Monday, March 16, 2009

Justice for all victims of human rights violations NOW!

A Killing Too Far: Rebelyn Pitao

Rebelyn was wearing her white school teacher’s uniform when she left
home to go to work. “Ma, lakaw na ko (Ma, I have to go now),” she
called out to her mother Evangeline. It was 6:30 a.m. – the last time
Mrs. Pitao saw her 20-year old daughter. It was the last time she ever
heard her voice.

Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project
Posted by Bulatlat

DAVAO CITY – Rebelyn was wearing her white school teacher’s uniform
when she left home to go to work. “Ma, lakaw na ko (Ma, I have to go
now),” she called out to her mother Evangeline.

It was 6:30 a.m. – the last time Mrs. Pitao saw her 20-year old
daughter. It was the last time she ever heard her voice.

Rebelyn usually arrived back home by 6:30 p.m. each school day. But
last week, Wednesday March 4, there was no sign of her. Mrs. Pitao was
worried: An hour and a half later, local police officers and a
tricycle driver knocked on her door and brought news that Rebelyn had
been abducted on her way home by armed gunmen.

“When I heard she had been taken, I knew I would never see her alive
again,” said Mrs. Pitao from her small house in Bago Galera, Toril
District in Davao City. “I knew they would kill her because they were
angry at her father.”

Rebelyn, who would have turned 21 on March 20, was the third child and
daughter of New People’s Army (NPA) leader Leoncio Pitao, also known
as Commander Parago. Her partially-naked body was found late the
following day, Thursday March 5, in an irrigation ditch in Barangay
(village) San Isidro in Carmen, Davao Del Norte, about 50 kilometers
north from here. She had been bound, gagged, raped and repeatedly
stabbed in the chest.

“There were rope markings around her neck and mud all over her body,”
her mother told the Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project. “She
was like a carabao.”

According to the Scene of Crime Operatives (SOCO) of the Davao City
police, Rebelyn had been dead for more than 20 hours before she was
found by a local farmer. It suggests she was killed very soon after
being taken.

“Her body bore five wounds inflicted by a thin sharp object such as an
ice pick, which pierced her lungs and liver,” according to Dr. Tomas
Dimaandal who conducted the autopsy at a local funeral home. His
report added that her genitals had suffered cuts “possibly caused by a
hard object.” Her mouth had been taped up.

Mrs. Pitao explained how, with the police officers listening, tricycle
driver Danny Peliciano told her that two unknown men had boarded his
vehicle alongside Rebelyn when she climbed in to ride home. As they
neared Bago Gallera de Oro subdivision a white van – a Toyota Revo –
blocked their path and forced the tricycle to stop.

“Two other men came out of the van and dragged her out of the
tricycle. The driver said Rebelyn was screaming for help but he could
not do anything because the men were armed. The driver said he ran
away. Then they dragged my daughter inside the van.”

Mrs. Pitao believes the other two men on the tricycle were accomplices
and all four men climbed in the van.

The abduction site is about 300 meters from the national highway and
is beside a church with the nearest house 50 meters away.

Peliciano is now missing: A fellow driver who did not wish to be named
said that right after the incident he quit working his usual route and
disappeared. “He is no longer staying at home and we have no idea
where he is now. I think he went into hiding because he is a witness,”
said the man.

Mrs. Pitao believes her daughter may have been attacked inside the van
or taken to a place in nearby Panabo City or Carmen where she was tied
up, tortured and killed soon after and then taken after dark to the

It is believed she was dumped there between midnight and 1 a.m.

According to a police report obtained by the Philippine Human Rights
Reporting Project from the Carmen police station, Rebelyn’s body was
discovered by rice farmer Raffy Agres whose signed affidavit says he
found her lying in the flooded ditch at around 5 p.m. that Thursday.

“You could hardly see the body even when you were just beside the
canal because of the grass here and the ridge,” said banana plantation
worker Noel Lanoy who was with Agres when Rebelyn was found.

“He screamed out that a body had been dumped and it was a summary
killing,” said Lanoy. “I first thought it was a banana tree trunk.”

