Justice for the PICOP6 Victims

PICOP6

Justice for the PICOP6 Victims

I.    Background of the case

In October 14, 2000, six workers of the Paper Industries Corporation of the Philippines (PICOP) were forcibly disappeared at Barangay Sta. Maria, Trento, Agusan del Sur.

The 6 workers – Joseph Belar, Jovencio Lagare, Romualdo Orcullo, Diosdado Oliver, Artemio Ayala and Arnold Dangkiasan were at the entrance of a videoke bar when Corporal Rodrigo Billones from the 62nd Infantry Battalion, 8th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army herded the six kargador  (carrier) of logs to the military camp. A friend of the missing workers, Crispin Barot, was able to evade the abduction by concealing himself in the crowd. He saw the six workers being held at gunpoint from the peryahan (village carnival) and brought inside the army camp gate.

PAHRA justice for picop 6 Campaign logo

With the assistance of the Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND), the relatives immediately inquired as to the whereabouts of the six workers from the authorities in the military camp. However, the said authorities denied custody of the disappeared workers. PICOP 6 relatives Artemio Ayala, Sr. and Macaria Lagare, recounted how they were prohibited from entering the military camp and were only allowed to go inside when they were accompanied by the mayor, vice-mayor and baranggay chairperson after six days.
Based on the statements of Crispin Barot, the relatives of the PICOP 6 filed charges of kidnapping and serious illegal detention case against Corporal Billones the following year  at the Regional Trial Court Branch 6 in Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur. They withdrew their earlier habeas corpus petition against Billones and Colonel Cabando in the same court in favour of the criminal case.

Four years later, another witness surfaced. Sgt. Esequias Duyogan, a member of the 62nd IB offered to testify in court in support of the PICOP 6 case.

According to Sgt. Duyogan, on the night of 14 October 2000, he learned about the abduction of the workers. He stated that, although the commanding officer, Col. Cabando was not in the camp then, he knew of the arrest. Sgt. Duyogan overheard the camp senior officer, 1st Lt. Enrico Calumag, call Col. Cabando by radio and the latter gave orders that, what they did in Desamparados, Talacogon to slain suspected communist rebels from the New People’s Army (NPA) Cris Duenas and Roberto Papintahan, should also be done to the six detainees.

Sgt. Duyogan further said that he saw the six workers with their hands tied separately with a rope of a hammock. He saw them approaching the camp even while being manhandled by armed privates. The soldiers, including Billones, PFC Miguel Bachecha, Sgt. Fernando Cagadas, Sgt. Renante Castaneda, Sgt. Angel Perilla, PFC Jocelo Pitos and MSgt. Ventorito Saballa herded the suspects inside the camp. According to Duyogan, Billones seemed cheerful and even greeted him with a “high five.” Billones actually believed that the detainees were the NPAs who were responsible for the ambush of their colleague, Col. Velasco.

Duyogan further testified that he witnessed how PFC Bienvenido Veto, Sgt. Cesar Polito, Pfc. Ronda and MSgt. Ventorito Saballa bashed the heads of the victims with iron pipes. They dug graves and buried the bodies at the back of the PX building, dug up the bodies three days later and loaded them on a Chevrolet service vehicle, and burned them at the “Rampid” at Km. 57 in Barangay Nueva Gracia, Trento. Duyogan, however, cleared Billones of any actual participation in the extrajudicial killing as well as in the digging up and burning of the corpses.

Thus, Executive Judge Dante Luz N. Viacrucis in a landmark decision convicted Corporal Billones not as a principal but as an accomplice to the kidnapping and serious illegal detention of the six PICOP workers. For each of the six victims, the court sentenced Corporal Billones to the indeterminate penalty of 9-15 years of imprisonment. The court also sought the indemnification of the heirs of each of the six victims with the sum of P50, 000 as life indemnity and P50, 000 as moral damages. Meanwhile, the period Corporal Billones spent under preventive detention since 28 June 2001 shall be credited to the service of his sentence.

With respect to the other soldiers of the 62nd IB who were implicated by Sgt. Duyogan, the court ruled that “there is cause now for the Department of Justice to start an inquiry into their criminal culpability.”

