February 19, 2020

Justice denied for the Slain Ethnobotanist Leonard Co

The Justice for Leonard Co Movement decries the DOJ’s recent resolution to dismiss the petition of the family of slain ethnobotanist Leonard Co and his companions, Julius Borromeo and Sofronio Cortez, to elevate the case of Reckless Imprudence in Homicide and Attempted Homicide to Murder. The said petiton that was filed by Ms. Glenda, the wife and Mr. Lian Seng Co, the late father of Leonard Co and the Philippine National Police – Region 8 in April 2013 belies the resolution of the Investigating Panel of the DOJ’s National Prosecution Services (DOJ NPS) in concluding that “there is no probable cause for murder as the accused acted under a mistake of fact.” The DOJ stood by the testimonies of the elements of the 19th Infantry Battalion of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and that Leonard Co’s team was caught in the crossfire between the NPA and the military. In the DOJ Petion for Review, it stated that there was no encounter between the NPA and the military and that Co’s team was the real target of the military hence, it merits the demand for the case to be elevated to Murder rather than Reckless Imprudence resuting to Homicide only.
On November 15, 2010, ethnobotanist Leonard Co and his technical teams were conducting biodiversity field research for the Energy Development Corporation (EDC) in Upper Mahiao, Lim-ao, Kananga, Leyte when they were riddled with multiple gunshots by the members of the 19th Infantry Battalion under the 802nd Infantry Brigade of the Armed Forces Philippines. Co and his two companions, forester Sofronio Cortez and farmer Julius Borromeo, a member of the Tongohan Farmers Association (TFA) were killed. Two members of the team survived the shootout, Policarpio Balute, a farmer and also a TFA member and Roniño Gibe, also a forester.

The testimonies of the two survivors, narrated how Co pleaded for their lives but the shooting continued. The military knew that their targets were civilians and that one of the victims, Julis Borromeo could have survived if only the military brought him immediately to the hospital. Instead, they questioned and harassed Gibe. It was also established that the Philippine Army Command assigned to ensure the security of the area was aware of the presence of Co’s team as it was fully coordinated by EDC including their routes and activities. In fact a confirmation was received from the said military command that the biodiversity research team may proceed with ther activities.

Other cases that have been pursued such as the Change of Venue for the trial to be held in Metro Manila for the security of the complainant has been denined while the Obstruction of Justice Case against the accused members of the military was also dismissed.

The latest decision of the DOJ in upholding their findings of mere negligence by the assailants totally ignores and dismisses the accounts of the witnesses, who were also hapless victims who lived to tell the harrowing story of the brutal killings. On March 27, the trial for Reckless Imprudence will be heard at the Kananga Trial Court, not the lawful sanction for a gruesome crime committed to Co and his colleagues.

What remains to be elusive justice for the Kananga killings highlights the continuing impunity and disregard for basic human rights and indignity of state forces. This also creates a chilling effect among field scientists and researchers who might encounter the same fate as what happened to the Kananga Three.

We call on the Duterte administration to serve justice for the Kananga killings by meting the rightful punishment for the unlawful acts committed by the 19th IB. The Justice for Leonard Co Movement vigorously asserts that the case that must be heard is murder instead of Reckless Imprudence. Otherwise, whatever hope left in the justice system by families of victims of heinous crimes will further dim. Whatever trust and confidence that remains in the administration who promised to solve crimes and maintain peace and order will further erode.

Feny Cosico
National Coordinator
Justice for Leonard Co Movement
Contact Number: 0917 811 544

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