November 21, 2005. Some forty farmers and volunteers were waking up early in the morning to prepare breakfast and start tilling the land in Brgy. San Agustin, Palo, Leyte that farmer beneficiaries of SAFABENCO (San Agustin Farmer Beneficiaries Cooperative) are trying to reclaim from a landlord when suddenly, with no warning or whatsoever, they were sprayed with bullets for around 30 minutes. Despite the shouts for mercy and to stop the shooting, men wearing camouflage fatigue and ski masks to cover their faces later identified as members of the 19th Infantry Battalion, Philippine Army, did not heed to the pleads for mercy. After the shooting, a survivor saw the soldiers spreading several firearms within the vicinity of the kamalig where the shooting happened from a sack. The incident killed seven farmers including a seven-month-old-pregnant woman on the spot, another one in the hospital and human rights worker Joselito “Itok” Tobe who was incarcerated.
The 19th IB claimed that they received intelligence report the members of the New People’s Army were gathering in that small hut to justify the heinous crime they committed. Until now, they’re still standing by their claims.
After five years, the farmers who were jailed and accused of false charges in two courts were acquitted with 1 more case pending and is doomed to be dismissed. Despite their acquittal, justice has not yet been served. Until now, the perpetrators are still running scot-free, the land that they were reclaiming has not been returned to the rightful owners.
My personal account
We could have been there when the massacre happened. Bayan Muna, who was assisting SAFABENCO with the land problem in San Agustin asked for volunteers from the progressive youth organizations to help the tiklos and at the same time would serve as BMI (Basic Masses Integration). Some of my fellow youth activists were able to help days prior the massacre, but I wasn’t able to participate because I had to attend the infamous November 2005 GASC (General Assembly of Student Councils) in UP Diliman School of Economics. We decided not to proceed to San Agustin a day before the massacre (I think) because we had to prepare our build-up activities for the Bonifacio Day protest.
On the day of the massacre, we were startled when a fellow youth leader arrived at our boarding house in shock, with a lot of scratches on his arms and legs and his slippers didn’t match. He told us what happened in San Agustin and how he escaped. We immediately cancelled our schedules that day and contacted Katungod to extend our assistance.
We were tasked to assist the wounded survivors who were brought to EVRMC (Eastern Visayas Medical Center). I was enraged when I saw blood all over the gunshot and shrapnel wounds sustained by the survivors and the fact that bloody soldiers did it and the hospital was not doing a very good job at treating patients in the emergency room (as what you would expect in a public hospital).
We were all devastated when Mark Bonsa, 23, died in the hospital. I didn’t know him personally but he would joke around even though he was hurting all over. It was a dreadful experience for all of us, emotionally and physically.
The hearings at court were more difficult seeing the faces of the soldiers responsible for the massacre. Seeing them makes me think of grabbing their guns and shoot them right then and there to make them pay for what they did. An eye for an eye. Well, of course I can’t do that because they didn’t bring their guns at court because i’ts not allowed, and even if they did, they’re going to shoot me first even before I get to their guns.
Trigger happy soldiers on a massacre spree
A few days before the 5th anniversary of the horrendous Palo Massacre, the 19th IB has done it again. Noted botanist Leonardo Co along with forester Sofronio Cortez, and local guide and member of Tongonan Farmers Association Julio Borromeo was killed in what appears to be another of 19th IB’s massacre spree. Although they are claiming that the victims were caught in a cross-fire between them and the NPA and the authorities are yet to release their “official investigation report” of the incident, we know better. Circumstances tells us that an encounter where the incident happened is a remote possibility.
It’s either they were just plain stupid not to be able to differentiate civilians from armed revolutionaries, they have nothing else to do so they shoot at the first moving person they saw so they can claim that they’re doing something with the large chunk of the national budget allocated to them or all of the above.
incapability of crime scene investigators in Eastern Visayas (and the whole country for that matter), I’m very doubtful that they’re going to come up with a reasonable forensic investigation results. I’ve never even heard of SOCO (Scene of the Crime Operatives) investigating a crime scene in a far-flung or forest area except for that anomalous Inopacan, Leyte mass grave.
An independent investigation should be conducted to find out what really happened in the vicinity of the PNOC – EDC, Pad 403 of the Mahi-aw Plant on November 15, 2010.
Justice will prevail. We will get even, no matter how long it will take. There is hope.
Justice for the victims of Palo Massacre!
Justice for the victims of Kananga Massacres!
Justice for all the victims of the 19th Infantry Battalion!
Justice for all the victims of human rights violations!