KITAOTAO, Bukidnon — Police and military authorities led the exhumation on Thursday of three bodies that witnesses said belonged to individuals abducted and later on killed by communist rebels three years ago.
The military identified the bodies as that of Joel Rey Galendez, a retired policeman, 43, resident of Bunawan Agusan del Sur; Dionisio Camarillo Havana, 37, resident of Sto. Nino, Carmen in Davao del Norte, and a tribal leader in Agusan del Sur; and Sgt. Reynante Havana España, 42, a resident of San Francisco town, Agusan del Sur, who was then assigned at an Army unit in Surigao del Sur.
Authorities and relatives said the three victims and a minor were heading home on board a vehicle from Cagayan de Oro City on Aug. 22, 2017 when they were intercepted at a roadblock set up by the New People’s Army (NPA) in Sitio Nabunturan, Barangay Digonga, Kitaotao.
Evelyn Galendez, sister of Joel Rey, said the latter was accompanied by his 15-year old son who was eventually released – two months later – by the NPA.
Galendez, who said the three victims were relatives, was one of the family members who joined the authorities during Thursday’s exhumation, hoping to bring closure to their kin’s disappearance and eventual death.
Aida España, wife of Sgt. Reynante who also witnessed the recovery of the remains, sobbed as she narrated how she learned about what had happened to her husband and her relatives.
“It hurts deeply. I expected that he’s still alive but this is what had happened to him,” Aida said.
“We are somehow relieved that our long search has ended, but it really hurts that things turned out this way,” she added.
According to Aida, the families only knew of the victims’ abduction by the NPA when several people approached them to inform that a ransom was needed for their release.
She said her family had sent emissaries and even paid money for his release. She did not specify the amount paid but said the abductors demanded the payment to cover for supposed custodial expenses.
“There were negotiations for my husband’s release. However, nothing came out of it but they kept on asking (for) money from us because my husband was still alive. They said they will use the money for expenses,” Aida told the Philippine News Agency (PNA).
Lt. Col. Silas Trasmontero, commander of the Army’s 89th Infantry Battalion, said they discovered the location of the victims’ remains by chance during one of their community meetings in the area recently.
In one of those meetings, Trasmontero said several community members themselves offered information concerning the victims’ murder and their burial site.
Pleading for life
He said the village and neighboring areas were teeming with NPA supporters and militiamen that this year alone, more than a thousand rebel militias, underground mass supporters, and regulars have surrendered or have withdrawn their support for the communist rebel movement.
A former NPA militiaman who surrendered to authorities two months ago gave the crucial information that led to the discovery of the victims’ graves.
Dino (not his real name), told the PNA that he saw the killings in his own eyes. After all, he was the one who dug the victims’ graves.
According to Dino, who was then a member of the NPA’s Milisya ng Bayan, seven NPA combatants approached him in the same month that the victims were abducted.
“They told me that there is something that they want(ed) me to do,” Dino said, adding that the rebels brought him to an area nearby and was told to wait.
Minutes later, he said, the armed men brought the three victims with them.
“After they shot the three, they instructed me to bury them since they will be leaving already,” he added.
The three victims, he said, were pleading for their lives when the armed men suddenly shot them dead.
The military said the rebels who kidnapped and executed the victims were under the NPA’s Guerilla Front 55.
Maj. Gen. Jose Faustino Jr., commander of 10th Infantry Division, said the evidence collected at the gravesite will be used to charge the NPA in the killings.
The gruesome details of the victims’ deaths, Faustino said, showed that the NPA has no regard for human rights.
The NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Philippines. Rhoda Grace Saron / PNA – northboundasia.com