After the conviction of Corporal Billones in July 11, 2008, a joint criminal complaint for multiple murder, grave coercion, kidnapping and serious illegal detention, and torture were filed against Col. Eustaquio Cabando, 2nd Lt. Enrico Calumag, PFC Miguel Bachecha, Sgt. Fernando Cagadas, Sgt. Angel Perilla, Sgt. Cesar Polito, PFC Jocelo Pitos, MSgt. Ventorito Saballa, PFC Bienvenido Veto, Sgt. Renante Castaneda, PFC Jesus Patrimonio and PFC Ronda for the PICOP 6 workers. The case remains pending before the Office of the Provincial Prosecutors in Patin-ay, Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur.

The murder charge filed against the military personnel is still at the level of preliminary investigation, the accused military officials requested for a clarificatory hearing, which has already been postponed four times.

III.     Legal harassments and threats received by the witness and family

1.   As a perceived consequence of Sgt. Duyogan’s participation in the case, he was dishonourably discharged for supposedly committing absence without leave (AWOL) without due process and evidence. He was not able to enjoy his retirement benefits and is now having difficulties providing for the needs of his family

2. In August 11, 2010, he survived an attempted ambush as he was riding a motorcycle on his way to his farm in Sitio Suti, Brgy. Burboanan, Bislig City. According to Sgt. Duyogan saw two of the accused, Tsg Angel Perilla and Cpl Jocelo Pitos with several members of a tribal group, hiding behind lauaan trees along the road between Sitio Suti and Sitio Mabog. Upon seeing the threat, Sgt. Duyogan alighted from the motorcycle and returned to Sitio Mabog through an alternate route.

3. Sgt. Duyogan was also subjected to legal harassments. Among the annexes filed under the counter affidavit of the accused military personnels, is a bigamy case filed against Sgt. Duyogan. While the basis for filing the case remains factual, the case is perceived to be used only to destroy the credibility of the key witness to favour the statements of the accused.

On December 17, 2010, Sgt. Duyogan and the PICOP 6 family members attended the summons for a clarificatory hearing for the multiple murder case in the prosecutor’s office. The prosecutor failed to show up in the said hearing. Fiscal Vicente Abugho merely notified the complainants that the hearing was postponed on the same day.

On the way out of the building, Sgt. Duyogan was suddenly confronted by members of the Philippine National Police Regional Mobile Group (RMG), led by a certain “Unzalan”, with a warrant of arrest for violation of RA 9262 or the Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004. Specifically he was arrested for violating Section 5 for non-support of his other family. This incident happened immediately after the postponed clarificatory hearing in court. He was held under police custody with a bail set at Php 80,000.00 which was eventually reduced to Php 20,000.00. He was blottered in the police station at Libertad, Butuan City. Sgt. Duyogan neither received any subpoena nor any information on this new case.

Sgt. Duyogan was transferred by the Philippine National Police Regional Mobile Group personnel to Judge Buaya of Regional Trial Court (RTC) branch 35 in Ormoc City on December 22. Upon posting of bail, Sgt. Duyogan is now being secured by civil society network for witness protection while his application to the Witness Protection Program of the Department of Justice is still being worked out.

4. Prior to Sgt. Duyogan’s arrest, Rose Deano, FIND coordinator in Butuan, received reliable information from concerned authorities that Sgt. Duyogan’s life is in danger and FIND must ensure the security of Sgt. Duyogan.

5. Due to the threat to his life, Sgt. Duyogan was forced to leave his family in Agusan to a live in a more secure environment. However, his family was not spared from the said threats. On January 26, 2011, FIND received calls from Sgt. Duyogan’s wife that unidentified men climbed up the roof of their house the previous night. The following morning, men with bonnets were seen closely monitoring their house.

6. FIND coordinator Rose Deano also noticed unfamiliar men outside her home. Fearful for their safety, Deano requested the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in Region 9 to temporarily house Sgt. Duyogan’s wife and two children while awaiting response from Department of Justice on the coverage of the Witness Protection Program.