Egles Brieta whose house lies about 100 meters away from the scene,
says she didn’t see or hear any vehicle that would have been needed to
dump Rebelyn’s body. “It is so quiet here, yet we didn’t hear anything
or anybody.”

A makeshift bamboo cross now stands in the knee-deep water where
Rebelyn was found. According to Brieta, the bodies of two men were
also found dumped here in 2004.

Outrage and denials

The abduction, torture and killing of Rebelyn have been met with
widespread disgust and condemnation alongside public pledges to
deliver justice and ensure an open, independent and transparent

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has ordered government agencies to
conduct a thorough investigation, and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte
has called the abduction, torture and murder “a deed most foul and the
work of a monster.”

A senior military officer has called it “a crime against humanity,”
with Senator Richard Gordon calling it a “war crime.”

So far however, Task Force Rebelyn, the group set up to investigate
the crime claims it has few real leads. Davao City Police Chief Senior
Superintendent Ramon Apolinario initially complained his men had only
a few clues to work with – the testimonies of the tricycle driver and
the rice farmer who found her –along with a description of the van
allegedly used.

Rebelyn’s guerilla father claims the vehicle has been spotted parked
outside a “known army safe house in Carmen” –something the military
hotly denies.

Almost from the very moment she was reported missing, the Philippine
Army’s high command has come out vehemently and repeatedly in public
to deny the military was in any way responsible for Rebelyn’s
abduction or her subsequent torture and killing.

But after her own father –Commander Parago – publicly named four
military suspects as his daughter’s killers on Sunday, the Army’s
position has slowly changed. While it still denies any responsibility,
it now admits two of the men Parago mentioned are currently their
military intelligence officers who are now “restricted” to the
barracks at the 10th Infantry Division headquarters in Camp Panacan in

The military is now pledging 100 per cent cooperation with the police
inquiry but insists the investigation also has to follow up all other
leads too.

A few days earlier, Major General Reynaldo B. Mapagu, Commander of the
10th ID, denied any involvement of the military in the killing of
Rebelyn, adding that it was “not the policy of the Philippine Army to
target civilians in its campaign against the communist insurgents.”

And in a separate press statement, Lt. Colonel Rolando Bautista, 10th
ID spokesperson, said they understand the ordeal of the family of
Rebelyn “but it would be unfair to blame the incident (on) the

In the hours after she first went missing, military sources suggested
Rebelyn was probably the victim of infighting between members of the
NPA. They added that she may also have been targeted by relatives of
people who were themselves kidnapped and abused by Parago over the

But Rebelyn’s father is adamant that no other group could be behind
her killing and claims the army “lashed out at her because they
couldn’t get me.”

He does not believe that any government-led investigation will bring
justice for her daughter.

“There were so many investigations for the victims of extrajudicial
killings but none so far have been solved,” he said. “Not just
political killings but also killing of journalists in this country
-what happened to their investigations?”

Ominously, he added: “We (the NPA) will be the ones to investigate and
punish those behind the killing of my daughter.”

Prepared with sacrifices

Chief of the NPA’s 1st Pulang Bagani Command which operates in the
fringes of this huge city, Parago said the killing of his daughter
would “strengthen and intensify the efforts to continue the

“I’m hurt and I’m enraged. Yet even if I cry, there’s nothing I could
do to bring her back. When I learned that she was abducted, I already
knew that they were going to kill her. I’ve been expecting that to
happen not just to my daughter but to my entire family as well.”

Parago’s son Ryan claims he too was attacked by military agents and
now lives with his father as an NPA guerilla. “They tried to stab me
in 2005 and the next day I left to come here. Had I not, I would have
been dead now just like Rebelyn.”

Parago broke his silence three days after her daughter was found dead.
The Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project and several journalists
met up with him at a location in the outskirts of this city.

“Since I joined the NPA (in 1978), I’ve been expecting that something
will happen to my family,” he said. “You have to be prepared with all
the sacrifices in all aspects when you’ll join the revolution.”

