By KIMBERLIE NGABIT QUITASOL
BAGUIO CITY — Kin of American journalist and rights activist Brandon Lee appealed to the United States embassy to ensure his security as they remain worried for his safety even at the hospital in Baguio City.
Lee, a provincial correspondent of Northern Dispatch and paralegal volunteer with the Ifugao Peasant Movement (IPM) remains in critical condition after gunmen shot him in front of their home in Lagawe, Ifugao last week.
“We are afraid that somebody will come to finish him off here in the hospital, so we are asking the US embassy to help us ensure his security,” his wife, Bernice said.
She also voiced her doubt on the impartiality of the investigation of the incident, as they suspect government agents are behind the attack.
“They are the suspected mastermind behind the shooting yet they are the ones investigating the incident, that is why we hope that the US embassy and other international bodies to conduct their investigation or at the very least help ensure an impartial investigation,” Bernice said.
Lee’s wife said the probe should lead not turn into a cover-up and should lead to the resolution of the case. She cited the killing of William Bugatti in March 2014, a colleague of her husband in the IPM that remains unresolved today.
The Police Regional Office Cordillera formed a special investigation task group (SITG) for the incident. To date, the police have yet to identify two persons of interest and motive for the shooting.
Brandon and his co-workers received a photo of the Ifugao burial blankets that is equivalent to a death threat in 2014. Police and military have also tagged IPM as a communist front in many instances.
His mother, Louise Lee, sought the help of the Political Human Rights Division of the US embassy to look into the death threat and harassment of suspected military agents on her son and his co-workers at the IPM in 2015.
Louise and her son Aaron immediately flew from the US when they heard what happened.
Hard to believe
The 54th Infantry Battalion denied their involvement in the brutal attack and condemned the attack. Civil-military operations officer of the unit Staff Sergeant Joel Campilis clarified in a radio interview that their visit to the IPM office before the attack was for “coordination and partnership”, even claiming a “harmonious relationship between the 54thIB and Lee.”
However, the family of Brandon, like his colleagues, finds these claims hard to believe. According to them, past circumstances and events days before the incident point to the military as behind the shooting.
“I think that they (military) can always deny it (being behind the attack). And Brandon told me they always deny it,” Louise said
She said that her son was positive the military was behind the shooting.
“Relatives who were with him on the way to the hospital told us that Brandon kept saying that it is the army who shot him,” she said.
Louise said Brandon and his organization have documentation and proof that the military has the motive for the attack.
Aaron, Brandon’s younger brother said he received an email from his brother a week before the shooting incident. He said that Brandon in his email said he was concerned about the safety of his family and colleagues because of the frequent harassment and surveillance in their office and homes.
“He was more concerned about his family and friends’ safety because two of his co-workers have been killed in the last couple of years,” Aaron said.
Nestor Peralta of IPM belied that their organization or Brandon works together with the 54th IB in any program. According to him, the soldiers were merely using their interest to collaborate with us to cover their harassment and intimidation.
“How can we [even] trust the military, how can the farmers partner with them when they are the ones that vilify and harass us, call us rebels, and kill our leaders,” he said.
A nun who is with the Vicariate of Bontoc-Lagawe and works with Brandon on social concerns in the province also expressed the belief that the military is involved in the assassination attempt. Sister Genny Dumay disclosed that an hour before the shooting, Lee texted her that the military is tailing them during a press conference last week.
Brandon’s family and friend in the US already asked the US embassy and government to conduct a similar investigation on the shooting of her son.
“I know the US does not like extrajudicial killings. They should not take things into their own hands. There is a process,” Louise said.
Stop the attacks
Louise also called on everyone to work together to end senseless killings and attacks.
“We need these killings and shooting to stop. This should not be happening in the 21st century. We all need to work together and live together,” she said.
Bernice expressed pain and rage for the incident, stressing that innocent civilians should not be the target of violence.
“It is enraging because all he has done was help my fellow Ifugao, educate them, and help them decide for themselves. Is it a bad thing to help other people?” she said.
Louise said Brandon came to the Philippines ten years ago “because of his passion and belief in helping people”.
“He just has a very strong belief that people who cannot speak for themselves need somebody like him and his co-workers speak up for them. And I think there are people out there who do not like him and his co-workers to speak up in this manner,” she added.
Louise said that her son strongly believes in peace and in resolving conflicts peacefully and in the individual rights of people all over the world, “it does not matter whether in the US or the Philippines”. # nordis.net