I was able to attend the CHR public hearing on the November 15 Kananga incident which claimed the lives of top botanist Leonard Co and his two companions. The hearing was conducted at the Leyte Park Hotel in Tacloban City. Present at the hearing were the members of the 19th Infantry Battalion including the actual participants in the combat operations of November 15. Also there were the SOCO personnel who examined the incident site.
I came to Tacloban together with the family of Leonard. His parents, wife, daughter and siblings traveled to Leyte to witness the hearing and hear from the military and the Energy Development Corporation what they all had to say about the incident. They were a family seeking justice. LinMay, the daughter said this was only her second plane ride. Her first was when they retrieved the body of her dad last Nov.15.
Here’s what we’ve learned so far from the hearing.
- The SOCO team dispatched to the incident site reached the area some 24 hours after the actual incident. They say the site was already ‘contaminated’. The SOCO team merely “gathered evidence” but did not do an analysis of the site. They did not conduct a trajectory analysis of the bullet marks. They merely collected fired cartridge casings for ballistics tests. The SOCO team appeared to be either confused, ill-prepared or just plain ignorant of the correct investigative procedures.
- From their own testimonies, none of the members of the AFP units involved in the actual incident are aware of the existing security protocols between EDC and the AFP. That matter they say is taken up at the “battalion level”. If true, this is quite a scary situation. Soldiers on the field can very well have a “shoot now, ask questions later” attitude.
- One soldier was asked what he knew of the term “rules of engagement”. He could not answer.
- All the raw intel reports and information about so-called NPA movements were in the area of Cariraga, Leyte, some 18 kilometers away Northeast of Kananga where the incident happened. What were the soldiers doing in Kanganga? They were on their way to Carigara they say, based on a predetermined route, when their advanced scout saw the alleged ‘enemy’.
- The alleged ‘enemy’ sighted were three “men in black” who were allegedly armed. What were the “men in black” doing at the time the AFP unit saw them? Almost all of the soldiers who testified said the “men in black” seemed to be “observing something” in the forest. Hmm, observing something like, say, a scientist/botanist would do? If the “men in black” were NPA members, what could they have been observing?
- The AFP unit was able to observe the “men in black” for some 25-30 minutes while atop a ridge. This means the AFP had the higher ground, the element of surprise and therefore the tactical advantage. Yet the alleged NPA’s were able to fire the first shot. Lt. Odchimar denied that they ever had tactical advantage.
- The shooting happened for 10-15 minutes. More than 200 rounds were expended by the AFP unit. One soldier who carried a K-3 rifle shot 90 rounds during this period. In the 10-15 minutes they were shooting at the “men in black”, none of the targets were hit. When the soldiers conducted clearing operations at the area where the supposed targets were, they said they found nothing.
- The relative position of the soldiers, the alleged NPA and the EDC team of Leonard Co totally demolishes the “crossfire trajectory” theory of the DOJ-NBI. The alleged NPA were closer to the position of the military while the EDC team were described as being farther from the AFP position (malayo as one soldier described it). The EDC team was NOT in the middle of the AFP and alleged NPA. To further illustrate, imagine a triangle. The alleged NPA were to the relative north of the AFP unit, some 45 meters away, while the EDC team was farther northeast. For the alleged NPA to shoot the EDC team, they would have to be firing not in the direction of the AFP but in the direction of the EDC team.
- With the exception of Lt. Odchimar, none of the soldiers saw where the alleged NPA retreated to. However, all claim to have seen the 3 “men in black” and all claim to have seen the shots from the ‘enemy’.
- All soldiers say they could clearly see the armed ‘enemy’ and the color of their clothes. However, none of the soldiers could remember the color of the clothes of the civilian victims. While saying they could clearly see the enemy, it is also a mystery why not one NPA was shot, wounded and killed during the operation. Instead, we saw 3 dead civilians.
- There were two squads present during the operation. One squad was atop the ridge and engaged the ‘enemy’. The other squad remained at the lower side of the ridge and did not go up nor did they apparently engage the enemy. They were to be deployed as a possible blocking force? The shooting lasted for 10-15 minutes. It is untenable that during this period, the second squad of Lt. Perez did not join the firefight and provide suppressing fire towards the ‘enemy’. From the testimony, the second squad seemed to have no participation at all during the firefight. This claim is made even more untenable when Lt. Odchimar claims that there were probably 3-10 NPA’s at the area, based on the volume of return fire they received.The first squad that engaged the enemy only had 9 soldiers. If true, then the AFP certainly could have used additional troops during the shootout. The alleged non-participation of the second squad seemed to be the reason why only 9 firearms were submitted for ballistics tests. It is a mystery what the second squad was actually doing during the shootout.