Melo Commission Report: Presentation of Witnesses/Resource Persons

Feb. 23, 2007

F. Probe in Davao City

On December 11, 2006, the Commission held a whole-day hearing in Davao City to probe the killing of George and Maricel Vigo, Enrico Cabanit, and Hernando Baria, who were likewise involved in agrarian reform efforts and the organization of peasant farmers.

1. George and Maricel Vigo

The spouses George and Maricel Vigo were working for Peoples Kauyahan Foundation, Inc. – a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) project partner for the upliftment of internally displaced persons, including peasant farmers. George Vigo likewise had a local AM radio show concerning agrarian reform issues. The spouses Vigo were gunned down in Singao, Kidapawan City, Cotobato by unidentified men on June 19, 2006.

Mr. Venancio Bafilar, a friend of the spouses Vigo testified that before he was gunned down, George Vigo confided to Mr. Bafilar that he had been receiving death threats, and that he was being suspected of authoring, making or otherwise being behind the production of a video recording contained in a certain compact disc. This video recording was of a certain bloodless raid conducted by NPA rebels upon the municipal hall and PNP Station of Magpet, Cotobato.

Bafilar mentioned that the spouses Vigo were political supporters of Congresswoman Emmylou Talio-Santos and her faction, including Angelita Pelonio, who was running for mayor of Magpet against incumbent Efren Piol. In fact, Maricel Vigo was working in the office of Congresswoman Talio-Santos. The Talios are the political enemies of the Piol faction, which includes Cotobato Governor Emmanuel F. Piol. Essentially, Bafilars testimony insinuates that the murder of the spouses Vigo was political in motivation, and that the parties responsible come from the camp of the Piols.

The spouses Vigo were also in contact with a certain Ka Benjie, a suspected NPA member, whom George Vigo interviewed a number of times in his radio show. The Vigos were also supposedly eyewitnesses when Ka Benjie was summarily executed by the military.

Fr. Peter Geremia, an American priest working for the Tribal Filipino Program of the Diocese of Kidapawan, testified on his knowledge about the deaths of the spouses Vigo. He mentioned that prior to and after the death of the Vigos, he was subjected to surveillance by unidentified armed men. George Vigo also confided to Fr. Geremia that a military asset warned him (George Vigo) that he was in the listahan of the military.

After the killing of the Vigos, Fr. Geremia also received written death threats that the killing of the Vigos was a message to him and the Tribal Filipino Program that they would be next. The written threat more or less stated that whoever supports the NPA, death is what they deserve.

In one incident in Columbio, Cotobato, Fr. Geremia was being followed by some men, one of whom suddenly drew his gun. Upon seeing the gun, Fr. Geremias companions rushed him inside a store and later asked for help from the house of Columbio Mayor Bermudez. Mayor Bermudez, however, stated that there was nothing he could do because, he said, that the gunmen were military.

Fr. Geremia also testified that in a media presentation by Col. John Bucu of the 40th IB Intelligence Unit, he (Fr. Geremia) was identified as a supporter of the NPA a fact which Fr. Geremia strongly denies. In fact, Fr. Geremia mentions that after confronting Col. Bucu and clarifying that he was not an NPA supporter, the latter apologized for the false information they received. However, Fr. Geremia was informed that his name and those of his staff are still mentioned in interrogations of suspected NPAs, and that he is still under surveillance, albeit more discreetly.

Fr. Geremia stated that the probable reason why he and his colleagues and staff were suspected of being NPA supporters was their constant monitoring of human rights violations and providing legal assistance to suspects detained by the military. In fact, with their aid, some of these suspects filed counter-charges against military officers, such as Major Ruben Agarcio, Lt. Eduardo Manukan, and Col. Cesar Idio of the 25th IB. Fr. Geremia requested the Commission and the National Bureau of Investigation to look into the threats against him and his staff, and the reason for the surveillance on them.

Apart from their oral testimony, the aforementioned witnesses also presented their written statements together with supporting documents. The affidavits of other witnesses, namely Gregorio Alave, Mary Grace Dingal, and Rea Ligtas, were submitted to the Commission. Due to lack of time, however, they were no longer called to deliver oral testimony.

Gregorio Alave, the younger brother of Maricel Vigo, claimed to have seen a certain Toto Amancio in the scene of the crime a few minutes before the shooting of the Vigos. Amancio is said to be a notorious gun-for-hire connected with powerful local politicians whom Alave did not identify but insinuated to be the Piols. Despite his information, the Task Force Vigo created by the provincial government to investigate the Vigo killings accused a certain Dionisio Jek-Jek Mandanguit as the gunman. Alave, however, claims that this is not possible because Madanguit belonged to the 39th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army and was in the company of the CIDG long before the Vigo killing.

