Trouble looms in the paradise island
posted 19-Oct-2019  ·  
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Last week, a few days after local officials in Panganiban town officially challenged the report of the Philippine Army that it killed two members of the New People’s Army in the alleged encounter in barangay Taopon in the early morning of Sept. 22, 2019, the Joint Task Force Bicolandia finally issued a statement on the controversial incident.

Majpr General Fernando Trinidad, commander of the JTFB, maintained its claim that the encounter was legitimate and promised that the military would cooperate in the investigation “to clear the cloud of doubts about the incident.”

The task force “explicitly” said that the two San Miguel residents killed in the incident – Lito Aguilar and Christopher Abraham – may have been abaca farmers but insisted they were “lured by the armed guerillas who took advantage of their situations and endangered their lives.”

The press release cited a “record” that shows farmers, the youth and women are sectors being targeted by the recruitment schemes of CTGs (communist terrorist group).

MGen. Trinidad pointedly stated that the investigation “will also be an opportunity to know if there are government officials who support the communist terrorists and their illegal activities,” citing Pres. Duterte’s directive to the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to look into left-leaning government officials who are against efforts to finally resolve the insurgency problem in the country.

On Monday, the members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, led by Acting Vice Governor Lorenzo Templonuevo Jr. met with the three survivors of the alleged encounter as well as officials of the Army unit in Catanduanes as well as the local police command to look into the incident.

As one official who was present in the executive session described it, nothing substantial came out of the hearing.

The police has yet to present the results of investigation, particularly the details of the victim’s injuries, whether one of them fired or handled the AR15 rifle found at the scene, or whether the five persons involved really went to the area to catch eels and fish.

It is claimed that the Army officers at the hearing claimed the troops involved did not find at the site any evidence such as caught eels or fish as well as the electro-fishing equipment.

It was also pointed out that the SP investigation, if ever it is done, would not be in aid of legislation at the provincial level as the insurgency is a national concern.

It is also doubtful if the PNP would be able to present a report that would erase any doubts as to its fairness and truthfulness, as several members of its mobile force company were part of the combat team in Taopon.

None of the members of the section involved have been identified and both the Army and the police did not give any indication that it restricted them to quarters, confiscated their firearms for ballistic examination and individually interviewed them regarding their actions during the purported encounter.

This development does not augur well for the objective of the SP to get to the bottom of the incident, despite the AFP and PNP’s vow to cooperate in the probe.

Already, the commander of the JTFB has fired a shot, a cheap one at that, at local officials – most likely PBM Robert Fernandez and Panganiban Mayor Cesar Robles – who are questioning the government troop’s version of the event.

MGen. Trinidad’s thinly-disguised hint that the two officials could be supporting the “communist terrorists and their illegal activities” has already poisoned the atmosphere at the hearing.

There may be no other option but to ask the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to step in and conduct its own investigation.

But this is no guarantee that the families of the two victims in the Taopon “encounter” would get justice if it is proven by the CHR that they were indeed not NPA members. Nor does this assure that the government, especially the Army and the police, would accept the results as even Malacanang itself does not think highly of the CHR in the light of its criticism of the drug war.

Despite this dim outlook, majority of the peace-loving people of this island would like to see this matter brought to a proper conclusion. Otherwise, the deaths of Aguilar and Abraham could spark a resurgence in the communist guerillas’ activities, an unfortunate development in the light of local government’s effort to attract more tourists to this paradise island.

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