Scientists, environmental group welcome DOJ probe; launch parallel civilian investigation

“WE welcome the Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Leila de Lima’s order to probe the death of top botanist Leonard Co and two of his companions. We acknowledge her leadership and independence in the investigations of cases like the Luneta Hostage Crisis  and Morong 43.  Yet, in this time of many uncertainties, we invoke our right to seek, receive and impart information on the circumstances of what we believe is another senseless killing of our brothers in a very harmless act of field research,” declared Dr. Giovanni Tapang, Chairperson of Samahan ng Nagtataguyod ng Agham at Tekonolohiya para sa Sambayanan (AGHAM) and convenor Justice for Leonard Co!

Leonard Co, renowned conservationist and botanist in the country, along with forester Sofronio Cortez and farmer Julius Borromeo were killed in November 15, 2010 while conducting a biodiversity research in the Manawan-Kananga Watershed in Leyte.  Leonard Co is now the 36th environmentalist killed since 2001 and the 8th for 2010.

AGHAM in coordination with friends and families of the victims, environmental groups  the Philippine Native Plant Conservation Society(PNPCS), the Center for Environmental Concerns (CEC), Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, will conduct a  citizen-based Fact Finding Mission on Kananga Killings on November 26-28, 2010.

Among the participants are UP College of Medicine professor Dr. Romy Quijano, ecologist and former Visayas State University President Dr. Pacencia Milan, KARAPATAN human rights lawyer Atty. Kathrina Castillo, and botanist Anthony Arbias.

“As fellow scientists, environmentalists, colleagues and friends of Leonard Co, we are organizing this Fact Finding Mission on the Kananga Killings to ferret out the truth, to interact with the survivors and condole with the friends and families of the other victims,” added Frances Quimpo, CEC Executive Director.

“We have a duty to to Leonard and his family, to our colleagues and friends, to help find out the truth about the incident, I remember Leonard said that justice in the Philippines is like betting in the lotto. We hope that Leonard together with two other victims will be given justice for their senseless death and this is a challenge to the new Aquino administration,” said Anthony Arbias, member of PNPCS.

“What happened to Leonard Co can also happen to us. Botanists and environmentalist like us always go to the forest to do our work. Why should champions of conservation suffer at the hands of their supposed guardians?” Arbias added.

“This DOJ investigation is also no assurance that justice will be served.  The recommendations of Sec. de Lima to prosecute officials responsible in the Luneta Hostage Crisis and to free the 43 Health Workers in Morong fell on deaf ears. We want to ensure that this will not happen in the case of Leonard Co and his companions, we hope to expand our options to find justice,” averred Dr. Tapang.

The 19th Infantry Battalion, which was involved in the incident, reported that the three was killed in crossfire with the New People’s Army. However, accounts from the survivors said that there was no firefight that happened.

“The significance of the our independent  fact finding mission is to uncover the facts for ourselves and  provide a citizen-based account of what happened and pre-empt possible attempts to white-wash the case as this involves the military and a top corporation of the country. Based on the one year old Ampatuan Massacre, the Luneta Hostage Crisis, and the case of Morong 43, we cannot merely wait for the current Administration to give justice to the victims and their families,” Dr. Tapang explained.

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