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Justice remains elusive 11 years after the extrajudicial killings of ethnobotanist Leonard Co and his research team

AGHAM-Advocates of Science and Technology for the People deplores the continuing denial of justice for the brutal killings of ethnobotanist Leonard Co along with farmer Julio Borromeo and EDC employee Sofronio Cortez. The wheel of justice grinds very slowly for the killing on November 15, 2010 of one of the best botanists our country ever had.

Co and his research team, which includes Borromeo, Cortez, licensed forester Ronino Gibe, and farmer Policarpio Balute, were then conducting an ethnobotanical study in Kananga, Leyte for the project commissioned by the Energy Development Corporation. Gibe and Balute survived the incident.

The result of the fact-finding mission led by AGHAM in December 2010 has proved it was a shoot-out and not crossfire as claimed by the elements of the 19th IB who opened fire on the research team of Co without any verification on the part of the military for the identities of the victims. The Commission on Human Rights in their own investigation in 2012 found gross human rights violations and violations of International Humanitarian Law in the Kananga killings. They recommended the filing of criminal and administrative charges and obstruction of justice against members of the 19th IB headed by Lt. Col. Federico Tutaan.

The Department of Justice ignored both findings when they recommended that the charge to be filed is only Reckless Imprudence resulting in Homicide. Leonard Co’s family believed that the case should be elevated to Murder instead of Reckless Imprudence. This was the main contention of the petition filed by the family in 2013 because they believe that there was intent to end the lives of the three victims.

But the court decisions on the petitions filed did not bode well with the family and friends of Leonard Co. In 2019, the Court has denied altogether the following: the petition for the change of venue for the hearing, the obstruction of justice and administrative case and the review on Reckless Imprudence. Not only did the court allow the murderers to lurk around waiting for their next victim, it also reduced the gravity of the crimes committed

The tyranny and impunity of state forces still reign today as the perpetrators from the 19th IB remain at large and have gone back to military service. With the failure to hold accountable the criminals, it brings grave threat to many field scientists who are working in remote areas as they can be targets of the barbaric acts of the military with impunity.

Under the Duterte administration justice remains elusive. Worse, killings and harassment of environmental defenders including scientists have worsened. We challenge the current national candidates to include in their platforms to stop the killing, end impunity, and find justice for the victims of human rights violations of the Duterte regime and past administrations.

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