Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Vol. V,    No. 14      May 15- 21, 2005      Quezon City, Philippines











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Who Are Behind the Violence and Disappearances?
First of two parts

Thirty-seven persons have become victims in politically-motivated killings since last January, while more than seven have disappeared without a trace. A number have survived attempts on their lives. Who could be behind this spate of violence and abductions?


Rev. Edison Lapuz, conference minister of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) and a leader of the Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR) in Eastern Visayas, had just come from the burial of his father-in-law when he was killed May 12 in San Isidro, Leyte, central Philippines. At the time of his death, he was busy organizing a mining conference for church people in Eastern Visayas.

Just five days before, at around 8 p.m., lawyer and party-list group Anakpawis (toiling masses) municipal coordinator Ambrosio Matias and his eldest son, law student Leonard, were killed in Llanera, Nueva Ecija. Each died from a single bullet. At the time of their death, father and son were handling land disputes in Nueva Ecija.

Fely Matias, widow of slain lawyer Ambrosio Matias, with youngest child

The deaths of Lapuz and the elder Matias and his son bring to 37 the number of victims in what appear to be politically-motivated killings since last January this year alone. Meanwhile, more than seven have disappeared without a trace during the same period. A number, including UN judge ad litem Romeo T. Capulong, have survived attempts on their lives.

The victims and other targets of assassination have included lawyers, a councilor, priests, party-list coordinators, human rights volunteers and activists.

Who could be behind this spate of violence and abductions?

In one of these cases, the March 13 killing of Aglipayan priest William Tadena, 37, in Tarlac, a suspect was arrested and identified by a witness as the perpetrator of the act. A statement by Bp. Alberto Ramento of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI of Philippine Independent Church)’s Tarlac Diocese cites an autopsy report saying that Tadena died after sustaining four wounds from .45 caliber pistol bullets.

The suspect, Reynaldo Navarete, is reported to be facing murder charges previous to the killing of Tadena. He has also recently been linked by Tarlac City police to the March 3 killing of Councilor Abelardo Ladera, 45, according to a newspaper report.

In one other case, the March 9 killing of activist leader and radio commentator Romeo Sanchez, 39, in Baguio City, local police have arrested a suspect, identified as Aris Vinoya. No witness has come forward to identify the man as the perpetrator, however.

There is no detailed information or finding yet as to the connections of these suspects.

But human rights, labor, and criminal lawyer Remigio Saladero, Jr., who was interviewed by Bulatlat, observed that the visible patterns in some of the more celebrated among these cases – as culled from Bulatlat interviews with witnesses as well as investigating police units, police reports, and newspaper accounts – can give hints as to who are behind the killings and abductions.


One of the patterns, Saladero said, lies in the apparent professional manner in which some of the more noted killings were done.

Sanchez, a coordinator of the progressive party-list group Bayan Muna (People First) in the Ilocos region, was shot at close range at the public market in Baguio City (254 kms north of Manila) on March 9, while looking around for second-hand clothes. “Autopsy revealed that the point of entry of the gunshot wound is located below the left ear and exited on the right portion of the temple,” the report from the Baguio City police states. “There was also an observed powder burns (sic) on the point of entry, which manifests a shot made at close range.”

The police report also states that a bullet from a Magnum .380 gun was recovered from Sanchez’s body.

Ladera was likewise slain with a single bullet. So was Leyte lawyer Felidito Dacut, 51, killed March 14.

But in the latter two cases there is another pattern: both were shot by marksmen.

A report by the Tarlac City police acquired by Bulatlat said that former Army Lt. Clemente Lundang had been interviewed by the investigating team as a witness to the Ladera killing. He had helped Ladera’s two companions bring him to the hospital after he fell from a gunshot wound while buying spare parts for his jeep at an auto supply shop. Lundang said that before Ladera fell, he had seen a dark blue van park on the other side of the road where the auto supply shop was located, or about 20-30 meters from where Ladera was.

