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SOLDIERS were positioned on a ridge when they fired upon Leonard Co and his four companions. Photo from agham fact-finding mission

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INITIAL positions of Co et al. when soldiers fired at them. Photo from agham fact-finding mission. Photo from agham fact-finding mission

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THE BIG tree where Ronino Gibe hid during the shooting. It has at least six bullet marks. Photo from agham fact-finding mission. Photo from agham fact-finding mission

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LOCATION of the forest where Leonard Co and two others were shot dead by soldiers on Nov. 15. Photo from agham fact-finding mission. Photo from agham fact-finding mission

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LOCATION of the forest where Leonard Co and two others were shot dead by soldiers on Nov. 15. Photo from agham fact-finding mission. Photo from agham fact-finding mission

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LOCATION of the forest where Leonard Co and two others were shot dead by soldiers on Nov. 15. Photo from agham fact-finding mission. Photo from agham fact-finding mission

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LEONARD CO, SOFRONIO CORTEZ, JULIUS BORROMEO. Photo from agham fact-finding mission. Photo from agham fact-finding mission


Death of a botanist

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 18:43:00 12/25/2010

Filed Under: Research, insurgency, Military, Armed conflict

(Editor?s Note: This is a reconstruction of events that led to the killings of University of the Philippines botanist Leonardo Co, forester Sofronio Cortez and farmer Julius Borromeo on November 15 allegedly by troops of the Philippine Army.

Co and four of his companions were conducting research on tree biodiversity in the Manawan-Kananga Watershed in Leyte for the Lopez-owned Energy Development Corp. They were collecting specimen seedlings of endangered trees for replanting.

The reconstruction of events was made by a 33-member fact-finding mission organized by Agham-Advocates of Science and Technology for the People, a group of mostly UP teachers and graduates. The mission gathered testimonies and observations from people involved in the incident.

An Army unit claimed that Co, Cortez and Borromeo were killed in a crossfire with the New People?s Army. But Agham said there was no firefight, basing its conclusion on accounts of survivors.)



7 a.m.: Sofronio Cortez left his home wearing a long-sleeved shirt and an Energy Development Corp. (EDC) ID. He brought a backpack with him. Julius Borromeo (who was wearing a brown T-shirt and yellow raincoat) and Policarpio Balute, a guide, were fetched by a driver from EDC before breakfast at around 7 a.m. Borromeo brought a sack with him (where food and collected samples are placed). This was his first day for this job order.

Leonard Co and forester Ronino Gibe had breakfast at the canteen of the Leyte Geothermal Plant Facility (LGPF) staff house.

8 a.m.: Co and Gibe were fetched by a brown pick-up service vehicle and brought to the Environmental Management Division (EMD) office where they talked to Leonita P. Sabando. Co notified Sabando of the plan to go to Pad 403. [A pad is a source of steam which a geothermal plant uses for electricity generation.]

Pad 403 is a good forest site for collecting samples, according to the forest guards. Gibe went to the Community Partnership Department (CPD) and asked about ilang-ilang seedlings and informed Ali Sulla about the trip to Pad 403.

8:30 a.m.: Co, Gibe and Cortez visited the nursery at the LGPF from the EMD site. They were joined here by Balute and Borromeo. At around this time, EDC said that it informed the military through various channels about the team going to Pad 403.

9 a.m.: The team left the nursery and went to Pad 403 using the service vehicle.

At about 9:15 a.m.: The team went to Pad 411d from Pad 403 since Co was not sure that this was the site he earlier visited.

At about 9:30 a.m.: Co and his team went back to Pad 403 upon checking the map of Gibe.

At about 9:50 a.m.: The team reached Tree 5-01 (mayapis), recorded its location and marked the tree with orange paint as 5-01. Three meters away was Tree 5-02 (Syzigium spp.) and Balute marked it 5-02. About 59 meters away, the team found Tree 5-03 (tanguile) and walked around it.

At about 11 a.m.: It rained hard and Co decided to stop the survey. They then planned to go back to the nursery. Cortez then texted the driver to fetch the team.

