Ten years ago in November 15, 2010, ethnobotanist Leonard Co and his team which included forester Sofronio Cortez and farmer Julius Borromeo were conducting biodiversity research for the Energy Development Corporation (EDC) in Upper Mahiao, Lim-ao, Kananga, Leyte when they were fired upon by the 19th Infantry Battalion of the Armed Forces Philippines. Two members of the research team survived, while Co, Cortez and Borromeo did not.
Since then, not one perpetrator has been put behind bars. Not one of the eight men from the 19th IBPA who fired 245 rounds from M16 rifles, K3 squad automatic weapons, and an M203 grenade launcher against Co and his team who were unarmed. Their commanding officer, then Lt. Col. Federico Tutaan, was not made to answer for his command responsibility over the incident.
Leonard was the original “plantito”. His knowledge of Philippine flora was unparalleled. He trekked the mountains of the Cordillera, Isabela, Bataan, Kananga, Bukidnon, Cotabato, and many more to study and explore the plants that he loved so much. In 2007 he established the Philippine Native Plants Conservation Society, which carried his personal advocacy to promote native plants and nature conservation.
He was also a people’s health champion and acupuncturist. Instead of graduating in 1981, he went to northern Luzon where he became a physician and acupuncturist to indigenous tribes while he continued to practice ethnobotany. He co-founded an NGO in Baguio City with the aim of providing health and education services. In 1989 he co-published Common Medicinal Plants of the Cordillera Region for those without access to mainstream medical services.
Leonard’s death is as heavy as the Sierra Madre mountains he trekked in. In honor of his life and his legacy, let us continue with the struggle against forgetting, and carry on with the fight against injustice. Let us demand that justice be served not just for Leonard and his companions, but for all other victims of the military and the state who like him are still denied justice up to this day.