Still no justice for Co and his companions
ON the second anniversary of the killing of ethnobotanist Leonard Co, groups held a picket at the Department of Justice (DoJ) to press the courts to pursue the botanist’s killers and give justice to the senseless killing of Co and his two companions.
“Every day that passes by without any resolution to the case is another day of injustice to the families of the victims of the Kananga killings. Bringing the perpetrators to justice is the least that can be done to compensate for the pain suffered by friends and families of the victims,” said Dr.Giovanni Tapang, convenor of Justice for Leonard Co Movement.
Co and his two companions, forest guard Sofronio Cortez and peasant Julius Borromeo, were killed by members of the 19th Infantry Batallion (IB) of the Philippine Army in Kananga, Leyte on November 15, 2010.
Borromeo, Cortez and Co were conducting an inventory of native tree species when soldiers of the 19th IB indiscriminately fired and killed the victims, mistaking them as armed communist rebels. The inventory was part of a reforestation program of the Energy Development Corporation.
The Army has since denied palpability in the incident, alleging that the deaths were the result of crossfire between the military and the New People’s Army.
Co’s family and colleagues lodged charges against the military at the Department of Justice in January 2011. Until now, however, none of the soldiers identified as responsible for the incident have been summoned to the courts. The DoJ has also yet to release the findings of the investigation conducted on the killings, delaying the resolution of the two-year case.
“We have done various efforts in urging the concerned agencies to speed up the resolution of the case,” added Tapang.
Human rights groups have condemned the inability of the justice system to persecute perpetrators of crimes against environmental advocates. Recently, ex-Palawan Governor Joel Reyes, the suspected mastermind of the murder of environmental advocate Dr. Gerry Ortega, escaped authorities by flying out of the country using a fake name.
“The culture of impunity must end, if we are to honor the memory of those who perished in their line of duty and protect those who remain dedicated to environmental work,” said Tapang.
Families, friends and advocates who trooped to the DoJ today carried postcards urging authorities to act on the Kananga case. The picket would be followed by a mass for Co and a commemorative program celebrating the slain botanist’s contribution to Philippine plant conservation.