By ARTHUR L. ALLAD-IW
SAN FERNANDO, La Union — More than five months since Elmer Mazandoc Valdez, 33 years old, was found brutally killed on a hill in Santa Lucia, Ilocos Sur. Human rights workers and his family strongly urge the government to conduct the investigation and to bring to trial the perpetrators, who allegedly are members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
The Valdez family and members of the Ilocos Human Rights Alliance filed, on October 7 last year, a petition to investigate the killing of Valdez at the regional office of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in this city but they claimed that nothing happened.
IHRA Secretary-General Rod Tajon, in an interview with this reporter, claimed that nothing happened after. “We are raising the killing of Valdez to the attention of Pres. Noynoy Aquino and the new national leadership of the Commission on Human Rights,” he explained.
Omir Cacho of the CHR promised that they will conduct an investigation immediately when this reporter interviewed him on November 4 last year.
“We will take the side of the military named in the petition, including the concerned local government officials,” said the CHR regional investigating officer.
Genesis of the case
On September 10 last year, Valdez woke up early and went to gather bamboo for their kitchen repair on a nearby hill in their Barangay Conconig East, of Sta. Lucia, Ilocos Sur.
A coastal town populated by 28, 872 Ilocanos, Santa Lucia’s main economic livelihood is agricultural-based with vast rice fields and hill forests.
The South China Sea also provides them with sustenance. Villagers have found satisfaction and peaceful existence, like that in Conconig East. That day in September, Elmer was only armed with a bolo for his bamboo gathering chores. His family did not expect that that day would put his happy, though poor, family in grief.
Residents of Conconig East described September 10 “like in a war movie.” Operations by the Armed Forces of the Philippines happened; where fully armed “soldados” (soldiers) scoured their village including their hills, farms, and residences. But they did not worry for they believed these state agents were just doing their work against so called state-enemies.
While in the height of the military operations, Elmer’s wife Elma and his father, Rizalino, heard a groan from Elmer’s direction, as if he (Elmer) was hit and in pain.
He was able to answer their first call to him but they never received answers from their succeeding calls.
Disturbed as Elmer failed to come back home, they, with the help of the barangay officials, negotiated with the military: begging to look for Elmer in the area where he was taking bamboo. Their plea fell on deaf ears however.
In the early morning of September 10, I twas said that an encounter between the AFP and the New People’s Army (NPA) happened in the boundary of Barangays Conconig East and Sapang, both of Sta. Lucia.
The clash resulted in the alleged killing of two soldiers while three were wounded.
In a release after, by the government Philippine Information Agency (PIA) quoted Col. Essel Soriano of the 503rd Brigade saying that only Sgt. Julius Wagayen was the lone casualty from the AFP while several were wounded from the NPA side.
Military operations followed afterwards in other barangays of Sta. Lucia, including Conconig East. The 50th IB, 86th IB, 77th IB were complimented by the 503rd Brigade headed by Col. Soriano and 5th ID headed by Major Gen. Rommel Gomez.
Justifying the “militarization”, Soriano said that the Inter-Regional Command of the NPA in Ilocos and Cordillera had a meeting in the encounter area. Allegedly tipped by residents, they surrounded the area which led to a battle among the warring troops.
Meanwhile, the Valdezes and their village mates pleaded with the military officials to allow them to look for Elmer as they (military) allegedly ordered the villagers not to enter the area of (military) operations.
Their request was denied again but the the civilians decisively launched a search team with or without approval from the military.
Body found riddled with bullets
On Sept. 13, the search team was able to locate the cadaver of Elmer Valdez in an open area in Barangay Sapang, Sta. Lucia. Elmer’s body, then in a stage of decomposition, was riddled with bullets, said Kagawad Romy Rabang of Conconig East.
Autopsy report acquired by this reporter showed that Elmer had multiple gunshot injuries which also caused multiple fractures in the skull. The manner of death was due to violence.
“The type of gunshot injuries could not be determined due to the advanced state of decomposition,” added the report conducted on Sept. 14 by Police Supt. Nerino B. Daciego, the Medico Legal Officer of the PNP Regional Crime Laboratory Office.
Meanwhile, the area where Elmer’s body was retrieved is 100 to 200 meters away from where military had their camp and at least three kilometers from where he was gathering bamboo, said a source who requested to remain anonymous.
Earlier in the PIA report, it quoted Col. Soriano saying that it was his soldiers who located and retrieved Elmer’s cadaver.
But the father of Elmer asserted that civilians found and retrieved the corpse.
“Dagiti sibilyan ti nakabiruk ken nangiyawid ti anak ko (The civilians located and retrieved my son’s corpse),” said Rizalino Valdez, Elmer’s father said in Ilocano when interviewed.
Elmer has one young daughter with wife, Elma. She said in various venues that her husband was not an NPA but a plain and loving husband. Residents reported the soldiers claimed earlier that Elmer as an NPA which was strongly denied by the community.
Earlier, Soriano was quoted by the PIA saying that the mere presence of Elmer in the area allegedly with the NPA rebels at that time of the encounter raised suspicion that he was among the armed group and not just ordinary civilian.
A human rights lawyer in Ilocos reiterated that Soriano’s words show the witch-hunt policy of the military. These statements are dangerous and alarming as they (military) are already the accuser, prosecutor and judge rolled into one in the determination of who are supposed to be NPA members/supporters or not, he said.
Appeal for justice
As Elmer’s kin and Conconig East residents say that the CHR office in this city has done nothing despite their promises, they are appealing to Pres. Aquino for an urgent and impartial investigation on the death of Elmer.
“They should do it (investigation) fast. Our community members are being threatened, particularly those who are vocal and raise issues related to the killing of Elmer. This situation created an atmosphere of fear in the village,” a resident said. # nordis.net