IV.    Recommended Actions

PAHRA requests partners and concerned advocates to please write a letter addressed to:

His Excellency Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III
President of the Republic of the Philippines
Malacanang Palace
JP Laurel St., San Miguel, Manila 1005
Fax: +63 2 7361010
Tel: +63 2 735 6201/564 1451 to 80
Email: corres@op.gov.ph /opnet@ops.gov.ph

Copies of the appeal should also be provided to the following agencies:

1.   Hon. Loretta Ann Rosales
Commissioner
Commission on Human Rights
SAAC Bldg., Commonwealth Avenue
U.P. Complex, Diliman, Quezon City
Fax: +63 2 929 0102
Tel: +63 2 928 5655/926 6188
Email: mtm_rodulfo@yahoo.com

2.   Hon. Leila de Lima
Secretary
Department of Justice (DOJ)
DOJ Bldg., Padre Faura
1004, Manila
Fax: +63 2 521 1614
Email: soj@doj.gov.ph

3.   Lieutenant General Ricardo A. David Jr.,
Chief of Staff
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)
AFP-GHQ Offices, Camp Gen Emilio Aguinaldo
Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines
Fax: +632 911 6436

Col. Domingo J. Tutaan Jr
Head
Human Rights Affairs Office
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)
Tel: +63 2 911 6001 to 50

4.   Hon. Emilio Gonzalez
Deputy Ombusdman
Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for the Military
And other Law Enforcement Offices
3rd Flr., Ombudsman Bldg.,
Agham Road, Diliman, 1004 Quezon City
Fax: +63 2 926 8747
Tel: +63 2 926 9032

5. Hon. Juan Ponce Enrile
Senate President
Office of the Senate
Contact:
Office of the Senate Secretary
Hon. Emma L. Reyes
Senate Secretary
Office address: 6th flr., Senate of the Philippines, Roxas Blvd., Pasay City
Contact numbers: +63 2 552-6601 loc. 6129/23 & 24
+63 2 552-6676
Email address: osec@senate.gov.ph

Sen. Francis Escudero
Chairperson,
Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights
Rm. 304 Committee A Senate of the Philippines,
GSIS Compound, Pasay City
Tel No. + 632 5526601 loc. 3318 / Telefax +632  552-6888
Email: sen.escudero@gmail.com

6.  Hon. Feliciano Jr. R.Belmonte,
Speaker of the House
House of Representatives
Rm. S-102, House of Representatives, Quezon City
Phone: + 63 2 931-5001 local 7201, + 63 2 9316567

Hon. Rene L. Relampagos
Chairperson, Committee on Human Rights
House of Representatives
3/F Ramon V. Mitra Buillding, House of Representatives, Quezon City
Telephone no. + 63 2 9315001 local 7157
Telefax: + 63 2 9324803

Sample letter:

RE: PHILIPPINES KEY WITNESS TO 10-YEAR ENFORCED DISAPPEARANCE CASE UNDER THREAT

Dear________________________.

Greetings of peace!

I am writing to express my concern regarding the safety of Sgt. Esequias Duyogan, a key witness to the ten-year enforced disappearance case of six contractual workers from the Paper Industries Corporation of the Philippines (PICOP).

I learned that Sgt. Duyogan witnessed how the PICOP 6 workers – Joseph Belar, Jovencio Lagare, Romualdo Orcullo, Diosdado Oliver, Artemio Ayala and Arnold Dangkiasan, were tied with a rope and approached the camp while being manhandled by armed privates. He identified 12 military personnel to have led the six workers inside the army camp and saw how they bashed the heads of the victims with iron pipes, dug graves and buried the bodies at the back of the PX building. They dug up the bodies three days later, loaded them on a Chevrolet service vehicle, and burned them at the “Rampid” at Km. 57 in Barangay Nueva Gracia, Trento.

With his testimony, Executive Judge Dante Luz N. Viacrucis convicted Corporal Rodrigo Billones as an accessory for the crime of kidnapping and serious illegal detention of the six PIOP workers.

