[Event] 12 years and counting… will there ever be justice for missing PICOP 6 workers? -FIND

12 years and counting… will there ever be justice for missing PICOP 6 workers?

Joseph Belar, Jovencio Lagare, Romualdo Orcullo, Diosdado Oliver, Artemio Ayala, Jr. and Arnold Dangkiasan were sub-contractual workers of the PICOP Resources Inc. who were arrested and forcibly disappeared on the night of October 14, 2000 in Sta. Maria, Trento, Agusan del Sur. They were at the entrance of a videoke bar when Corporal Rodrigo Billones of the 62nd Infantry Battalion herded the six kargador of logs to the nearby military camp.

On 13 November 2000, relatives of the PICOP 6 assisted by the Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND) filed a Petition for the Writ of Habeas Corpus which was withdrawn a year later in favor of a criminal case of Kidnapping and Serious Illegal Detention lodged on 29 November 2001 against Corporal Billones.

An eyewitness, Sgt. Esequias Duyogan, then a member of the 62nd IB who witnessed the ordeal suffered by the victims took pity on their families and firmly decided to testify in court how soldiers killed the victims by bashing their heads with iron pipes; dug graves and buried the bodies at the back of the PX building; and three days later loaded them on a Chevrolet service vehicle and burned them at Rampid, Km. 57 in Barangay Nueva Gracia, Trento, Agusan del Sur.

Today, twelve years after the enforced disappearance of the six victims collectively called PICOP 6, only Cpl. Rodrigo Billones had been found guilty in a July 18, 2008 court ruling penned by Presiding Judge Dante Luz N. Viacrucis favoring petitioners — the families of the victims. The twelve other soldiers who were implicated remain scot-free.

On June 9, 2011, a multiple murder case, Criminal Case No. 7361, People of the Philippines versus COL. Eutiquio M. Cabando, Jr., CPT. Enrico B. Calumag, TSG Angel Perilla, TSG Fernando J. Cagadas, SSGT Bienvenido M. Beto, Jr., SGT Cesar C. Bolito, CPL Renante B. Castaneda, CPL Diosilo S. Pitos, CPL Calven Ronda, TSG Venturito M. Saballa, PFC Miguel Bachecha, PFC Jesus L. Patrimonio, CPL Rodrigo L. Billones was filed by Assistant State Prosecutor Vilma Sarmiento before the Regional Trial Court, 10th Judicial Region, Branch 6 in Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur.

The case has yet to find a court and judge to hear the case as two judges have inhibited themselves from the case for various reasons and had been referred to Judge Hector B. Salise of RTC- Br. 7, Bayugan City of the same province.

Meanwhile, their families continue to suffer emotionally, the anguish brought about by the sudden loss of their loved ones. For them, justice remains so elusive. The snail-paced process of the judicial system has prolonged their agony like salt to a wound and is reinforcing impunity. The uncertainty on the fate of a missing kin is deeply unsettling for the families while those responsible remain unpunished.

The impending approval of the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Act of 2012 ushers hope to the families and victims of enforced or involuntary disappearances. The Senate and the House of Representatives have already passed their respective versions of said legislation. Currently, a bicameral conference committee of both legislative chambers is finalizing the legislation that criminalizes enforced disappearance.

If and only the current 15th Congress could transmit it sooner and the President could sign it into law, then, there may be light for the desaparecidos and the suffering families.

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