At about 11:15 a.m.: Cortez received an SMS from the driver informing them that he was already at Pad 403. However, the rain abated and Co suggested that they continue to measure and survey the trees.

Balute was the one measuring the diameter of the trees, Gibe was the one recording the data, and Borromeo was in charge of bringing their food and other implements. Cortez and Co were examining the trees and leaves and identifying the species.

At about 11:30 a.m.: The team walked a few meters to Tree No. 4 and was in the process of deciding on its species by looking up at the leaves. The team had just finished recording the statistics of Tree No. 4. Balute noticed that there were fruit seeds on the ground. He also sensed that there were other people in the area but continued with his work.

Minutes before noon: On Gibe?s left was Borromeo. On Gibe?s right was Co then Cortez with Balute at the back of the tree (in reference to Gibe). Gibe had just taken the picture of the tree on his cell camera while Balute was about to scrape the bark of the fourth tree to have it numbered when gunshots were fired from where they were facing. The team was positioned at the front of those who were shooting.

One by one, they dropped to the ground and pleaded for the shooting to stop. Co shouted: ?Maawa kayo. Hindi kami kalaban.? Balute yelled ?Hindi po kami kalaban. Tama na po.? Gibe seconded these pleas by shouting the same.

But the gunfire did not stop. They were sure that whoever was firing heard them as they also heard one man from the group shooting at them saying: ?Dia lang diay mo!? (?Nandito lang pala kayo!?) As Balute described it, there was rapid fire and some big explosions, causing the ground to shake.

At around noon: Balute decided to run away from the place and tried to convince the others to follow him. He was thinking that if he would not run, he would eventually die there. The four were still lying face down on the ground with only tree branches and roots for cover.

Balute was able to run away from the site because he was positioned at the back of a big tree, unlike the others who had nothing for cover.

Co was crying and complaining about his back. Cortez was still able to ask Co about his condition, to which Co replied that he was shot in the back. Gibe crept toward a large tree in front of him and hid behind its buttress. Gibe tried to call for help from his cell phone but was not able to. The gunfire lasted for 15 to 20 minutes.

The military said that a 19th Infantry Battalion unit led by First Lieutenant [Ronald] Odchimar chanced upon a unit of the New People?s Army (NPA) and exchanged fire with it. The ?crossfire? lasted for some 10 to 12 minutes. Asked to characterize the exchanges, Lt. Col. Federico Tutaan said M16s were used by the NPA. The firing was continuous for that period. He did not say if there were other firearms used.

12:17 p.m.: Shortly before this, Balute reached Pad 403 where he caught up with the driver and had himself brought to the EDC office of the EMD. EDC received an SMS from Gibe at 12:17 p.m. From Gibe?s affidavit, the SMS was: ?2long pinagbabaril po kami near 411d.? This was sent to Ali Sulla of the CPD in the LGPF.

12:30 p.m.: An SMS from Sulla was received on Co?s phone saying ?Sir gud am, may encounter daw dyan ali muna kayo.? At around this time, Balute arrived in the EMD office and informed EDC about the shooting. This was EDC?s first confirmation of the incident. EDC then dispatched a vehicle to go to Pad 403.

12:38 p.m.: Another SMS was received on Co?s phone from Sabando, ?Sir Lenard, Nino ds s lps. per security advise, pull out fr area immediately.?

The troops advanced closer to Co and the others who were then still lying face down on the ground. They approached the team from both sides. The soldiers were wearing camouflaged uniforms. Some of them approached Gibe who was then behind the buttress of a big tree.

At around this time, the EDC vehicle would have arrived at Pad 403. Gibe decided to break cover and identify himself. A soldier ordered him to come out while pointing a gun at him and saying: ?May isa pa palang buhay dito.? Gibe raised his arms while asking for help for his companions. The others were not responding, except for Borromeo who was lying down and moaning.

One soldier said, ?Wala na. ?Di na aabot sa ospital kasama mo.? This soldier then asked him about his two other armed companions and asked Gibe to show his weapons. Gibe denied that he or any of his four companions had arms. He said that one was able to escape and he knew that he had no weapons with him.

