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2 gunned down in alleged encounter
posted 1-Oct-2019  ·  
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Residents of Panganiban town have accused Army soldiers and policemen of gunning down two unarmed villagers last Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019, in what government troops claim to be an encounter with the New People’s Army.

According to the official report, one section consisting of the combined elements of Alpha Company of the 83rd Infantry Battation, 9th Infantry Division, of the Philippine Army and the 1st and 2nd Company of the Catanduanes Provincial Police Mobile Force under 2nd Lt. Jose Niel Enriquez were conducting combat operation when they encountered more or less 7 communist guerillas in the vicinity of barangay Taopon at around 1:20 A.M.

This resulted in a firefight that lasted for 10 minutes, the report stated. Two NPA rebels were allegedly killed while there were no casualties on the government side. The combat troops reportedly recovered an AR15 rifle at the scene.

Personnel of the Police Crime Laboratory Office (PCLO) were dispatched to the encounter site to conduct scene-of-the-crime operations.

Hours after the incident, netizens flooded social media with accusations that the two victims, who were not identified in the report, were ordinary residents of barangay San Miguel, with one of them scheduled to be wed to his fiancée the following day.

According to reports, the two men, who were later identified as Lito Aguilar and Christopher Abraham, were looking for fish to be served for the former’s wedding on Monday as the area is dotted with fishponds.

It was claimed that what may have occurred was a case of mistaken identity, with the Army and police unit planting a gun on the victims to make it appear that they were communist guerillas.

A netizen alleged that similar incidents have occurred in the past, with either copra farmers or abaca strippers as the unsuspecting victims in an effort of the government troops to present accomplishments in the anti-insurgency campaign.

On Monday morning, Mayor Cesar Robles officiated on the wedding of Aguilar, his face wrapped in white plastic inside his white wooden casket, and his grief-stricken sweetheart, Jovela Sierra, with PBM Fernandez as witness, right beside Abraham’s casket.

Sierra said she decided to continue with the wedding despite his death because of their vows to each other.

At the Sangguniang Panlalawigan’s regular session last Monday (Sept. 23), Provincial Board Member Robert Fernandez, who served as Panganiban town mayor for three terms, urged the board to conduct an investigation of the incident and to call on the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to likewise launch an impartial probe of the alleged encounter.

In his privilege speech, PBM Fernandez said no word can precisely describe the feelings of sadness and despair brought about by the helpless deaths of his “kababayans” in the hands of an entity which pledged to protect and serve the community.

“It is incomprehensible, no matter how we try to fathom how the two known residents with clean records in police, municipality and the barangay were subjected to that specific operation of our soldiers especially trained in counter-terrorism and guerrilla warfare,” he stated.

Saying that he has spoken with San Miguel barangay chairman Jeffrey Velasco, the three survivors and the victims’ families, the PBM said the inconsistencies between the Army report and the survivors’ statements led him into deep thinking.

“I am torn between whether to believe our government forces or my constituents whom I have been with for almost all of my life,” he stressed.

Fernandez disclosed that at 7 A.M. that same day of the incident, Mayor Cesar Robles and Chairman Velasco were already at the Panganiban police station and were followed by the three survivors – identified as Joseph Turado, Jimmy Sierra and Jomarie Calderon – to report the incident.

He noted that four hours later at 11 A.M., the 9th Infantry Division issued a statement that its troops were in hot pursuit of those who managed to escape from the encounter.

“Who were they looking for when the three were already at the police station to file a blotter report?” he pointed out, adding that while the Army claimed they encountered at least seven communists terrorists, the victims’ group numbered only five.

The survivors also swore that they did not carry guns or ammunition while the Army photos of the two dead men showed Abraham with one hand holding the AR-15 rifle allegedly recovered during the incident.

He also took to task the police station itself for not recording the statements of the survivors on the blotter right after they arrived at 7 A.M., saying further that he checked with the chief of police at 11 A.M. that same morning and discovered that the trio’s version of the encounter was not in the blotter itself.

PBM Fernandez bared that both he and Mayor Robles were kept unaware of the operation right in their town as they were certain that no communist or terrorist activities were noted in the town until now.

He blasted the disrespect of uniformed men as they failed to coordinate with the office of the chief executive, saying that supposedly friendly government forces are undermining elected officials.

“No amount of consolation can be given to the widows and orphans of these two who perished in this very unfortunate event,” he said. “Although the standard rhetoric of our government in this milieu of outrage and anguish is to remain sober and calm, that all efforts are being exerted to get to the bottom of this incident, and to remain forward-looking in the hope of forging a lasting peace, I doubt if anyone can say this rhetoric straight to the faces of the families of these two who died last Sunday.”

The former mayor and vice mayor said Aguilar was supposed to be married alive last Monday, and that he and his four companions just went to catch some fish to add to the food they will be serving their visitors.

“His fiancée still went ahead with the wedding, which I attended before going here,” Fernandez bared. “They got married, with Lito already dead. The other casualty, Christopher is supposed to celebrate his 31st birthday this coming Friday.”

The PBM also called on all concerned to render any immediate help that they can possibly give to the bereaved families. In a meeting with Fernandez after the session, Acting Governor Shirley Abundo reportedly vowed to render assistance, directing the Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office to determine what could be done in this regard. 

The provincial board headed by Acting Vice Governor Lorenzo Templonuevo Jr. unanimously agreed to invite to an executive session on Monday, Sept. 30, the three survivors as well as the members of the Army and police units involved in the incident to shed light on what really happened.

Accounts of that early morning tragedy claimed that hours earlier, the five men left San Miguel to go to the neighboring barangay of Taopon to catch eels and fish to be cooked for Aguilar’s wedding the following Monday.

They were on their way home with their catch, carrying flashlights along with electro-fishing equipment equipped with a motorcycle battery, when Turado stopped to urinate at the side of the trail. Sierra and Calderon decided to wait for him while Aguilar and Abraham went ahead.

After a while, the trio heard shouts in the distance followed by gunshots, forcing them to drop to the ground. When the firing ceased, they cautiously went up the trail and discovered Aguilar’s dead body. Abraham was just nearly, still alive but unable to speak due to a bullet wound in his neck.

Apparently, the two victims were hit by gunfire as they fled the scene back towards their companions. Abraham was hit at the back of the shoulder and the neck while a bullet struck Aguilar at the back of the head, blowing out his brains and part of his face.

The three survivors left the area in haste for fear that they would also be gunned down.

Their testimonies before the provincial board, along with that of government troops involved in the incident, would be crucial in restoring the confidence of constituents, PBM Fernandez stressed, as they are asking who are their enemies and who are their allies now.

“These are questions that beg to be answered,” he said. “And we need to be assured that we trust each other. We need to build confidence once again because I believe that with this incident, confidence and trust have crumbled.”


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1-Oct-2019
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