Another witness, a nine-year old girl, interviewed by Bulatlat said she saw the marksman inside the same van.

In an interview with Bulatlat, Lundang said that the assailant could have used a double-action handgun, as only shrapnels were recovered from Ladera’s body. He also said that the gunfire sounded only like a tire burst.

“Is that kind of gun or equipment accessible to ordinary people or civilians?” Saladero asked.

Asked to comment on this, Saladero said that the assailant could have also used a silencer (or suppressor) for his gun.

Leyte lawyer Felidito Dacut, a Bayan Muna-Eastern Visayas coordinator, was on board a passenger jeepney with a companion identified only as Felix when killed March 14. As the jeepney cruised along Arellano Street in Tacloban City, Leyte at about 6:45 p.m. Philippine time, two men on a motorcycle drove near the victim, and one of them fired a shot behind Dacut. The bullet, fired from a .45 cal. pistol, pierced through his heart.

There is, nonetheless, also a visible element of professionalism in the killing of Sanchez. “Whoever did it made sure the victim died,” a report from the Baguio-based Northern Dispatch quotes the doctor who autopsied Sanchez as saying.


Another pattern noticeable in the prominent cases is the impunity with which the acts were perpetrated, Saladero observed.

Brothers Roger and Sergio Viray of the fishing village Sapang Kawayan in Masantol, Pampanga – who were both involved in organizing a local chapter of the Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya (Pamalakaya or National Forces of the Fisherfolk Movement) – were abducted at around 1:30 a.m. Philippine time on Feb. 18. Many of the villagers were awake then, as fishing boats had just arrived.

One of those awake then was an elderly neighbor of the Virays. In an interview with Bulatlat, he recounted that about 10 men with long firearms had asked to be taken to the houses of Roger and Sergio. He had obliged, not suspecting what would happen next.

Witness points to spot where the Virays' abductors set foot

When they reached Roger’s house, they immediately asked for the man and talked to him when he went to the door. First they asked him for coffee, and were told there was none in the house.

Then the witness was told not to listen to what they were talking about. Six of them led Roger away while four of them looked after the witness.

After a few minutes, two of the men who had led Roger away returned to the house, saying he had asked them to look for something. They searched the house but came out with nothing.

When the two left, the four who were looking after the witness left.

Another witness, Roger’s son, recounts that the men who searched their house after leading his father away said he had asked them to find his cellular phone and some documents. “My father has no cellphone and we don’t keep any documents in the house,” he said.

Other witnesses interviewed by Bulatlat said Sergio had tried to come to the rescue of his brother, and himself ended up being seized.

Witness points to spot where Juloya's gunman stood. Juloya had jumped into the canal at left. A few meters away stands the barangay hall (blue building)

Meanwhile Ladera, Sanchez, Tadena, and Dacut were all killed in public places and in broad daylight: Sanchez was shot at the Baguio City public market at around 5:10 p.m., a time when public markets are teeming with customers. Ladera, Tadena and Dacut were killed on highways.

Human rights and labor lawyer Charles Juloya of Aringay, La Union survived an assassination attempt March 21. Interviewed by Bulatlat in a hospital in Metro Manila, he said he had parked his car near an eatery in front of his office when he saw his would-be assailant a few meters away, holding a gun. As the gunman fired, he ran in a circle to evade the bullets, before ducking behind a jeepney parked nearby and finally jumping into a canal. When he groped for his pocket, the assailant fled.

The gunman had fired eight bullets from a .45 caliber pistol, said a report from the Aringay PNP; of these, only two managed to hit Juloya.

The time was 12:30 p.m. Aringay police chief PCInsp. Eduardo Abadoy told Bulatlat that the three policemen who were on duty at the outpost near the scene of the incident had tried to pursue the assailant but failed to catch him. One of the witnesses to the incident told Bulatlat that the barangay (village) office was closed that day; sources from the office explained to Bulatlat that they had attended a fiesta (feast) the night before and no one was able to report for work that day except for two health workers – who were out by 12 noon.

