiers. The team was composed of representatives from Karapatan, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Dagami, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, Kabataan Partylist, Gabriela and the College Editors’ Guild of the Philippines. The following are the findings of the team:
On Nov. 17, seven soldiers of the Phil. Army’s 56th Division Reconnaisance Company were killed in a clash with New People’s Army rebels in Mabbayad, Echague, Isabela. It was one of several encounters between government troops and rebels, which triggered military combat operations in hinterland villages in Echague.
On November 22, at around 7am, around 14 to 16 soldiers of the 86th Infantry Battalion arrived in sitio (sub-village) Calabaggin, San Miguel village, and stayed in two houses. Residents identified them as Lt. Bernardino and Sgt. Balansa as the commanding officers, and Robert Bagni and Alfred Liclican, while the others were not identified. The soldiers stayed the whole day, and some soldiers had drinks with some residents. They left at around 1 am, on Nov. 23.
A few hours after the soldiers left, at around 3 am, residents heard gunshots, which sounded like two simultaneous single shots, followed by automatic firing. Residents thought there was an encounter between the soldiers and NPA rebels, but thought otherwise when no more gunshots followed. However, that same day, at 11 am, they heard on the local radio station that there was an encounter in their community. There have been clashes between government troops and rebels in the past decades, and residents surmised that if there was indeed an encounter in that area, they will surely hear it, and they knew there was none.
On Saturday, Nov. 24, soldiers informed San Miguel village officials about some people who died, and accompanied them to the hilltop where stood the lone hut of peasant couple Vic and Rosario Valenzuela, some half-kilometre from the sitio’s main cluster of houses. The village officials found Vic’s body slumped by the entrance to his hut where he must be chopping cassava when shot. He had a gunshot wound at the back, which went through his chest. The body of his wife Rosario was in the sleeping area in the upper part of the hut. She was found lying on her back, her legs straight, and with a gunshot wound under the right ear going through the left side of her skull. The bodies reeked and showed signs of decomposition. The hut was apparently strafed as several bullet holes lined the bamboo and wooden walls.
According to the villagers, the soldiers took videos and pictures of the bodies and of the hut, and picked up the spent shells and placed them in plastic bags. Then the soldiers wrapped the bodies in the victims’ sleeping mats and told the villagers to bring them down.
As the bodies were brought down to the victims’ relatives, a soldier identified as Robert Bagni apologized and said that the other soldiers fired at the hut, thinking there were rebels inside. Bagni was one of the soldiers who stayed in the sitio on Nov. 22. Many residents heard Bagni’s statements. Relatives of the victims were enraged because the soldiers, whom they accommodated in their community, did not immediately inform them of the incident.
On Nov. 25, Sunday, two investigators from the Philippine National Police (PNP Echague) arrived in Sitio Calabaggin and were accompanied by village officials to the victims’ hut. The investigators inspected the site, took photos and videos, and collected spent shells and slugs.
That same day, villagers heard news on the local station Bombo Radyo quoting a military report that said the Valenzuela couple were killed in the crossfire between the Phil. Army and the NPA. Residents and relatives of the victims were even more angered by the fabricated reports of the military. They sought help from Karapatan-Cagayan Valley, which immediately organized a fact-finding team.
On Nov. 26, Chief Insp. Rogelio Taliping of PNP Isabela told Bombo Radyo that their investigation showed that there was an encounter and that the Valenzuela couple were possibly used as human shields by the NPA rebels. Taliping was also quoted as saying that items recovered from the victims’ hut included a detonating cord, a laptop, and the belongings of one of the soldiers killed in Mabbayad. This was belied by the residents who accompanied the soldiers and retrieved the victims’ bodies on Nov. 24.
On Nov.28, the fact-finding team requested a copy of the initial police investigation report from the PNP Echague, but Chief Insp. Melchor Ariola told the team that they cannot yet release any report because the deaths in Calabaggin was being investigated by a probe body that was looking into the series of incidents, such as the encounters between the soldiers and the rebels.
The Valenzuela family reported to the fact-finding team that Php 15,000 cash was missing from the couple’s belongings. The couple had just sold a small farm lot, and Rosario was said to have kept the money in a small purse which she kept close to her body.
On July 22 this year, Karapatan had documented a similar incident in Laak, Compostela Valley in Southern Mindanao region, where 60th IB soldiers killed Totong Mabinsi, a member of Dibabawon tribe and Katribu partylist. The commanding officer, a Lt. Gamus, apologized to the victim’s brother and said that his soldiers mistook Totong for a guide of the NPA and shot him. Totong’s body was recovered a kilometre away from the detachment of the 60th IB, and soldiers accompanied villagers in delivering the victim to his family.