Soldiers harass 2 murder witnesses

TWO of the witnesses in the killing of Benjamin Bayles experienced harassment from the military, Karapatan-Negros said in a statement. Bayles, organizer of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) was murdered in broad daylight on June 14 at around 4:30 p.m. at barangay (village) Su-ay, Himamaylan City.

Two suspects armed with .45 caliber pistols were arrested at a Philippine National Police (PNP) checkpoint in barangay 1 of Kabankalan City.

The two men introduced themselves as Roger Bahon and Ronnie Caurino.

However, one was later identified as Private 1st Class Reygine Laus of the 61st IB, PA from barangay (village) Bunga, Mambusao, Capiz Province. The other accused Caurino is also a Private 1st Class of the 61st IB.

After the pre-trial proceedings on the Bayles case on Oct. 27, three uniformed soldiers in full battle gear entered the house of one of the witnesses Vilma Tejada, 37, in sitio Pamandayan, barangay Buenavista, Himamaylan City. The soldiers woke up Tejada with the muzzle of a long firearm.

“Do you have chicken? We will buy one!” one of the soldiers said in Ilonggo, the local language. Tejada replied she has none.

The soldiers then reportedly sat down and asked again, “Who is the brother of the murdered Benjie Bayles?”

Tejada replied, “I do not know the name of his brother.”

“You are lying!” one of the soldiers reportedly said. His companion reportedly said, “We cannot force her.”

After more or less 30 minutes later, the soldiers left.

On Nov. 5, at 12 midnight, 12 fully armed men in fatigue uniform forcibly entered Tejada’s house again. The soldiers asked her if she would
testify on the murder of Bayles.

The soldiers told her to keep her mouth shut and if she would testify, she would be killed. They tried to take her with them but she refused.

Tejada’s neighbors also reported to Manuel Bayles that a blue DT motorcycle, which according to Karapatan-Negros, is similar to a motorcycle reportedly being used by 61st IBPA in surveillance operations, has frequented the place for several days already.

At the pre-trial hearing on Oct. 27, the two suspects denied being members of the 61st IBPA.

The 303rd and 302nd IB have also denied that the two are members of the Philippine Army for four months but the Headquarters of the Philippine Army officially confirmed their membership and rank last October 9.

In a hearing at the Philippine Congress on October 7, Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Javier Colmenares asked Department of National Defense’s (DND) Secretary Voltaire Gazmin about the Bayles case. Gazmin admitted that the two accused are indeed members of the 61st IB.

As of press time, the witnesses have yet to decide if they would avail of the Philippine National Police’s Witness Protection Program (WPP).

“The legal struggle though seemingly difficult since we are up against the state military that is supposed to promote and respect the rights of individuals yet the stark reality shows that it does not only violate its very own duty but also murders civilians. The way they conduct themselves toward Mr. Manuel Bayles and Mrs. Vilma Tejada only shows their desperation to cover up their involvement in the murder of Mr. Benjie Bayles,” Karapatan-Negros said.

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