One soldier said: ?P... ina, natalay tayo!? The soldier talking to Gibe ordered him to lie face down and close his eyes. Gibe complied as the soldier said that the former should not look at him and his companions. They saw the GPS unit and cell phone and took these from Gibe. The soldier ordered him to be still and silent while Gibe was continually asking for pity and help for his companions.

The soldiers then asked Gibe to identify himself and his group?s purpose in the area. Gibe answered that they were employees of EDC and he showed them his identification card. ?Ako po si Ronino Gibe, taga Los Bańos, Laguna, taga-EDC po ako at kasama ko po si Sir Leonard Co, UP professor po siya. Si Kuya Ponyong po EDC employee dito sa Leyte Geothermal.?

The soldier then asked Gibe about his engineer?s notebook, Co?s notes, GPS unit and map. Gibe answered that the team was doing a survey of the location of the trees. The soldier asked him further about the sketch that Co?s team had of the area. Gibe explained that they were marking the areas where they can get seeds, seedlings and wildings, and pointed to the group?s sack with the collected samples.

The soldier asked Gibe about his group?s contact and Gibe replied that he was part of EDC and his contact was Sabando from the EMD and Sulla from the CPD. The soldier stopped his interrogation but Gibe continued to plead. The soldier told him to keep quiet: ?Wag kang maingay! Ligtas ka na!?

Minutes before 1 p.m.: Gibe saw Borromeo bleeding and heard him say that he was hit near the heart. Borromeo was asking the soldiers that they go down. Gibe shouted for help but no one from the soldiers answered. Borromeo was still able to ask Gibe about the latter?s condition before the soldiers berated Gibe to stop talking.

1:44 p.m.: At this point, Tutaan received an SMS from his higher ups to do a medivac immediately. Upon his receipt of the ground report, Tutaan said that he had already ordered a medivac.

At about 2 p.m.: For about two hours, Gibe was lying face down. He saw some soldiers meeting at a distance. He was then asked to stand up. A soldier then repeated the earlier questions posed to Gibe on his group?s purpose and coordination. The soldier asked Gibe if he knew of the military?s operation in the area and mentioned that the military had two companions who were killed [?at nalagasan kami ng dalawang kasama?].

Gibe answered in the negative and said that the team was with Cortez who was an EDC employee and that he knew that they had prior coordination with EDC. The soldier asked again about his contact and Gibe repeated that he was part of EDC and his contacts were Sabando and Sulla.

A soldier asked Gibe: ?Imposible naman na hindi nyo nakita yung tatlong tao na may mga armas? Thirty minutes na kaming nagoobserba na palakad-lakad sila!?

Gibe said that his group did not see anyone and kept on asking for help for Borromeo.

The military then gave first aid to Borromeo, who heard them call his condition peklat. Gibe asked for his cell phone and this was when he got to talk to Sabando and relay details of the incident.

The soldiers then ordered Gibe to get up and proceed to Pad 403 near the Mahi-aw plant. Borromeo was laid down on a sack and brought down by the soldiers. Gibe was showing the tree markings they made along the way down to Pad 403.

At about 3 p.m.: Gibe saw the vehicles of EDC arrive together with an ambulance at Pad 403. He boarded a service vehicle of EDC and was brought to Osfa Hospital in Ormoc City. He heard that Borromeo died at the pad. The soldiers then brought down the bodies of Co and Cortez to Pad 403. EDC then brought the bodies to V. Rama Funeral Homes.

At about 4 p.m.: Tutaan declared the site a ?no-crisis zone? but mopping-up operations by the military continued after that.

4:30 p.m.: The chief of police, a certain Senior Inspector Camacho, learned of the event from the Kananga vice mayor. He confirmed the information from the 19th IB but the police were not allowed access to the site ?kasi may hot pursuit operation.?


NOV. 16: The police Soco team was able to do a site visit only at this time. EDC did not join the police team.

NOV. 17: EDC was able to access the site.

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