Clad in black military uniform, smoking a cigarette and in full battle
dress, the 51-year-old Parago worried that what happened to Rebelyn
may also happen to other members of his family. “There is a big
possibility that they will do my family harm because they could hardly
capture me.”

Parago accused two named sergeants with the Military Intelligence
Group (MIG) and two named officers serving in the Military
Intelligence Battalion (MIB) as those who he says are directly
responsible for his daughter’s death. In a separate interview with a
radio station he also named others –including an Army major.

Parago said that based on the NPA’s “own intelligence information,”
the four intelligence officers were responsible for the killing of his
brother Danilo in June last year alongside others. “My brother was a
provincial guard of Davao del Norte -he was a government employee, and
yet still he was killed.”

A spokesperson of the Army’s 10th ID has confirmed the names Parago
mentioned to the journalists are members of the military. Two of them
he confirmed are being held in the divisional barracks. The Armed
Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) Eastern Mindanao Command spokesperson
Major Randolph Cabangbang said the military would fully cooperate with
the police investigation.

“We are also affected; the military organization is very concerned
about this and by the perception of civilians. We are not looking into
this incident as soldiers but as fathers too,” stressed Cabangbang.

He added they were also investigating the white Toyota Revo with the
plate number LPG-588 that was reportedly used in abducting Rebelyn.
“We verified the plate number to the Land of Transportation office,”
he said – “but apparently it is not registered or found in the LTO’s

Cabangbang was adamant there “would be no whitewash or cover-up” in
the investigation “even if the suspects are from the military.”

He added: “We will give the PNP (Philippine National Police) a free
hand on this. We also welcome an independent body to conduct its own
investigation to help bring justice for Rebelyn. This incident is
already beyond the fighting between the AFP and the NPA, this is
already an attack against humanity.”

He flatly denied the military conducted surveillance on the Pitao
family: “The only subject for our surveillance is Parago - not his
entire family”

Elusive Parago

Parago has long been a wanted man: Former commander of the Philippine
Army’s 10th ID Major General Jogy Leo Fojas last year vowed his troops
would “nail the elusive Parago” before the end of 2008.

Parago has been accused of kidnapping and killing civilians, whom the
NPA suspected as “military intelligence assets.” He admits his
guerillas have killed suspected informers in cold blood: Parago
claimed he knew his “comrades” were responsible for the killing of an
informer, but was “not around when the execution happened.”

”The People’s Court does not kill innocent civilians, we carefully
examine their crimes against the people before we carry out
punishments,” he said.

Yet there is no such recognized court under national or international
law and many people see absolutely no difference between extrajudicial
killings allegedly committed by the military and those said to be
committed by the NPA.

On January 7, the NPA are believed to have killed Saturnino Rizaldo, a
suspected member of the military intelligence group. A month later,
they also reportedly murdered a second intelligence agent in Paquibato
district here.

In a mobile phone interview, Simon Santiago, southern Mindanao
political director of the NPA, told the Philippine Human Rights
Reporting Project that the NPA executed Rizaldo because of his “crime
against humanity.”

“The NPA has standing order against those who have committed serious
crime against the masses,” Santiago stressed.

The other victim he said was “a former NPA member turned military asset.”

Remembering Rebelyn

Parago said he waited until his daughter was 11 before telling her he
was the known Commander Parago of Southern Mindanao. “When they (my
children) asked me where I was, I often told them I was working

Shortly after his release from a prison sentence in 2000 and learning
that he would again go back to join the NPA, Parago recalled Rebelyn
saying: “Pa, abi nako mag uban na ta hangtud sa hangtud (Pa, I thought
we would be together again forever).”

Parago was captured by military agents in 1999 at his home in Toril
district. He was released without preconditions after spending just
under two years in jail.