A joint criminal complaint for multiple murder, grave coercion, kidnapping and serious illegal detention, and torture were also filed against Col. Eustaquio Cabando, 2nd Lt. Enrico Calumag, PFC Miguel Bachecha, Sgt. Fernando Cagadas, Sgt. Angel Perilla, Sgt. Cesar Polito, PFC Jocelo Pitos, MSgt. Ventorito Saballa, PFC Bienvenido Veto, Sgt. Renante Castaneda, PFC Jesus Patrimonio and PFC Ronda for the PICOP 6 workers. The case is  still under preliminary investigation, to which the clarificatory hearings  were postponed several times in the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor in Patin-ay, Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur.

With his participation in the conviction of Corporal Billones and the subsequent filing of criminal charges to 12 other military personnel, Sgt. Duyogan Sgt. Duyogan’s personal safety is seriously at very high risk.

I was informed that he was dishonourably discharged from service due to his supposedly absence without leave (AWOL). Unidentified men also subjected him and his family to constant surveillance.

In August 11, 2010, he was able to avoid what Sgt. Duyogan perceived as an attempted ambush against him. According to Sgt. Duyogan, he was riding a motorcycle on his way to his farm in Sitio Suti, Brgy. Burboanan, Bislig City when he saw two of the accused, Tsg Angel Perilla and Cpl Jocelo Pitos with several members of a tribal group hiding behind lauaan trees along the road between Sitio Suti and Sitio Mabog. Upon seeing the threat, Sgt. Duyogan alighted from the motorcycle and returned to Sitio Mabog through an alternate route.

He is also currently suffering from legal harassments. I have learned that in a 900-page counter-affidavit of the accused military personnel, a bigamy case was attached as an annex. Although the case was based on factual evidence, Duyogan’s legal counsel learned that the bigamy case materialized because of several interventions i.e. frequent house visits and persuasion made by military representatives to the legal wife. Further interviews with the legal wife revealed that she was not the one who initiated the filing of the bigamy case. Duyogan’s legal counsel believes that the bigamy is being used to destroy his credibility as a witness.

In December 17, 2010, Sgt. Duyogan and the PICOP 6 family members attended the summons for a clarificatory hearing for the multiple murder case in the prosecutor’s office. The prosecutor failed to show up in the said hearing. Fiscal Vicente Abugho just notified the complainants that the hearing was postponed on the same day.

I have learned that immediately after the postponed hearing, members of the Philippine National Police Regional Mobile Group (RMG) from Santiago, Agusan del Norte led by a certain “Unzalan” suddenly confronted Sgt. Duyogan with a warrant of arrest. He was transported and detained in Ormoc City for allegedly violating Republic Act 9262. He was not aware of the existence of the said case and has not received any subpoena. He is now released after posting bail and is being secured by concerned organizations.

However, his wife and their two children in Agusan were not spared from threats. Human rights organization, Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND) received calls from Sgt. Duyogan’s wife that  unidentified men climbed up the roof of their house the previous night. The following morning, men with bonnets were seen closely monitoring their house.

In this context, I am calling on the Department of Justice (DOJ), Hon. Leila de Lima to ensure the safety of Sgt. Duyogan and his family.The DOJ must also expedite the resolution on the murder case which had been going on for more than two years now  and a speedy trial as soon as the charges are formally filed.

There were also reports that the convicted Corporal Billones is currently living in a house within the prison compound but separate from the prison facility. With his situation as a convicted criminal, Corporal Billones should not be given luxuries and privileges provided for a free man. He must be immediately committed to the National Bilibid Prison or the nearest regular penitentiary in Agusan.

I would like to appeal that:

1. The Commission on Human Rights (CHR), through Chairperson Loretta Ann P. Rosales, support and closely monitor the case, as well as assist in the welfare of the families of the PICOP 6 workers and of the witness, Sgt. Duyogan

2. The Armed Forces of the Philippines – Human Rights Affairs Office conduct an investigation and monitoring of the case against the accused military officials including the allegations of threats to Sgt. Duyogan and his family as well as FIND Agusan coordinator Rose Deano.

3. The Office of the President certify as urgent and subsequently pass bills criminalizing the act of enforced disappearance. The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance should also be signed by the honourable President Aquino and ratified by the Philippine Senate.

Thank you! I trust that you will favourably act on this matter.

Sincerely,

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