Juloya would later learn, from onlookers, that the assailant had been on the spot for a long time before the shooting happened. “The man clearly knew what time I would arrive and where I would park my car,” Juloya said.

“The impunity is noticeable in these cases,” said Saladero. “If you are a private hired killer, if you don’t have strong connections, you wouldn’t do such things with such impunity.”

Left “intramurals”

Curiously, Saladero also observed, in almost all of the noted cases, the angle of “intra-organizational rift” within the Left had been consistently floated by the investigating police units.

Indeed, in the copies of police reports obtained by Bulatlat on the cases of Sanchez and Juloya, the angle of alleged Left intramurals appears first on the list of possible motives.

In the particular case of Sanchez, cited as the first possible motive is: “Intramurals within the Organization relative to the alleged misunderstanding of Bayan Muna Cordillera and Bayan Muna Region 1.”

But in interviews with Bulatlat, personalities connected to both Bayan Muna-Ilocos – which covers Region 1 – and Bayan Muna-Cordillera said there was no rift between the two chapters.

Juloya, likewise, is cited in the Aringay police report as discounting the angle of “Left intramurals” in connection with the assassination attempt on him. He repeated this in the interview with Bulatlat.

In the case of Danilo Macapagal, 51, who was abducted in front of his house at 8 p.m. March 3, officers of the investigating police unit said that a dispute within the Nueva Ecija chapter of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance) may have had something to do with his abduction, considering that he relinquished his post as chairman of the said organization in 2003 after serving for more than 20 years.

According to PSupt. Henry Teaño, deputy director of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Nueva Ecija, who also heads Task Force Macapagal which is responsible for investigating the Macapagal abduction, their interviews with Bayan-Nueva Ecija leaders and members showed that Macapagal relinquished his post as Bayan-Nueva Ecija chair in 2003, citing poor health (he is said to have developed asthma then). In an interview with Bulatlat, Teaño said that asthma is not developed in later years.

But Saladero, who said he had also followed the Macapagal case, said: “He had resigned as Bayan-Nueva Ecija chair in 2003, but he was in another line of work when he disappeared.” At the time of his disappearance, Macapagal was a coordinator of Bayan Muna-Nueva Ecija, according to a relative of his who was interviewed by Bulatlat.

Meanwhile, PSSupt. Alex Paul Monteagudo, Nueva Ecija police chief, told Bulatlat that the motive for Macapagal’s abduction was “possibly personal,” even as Teaño admitted that Macapagal had no personal enemies. Monteagudo did not elaborate on this point.

“Everyone who could benefit from his disappearance is a suspect,” Monteagudo added.

“Who else would have a motive for abducting Macapagal?” Saladero asked. “They themselves say he had no personal enemies. Who would benefit from his disappearance? None other than those whose toes he had stepped on in his crusade as an activist.”

In the cases of Ladera and Tadena, newspaper accounts have cited police sources as saying that the killings were the handiwork of the New People’s Army (NPA). In a briefing paper of the military’s Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom), Ladera in particular was tagged as one of the “supporters” of the NPA in the Hacienda Luisita strike.

But Saladero said that from historical experience, the NPA had not killed anyone without admitting the act. “Why so? Because they consider that a political victory on their part,” he said. “They would explain why the person was killed or ‘punished.’ But in these cases there is no admission by the NPA.”


Finally, Saladero said that there is a noticeable silence on the part of Malacañang about these abductions and killings.

He noted that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is silent even on the case of Danilo Macapagal, a known second cousin of hers. An earlier Bulatlat report has an account of Macapagal-Arroyo telling her cousin in a gathering, “We are relatives, I wish there were no protests here.”

“Either Malacañang is not in control of the situation or it has a hand in it,” Saladero observed. “Whichever way, the president is accountable.” Bulatlat

Photos by Dabet Castañeda

A Reign of Silence by GMA Last of two parts



© 2004 Bulatlat  Alipato Publications

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