Eight years since the murder at Kananga, impunity reigns


November 7, 2018


It has been eight years since their murder at Kananga, but the families of ethnobotanist Leonard Co and his companions have yet to see justice.

On 15 November 2010, Co, along with Sofronio Cortez and Julius Borromeo, were killed impulsively and mercilessly by soldiers of the 19th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army in the forests of Manawan-Kananga. While working on a reforestation project, Co and his companions were rained down with bullets by the 19th IB amidst previous coordinations with the authorities. The Army immediately claimed that Co’s group were unintended casualties of a crossfire between them and members of the New People’s Army. This was categorically falsified by a testimony of Policarpio Balute, a survivor of the horrific incident, who witnessed no gunfire nor people from other directions aside from those coming from the soldiers’ position.
On 26 November 2010, an independent fact finding mission, composed of scientists from AGHAM Advocates of Science and Technology for the People and colleagues of Leonard Co belied the military’s initial assertions of an encounter as there was no indication of any crossfire. Observed bullet marks on trees signified only one source of gunfire - that of the soldiers of the 19th IB. Consequently, families, friends, and people’s organizations urged the government to study the case further and ensure that the perpetrators be held accountable.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) and National Bureau of Investigation conducted its own investigation of the incident in January 2011. Contrary to the scientists’ findings, their report cleared the military of any accountability in the death of Co and his two companions. This forced the family and support groups to file criminal charges of murder against the elements of the 19th IBut the path to justice is long and arduous. It has been eight years and two presidents since, but impunity continues to reign. On July 16th of this year, the obstruction case was dismissed by the Kananga Municipal Trial Court (MTC) while the petition for review to elevate the recklessimprudence resulting in homicide case into a murder case is still pending at the DOJ.

This coming November 14, a day before the 8th anniversary of Co’s and his companions’ unfortunate deaths, the Kananga MTC is compelled to start the arraignment for the case of reckless imprudence as the DOJ continues to derail their decision for the petition for review.

The family of the Kananga killings have agonizingly suffered for eight years without a sliver of hope for justice for the brutal deaths of their loved ones. While the Duterte government is preoccupied in obliterating supposed drug users and drug dealers with its Oplan Tokhang, it is completely oblivious of the crimes committed by state forces, past and present.

AGHAM calls on the DOJ to uphold the untarnished truth and judiciously raise the case to murder and hold the elements of the 19th IB accountable for their crimes. We also enjoin the scientific community to intensify our calls in defending people’s scientists and environmental defenders as we continue to seek justice for Leonard and other slain environmentalists. #

For reference:

Feny Cosico
Secretary General, AGHAM-Advocates of
Science and Technology for the People