He also recounted the time when Rebelyn asked for a new pair of jeans
and he couldn’t give her one. “I told her to ask for the old pair of
jeans from her older sister. Rebelyn did it and did not complain. When
her mother was finally able to give her a new pair, Rebelyn was so
happy and grateful. Even for the smallest things, Rebelyn never forgot
to say ‘thank you.’ ”

Mrs. Pitao also recalled that since Rebelyn was still small, she
really wanted to be a teacher. “Since she was small, that was her
dream -and she really fulfilled her dream,” she said.

Rebelyn served as a substitute teacher for five months at St. Peter’s
College of Technology and taught Grade 2.

Her mother recalled how happy Rebelyn was when she had her first
salary of PhP 7,800 (USD 162). “She was so happy because that was her
first time that she actually had some real money.”

Mrs. Pitao added said that her daughter’s fellow teachers were
surprised to learn she was the daughter of Commander Parago. “Yet
their treatment towards us never changed. They even sympathized with
us because they knew we were not part of the conflict -we were not

Held hostage

Mrs. Pitao claimed the military had harassed their family in the past.
In 1999, she insisted, seven military agents came into their house and
briefly held the family hostage to force her husband to surrender.

“They knew my husband was coming down to visit us because it was All
Saints Day,” she recalls. “The children were so scared because we were
all held at gunpoint.”

Parago also claims to remember the alleged incident: “I went there to
visit but was surprised to see the military. I had a grenade with me
but had I tossed it inside my house it would have killed my family as
well as the agents –and so I let myself get captured.”

Mrs. Pitao said the incident was a traumatic experience for the
children: “Trauma has been gone for a long time but now it’s back
again because of what happened to their sister.”

Safety of the family

Davao City Police have been providing 24-hour security during
Rebelyn’s wake and Mrs. Pitao said she was thankful to Mayor Duterte.
While having gone on record as saying he dismissed all allegations
that any military or police officers could be involved in the killing,
the mayor has made a public promise to Parago to find those
responsible. The two have even spoken together on the phone.

For her part, Mrs. Pitao is refusing to comment on her family’s future
security: “We cannot say anything about it now or what are we going to
do now. We have yet to talk about it. But I admit that we are very
affected. I’m worried about my children because two of them are still
studying and they are now worried for their security.”

Rebelyn’s death brings the number of victims of extrajudicial killings
in southern Mindanao since 2001 up to 93 according to Kelly Delgado,
secretary general of the human rights group Karapatan for southern
Mindanao region.

Authorities contest Karapatan’s figure and insist it is much lower.
But it is not known if either figure includes an anti-mining activist
who was shot dead by two gunmen on Monday March 9 in nearby Koronadal

Delgado claims the killing of Rebelyn was intended as a warning: “This
is a message for the family members of not just the NPA but as well
those who are in the progressive organizations that they too can be
targets,” Delgado said. “It is also a message meant to demoralize our

“Since the government has set 2010 as the deadline to crush the
communist movement, extrajudicial killings may even get worse because
civilians whom they suspect as communist supporters will become soft
targets,” Delgado said.

“The killings have become systemic and it is impossible to stop them.
What we can do now is to become vigilant and impose security measures
among people.”

Retired Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff General
Hermogenes Esperon and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo have set a
2010 deadline to end the insurgency.

But last year, Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Alexander Yano
admitted that the government might not be able to wipe out the
40-year-old communist movement by 2010.

The NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines
(CPP), turns 40 on March 29 –the day before a public hearing on
vigilante killings is due to open here.

Bishop Delfin Callao of the Philippine Independent Church has said
that an independent body needs to be created to investigate Rebelyn’s

“How can you investigate if you are the accused?” Callao asked
reporters in a press conference last week. The investigation, he
insisted, should not allow any representatives from government
agencies, police or military to join.

“This will assure us of complete impartiality and the findings can be
the basis of any criminal charges to be filed against the suspects.”

The investigating body, he said, should be composed of the people from
church and civil society organizations. “Even if the government
authorities snub the results, the most important thing here is we
surface the truth.”

Rebelyn’s funeral and burial is due to be held here on Saturday March
14. Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project / Posted by[1]

*The author is a journalist based in Davao City and one of the
founders of AKP Images, an independent photo agency.

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