Pitao, daughter of New People’s Army (NPA) leader Leoncio Pitao a.k.a. Commander Parago, was abducted on her way home in Barangay (village) Bago in Davao City. The following day, her partially naked body was found in an irrigation ditch in Barangay San Isidro in Carmen, Davao Del Norte, about 50 kilometers north from this city.
While the government authorities are claiming that the case has not really progressed and the killers remained at large, her father admitted to have already killed three of the dozen suspects, all of them are military personnel according to the rebel leader.
But rights lawyer Carlos Zarate believes that the case of Pitao is not just a plain crime saying that it is more of a political issue given that the victim is a daughter of a revolutionary.
Zarate, along with his colleagues at the Union of Peoples’ Lawyers for Mindanao (UPLM), said that they are raising this issue before the government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) peace panels.
“We are urging both panels to discuss the issue of Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CAHRIHL) because the victim is covered by the agreement,” he stressed, adding that the killing is also a clear violation of the agreement.
Signed in 1998, CAHRIHL enjoins both sides to respect the rights of civilians or non-combatants and observe Protocol II of the Geneva Convention (Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts) in the conduct of war.
“Although we cannot exactly pinpoint who perpetrated the killing, who else is the enemy of her father?” Zarate asked. “So we are urging both panels to revisit the agreement to prevent another Rebelyn.”
Given the nature of the case, Zarate said no witnesses have surfaced to testify.
But police authorities clarified that the absence of witnesses does not mean closure to the case.
Days after the killing of Rebelyn, the local government has formed Task Force Rebelyn — composed of the Criminal Investigation and Detention Group (CIDG) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) — supposedly to lead the investigation of the case. Regional police spokesperson Superintendent Querubin Manalang admitted the lack of witnesses hindered the progress of the investigation. ”But we are still trying to look for other witnesses,” Manalang said.
Manalang recalled that weeks after the killing of Pitao, Danny Pelicano, the tricycle driver who ferried Pitao, surfaced and gave his testimony to the police.
Aside from the driver, Pitao’s fellow passenger identified as Dina Talaboc also testified. “But both of them failed to identify the suspects, whom Commander Parago identified. We also included the photos of the military agents but the driver and passenger also failed to identify them. But it is not conclusive,” Manalang disclosed.
The police spokesperson theorized that the witnesses are afraid to come out due to the nature of the case. “The two witnesses seems to have disappeared, we have no information now on their whereabouts.”
Manalang also confirmed the reports that unidentified men have been tailing the Pitaos.
He added that the police in 2009 offered them security but the family rejected the offer.
“The Davao City Police Office has visited them once in their residence in Bago. But when they returned days later, they were no longer around,” Manalang disclosed.
But Commander Parago’s crusade for justice continues saying that he does not rely on the wheels of justice of the government.
The older Pitao admitted that the NPAs have liquidated Cpl. Orly Pedregosa, a certain Helvin Bitang and another suspected military agent just months after the death of his daughter.
Parago stressed that his family is not pinning their hopes on the government authorities to serve justice on the killing of her 20-year old daughter, who had just been employed as substitute teacher at St. Peter College of Technology in Toril when she was abducted, raped and killed.
In the revolutionary government, Parago said, the case is not also considered solved since they are still hunting down the remaining suspects.
“But our crusade for justice is not just limited to my daughter but as well as for those who were killed and were victims of injustices by the government forces,” the rebel leader said in an interview inside their guerilla base in the hinterlands of this city.
He vowed to hunt down the remaining suspects, whom he believe belonged to the Military Intelligence Battalion (MIB).
The military has repeatedly denied its involvement in the killing of the younger Pitao. Then 10th Infantry Division chief Major General Reynaldo Mapagu denied any military involvement in Rebelyn’s death, adding “it is not the policy of the Philippine Army to target civilians in its campaign against the communist insurgents.”
Pitao disclosed that his family has suffered so much even after the killing of Rebelyn.
“My wife and daughter keep on moving from one place to another because of some intelligence personnel. Who else would tail them? No one but our enemies,” he said in the vernacular adding that his wife visited her during the week-long ceasefire last month.
The military, the rebel leader demanded, should spare his family since they are not part of the revolutionary movement.
“Like them (the military), their family too wants to live a civilian and normal life. Why consider the families of the NPAs as enemies?” Pitao asked.
His wife Evangeline occasionally joined several protests on the streets – a task she did not bother to perform before the killing of her daughter.
In earlier interviews, Evangeline admitted that she has no plans to march the streets because she wants to live a normal life.
Hanimay Suazo, acting deputy secretary-general of rights group Karapatan, also acknowledged the police’s statements, saying that lack of witnesses slow the investigation.
Meanwhile, Suazo bared that the Pitao family is still in hiding because unidentified men are still tailing them. “They are still harassed,” she said.
Capture the killers alive
But the 53-year old rebel leader clarified that in hunting down the suspects, they wanted to capture them alive and try in the “Kangaroo Court” of the NPA.
“We want to provide them due process under our revolutionary justice system. But oftentimes, they resist and fight back. We have no choice but to defend ourselves,” said Parago.
Pitao added that he did not set a deadline in hunting down the suspects.
“Since they owe several lives to the revolutionary government, they have to pay for it. We have not forgotten it, we will hunt them no matter how long and how hard will it take.”
Even two years after the death of his daughter, Parago admitted: “I can still feel the pain, it’s not easy to forget it because she has nothing to do with the revolutionary movement, she was living a civilian life. Her killing motivated us more to seek justice for all the victims of injustices under the reactionary government.”
Challenge to P-Noy
Meanwhile, Zarate considers not just the Rebelyn Pitao case but as well as other extrajudicial killings as challenge to President Benigno Aquino III.
“Since he has been crowing to be an opposite of his predecessor and now Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, he must prove that he is way different and must do something to stop this culture of impunity,” Zarate told Target EJK.
But the rights lawyer understands that it is not an overnight job saying that the culture impunity has been carved in the system of the government for years.
Karapatan recorded 1,206 EJK cases under the Arroyo administration and blamed it on the Oplan Bantay Laya (Freedom Watch), an anti-insurgency strategy that has been linked to EJK.
Zarate also criticized the “task forces” being created right after any controversial killings of political activists saying that it is a mere propaganda to appease the aggrieved families – Task Force Rebelyn as among one of them.
“We understand that it is not easy for P-Noy to just wash away the stain, particularly in the military since they are the prime suspects in the killings. The culture (of impunity) has been there for years, it’s not easy to remove it. But we believe he can do something,” Zarate said. Project Target EJK/ED
(The author is a journalist based in Mindanao. He has extensively reported on and documented through his lens issues linked to human rights, peace, development, environment, media freedom and responsibility, and culture in the region.)