2. Enrico Cabanit

Enrico Cabanit was the chairperson of the WADECOR Employees and Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association, Inc. (WEARBAI) and the Secretary General of Pambansang Ugnayan ng mga Nagsasariling Organisasyon sa Kanayunan (UNORKA-National). He was assassinated by an unidentified gunman wearing a bonnet at the public market of Panabo City, Davao Del Norte on April 24, 2006. Wounded in the incident was Daffodil Cabanit, Enrico Cabanits daughter.

As witnesses, the Commission called P/Senior Investigator Wilfredo Puerto and PO3 Domingo Ranain, who investigated the Cabanit murder. PSI Puerto is the Intelligence Officer of the Panabo City Police Station, while Ranain is the police investigator on duty for the Cabanit murder. They both claimed that they already solved the crime and that it was a certain Enrique Solon who was the gunman. Enrique Solon was supposedly identified post mortem by eyewitnesses, as he had been killed in similar fashion in General Santos City some days later. Likewise, a certain Benedick Mallorca supposedly overheard Solon drunkenly boasting about killing Cabanit.

However, there are numerous discrepancies and suspicious details regarding the investigation which tended to disprove the police theory, thereby prompting the General Counsel to intensively cross-examine the witnesses. In particular, the following details were suspicious:

– The body of Cabanit was not autopsied before burial, in violation of standard procedure, and despite requests for autopsy by Cabanits family;
– The supposed eyewitness, Mr. Ryan Catalan, never stated in his affidavit that he saw the face of the assailant. Hence, his identification of Solons body as the gunman is unreliable.
– Solons body and face at the time the supposed witnesses identified it were severely swollen (as shown in the submitted picture), that it was virtually impossible to identify him based on his alleged fleeting appearance at the crime scene.
– The police reported that Cabanit was shot with a 9mm handgun three times, and that they recovered 9mm cartridges at the scene of the crime. However, the NBI expert witness stated that, upon his examination, Cabanit sustained only two (2) gunshot wounds and that, due to their diameter, they could not have been caused by a 9mm slug, but only by no less than .45 caliber pistol slugs.
– The police did not bother to bring Daffodil Cabanit to see and identify Solon as the gunman. Daffodil Cabanit is in the best position to see, describe and identify her fathers assailant.

After several questions, the police officers stated that the investigation was still ongoing in that they have yet to identify the mastermind for the killing. The Commission inquired as to what steps the police were taking to do so. The police officers stated that they were waiting for further information from their witness, Mr. Benedick Mallorca. The Commission noted that the investigation should not be kept idly waiting for a witness to volunteer information, especially since the case of Cabanit is, according to Task Force Usigs report, under extensive investigation.

The NBIs Medico-Legal examiner, Dr. Edgar Saballa, testified on his autopsy of Cabanits body undertaken after its exhumation was ordered by the Commission. He discovered that there were two (2) gunshot wounds and not three (3) as stated in the police report. He also concluded that, based on the entry wounds, the weapon used was a .45 caliber pistol, and definitely not a 9mm pistol as stated in the police report. Unfortunately, no slugs were recovered from Cabanits body for possible ballistic examination.

Last to testify was Mr. Rodolfo Imson, the local Regional Director of the Department of Agrarian Reform. He testified as to the good character of Cabanit, but that the DAR has no idea who was behind his killing. He, however, mentioned that violence is a constant problem in the implementation of the agrarian reform program, and that he himself has been receiving death threats from unknown parties.

3. Hernando Baria

Hernando Baria was a farmer and officer of a local farmers group in Iloilo province called the Asao Farmers and Residents Association (AFRA). He was shot and killed on July 23, 2005 by policemen during an encounter involving the service of an alleged search warrant.

Hernando Barias widow, Jovita Baria, testified before the Commission that Balasan town Vice Mayor Susan Bedro is the one behind the killing of her husband. According to her, the killing was motivated by her husband being one of the beneficiaries of agrarian reform implementation over the land owned by Bedro, and because he was one of the instrumental officers of AFRA. Upon prodding, however, she also admitted that her husband possessed an unlicensed firearm and fired the same during the encounter with the police. It also appeared that the police were in possession of a search warrant for the AFRA premises where Baria was staying.

Jovita Baria filed murder charges against the concerned police officers which is now currently pending with the office of the Ombudsman.

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