Six years on, justice remains elusive for killed UPD botanist, colleagues

by Paul Christian Yang-ed

“[Naging] inspirasyon ko [si Leonard Co] sa pagkuha ng ethnobotany sa graduate school. Nakakalungkot na di ko siya personal na makakausap sa pananaliksik ko sa mga halaman sa Cordillera.” Thus said Harold Carag, a member of a student council from UP Los Baños, in a candle-lighting event to commemorate the 6th death anniversary of ethnobotanist Leonard Co and his associates Julius Borromeo and Sofronio Cortez at the Sunken Garden, November 15 evening.

Earlier morning, concerned scientists, environmentalists, and allied groups rallied to the Department of Justice (DOJ) and held a dialogue with prosecutor-general Claro Arellano to call for the punishment of the elements of the 19th Infantry Batallion (IB). Soldiers from the said batallion were allegedly responsible for the shooting of Co and his colleagues while doing field work in the jungles of Kananga, Leyte on November 15, 2010. The three were researching on orchid biodiversity that the Energy Development Corporation (EDC) sponsored. A statement from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) subsequently after the shooting incident said that the three were caught in a cross-fire with New People’s Army (NPA) rebels. However, based on a Fact Finding Mission conducted by human rights organization KARAPATAN, AGHAM-Advocates of Science & Technology for the People, and other organizations, it was determined that the shooting only came from one, uphill direction. A subsequent finding of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) also matched the previous mission’s findings, and implicated soldiers of the 19th IB in the violation of International Humanitarian Law. The alleged perpetrators have yet to face trial.

Six years of impunity

In an interview, Feny Cosico of AGHAM-Advocates of Science & Technology for the People said that the case remained stagnant for six years under the previous administration. She said that up to present, the trial level remained at the preliminary processes at the Regional Trial Court in Leyte and only for the case of obstruction of justice, and not yet including the case for reckless imprudence resulting to homicide. She also said that in a dialogue with the DOJ prosecutor-general, the latter only said he would follow up with the prosecutors in charge of the case. The scientists’ group is also calling for the elevation of the case from reckless imprudence to a heavier charge of murder, considering that there was allegedly an intent to kill the three researchers. Cosico said that with these delays and problems, there is a need to expose the rottenness of the legal justice system in the country where human rights violators remain free and unpunished.

Scientists, Engineers, and Environmentalists at risk

Leonard Co’s case is far from the only one concerning the safety from state repression of scientists, environmentalists, and engineers doing field research work and community service. Engr. Delle Salvador, was killed in Lacub, Abra while monitoring the implementation of socio-economic projects in the area in 2014. Physicist Kim Gargar was arrested and charged with possession of explosives and attempted murder while assisting devastated survivors of supertyphoon Pablo in 2012. International human rights NGO Global Witness also ranked the Philippines as the 2nd Most Dangerous Country for Environmentalists for 2015 with 33 killings, just below Brazil and more unsafe than Indonesia and Congo(Kinshasa).

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