Friday, May 15, 2009

Widow of Murdered Activist is Killed in Front of Children

Who killed her and why? Activist Eden Jolloso-Jerus was killed in front of her children March 31 under almost the same manner her husband was killed in front of her two years back. (Photo courtesy of the Jolloso family)

SORSOGON CITY, Philippines (Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project / May 15, 2009) – Celebrations marking Women’s month were marred here after the 37-year-old widow of a murdered activist was herself shot dead by a motorcycle gunman in front of her two young and now orphaned boys.

Edelina “Eden” Jolloso-Jerus was tending her sari-sari (variety) store in front of her house in Barangay San Juan-Roro when she was shot at least five times – including twice in the face– by a man wearing a helmet and using a .45 calibre pistol at around 10 a.m. on March 31.
News of the shooting failed to make the national media despite the fact she was the widow of an activist who was himself killed under almost identical circumstances almost exactly two years before.

Exactly 12 hours after she was shot dead and in a move that has baffled the police, an officer from the Philippine Army in Sorsogon sent a text message to local media here blaming the New People’s Army (NPA) –alleging she had angered them for refusing to act as a lookout.

The NPA denies the claims and local human rights groups say they are part of army attempts to deceive both the police and public.

Eden was a member of advocacy group Hustisya (Victims of Arroyo Regime United for Justice) –an association of families of victims of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.
Adrian and Nathaniel -her two sons, ages 10 and 8, witnessed her murder as they did the killing of their father Willy on April 16, 2007 while he was watering plants in front of their house.
Willy’s widow suffered at least five gunshot wounds - two in the face, one in her chest and two in her lower back according to her father, Edgar Jolloso quoting the embalmer. The exact number of gunshot wounds could not be confirmed as Jolloso says he could not afford the cost of an autopsy.

The killer reportedly posed as customer who bought a coconut at the victim’s store, handing her a PhP 100 (USD 2) bill.

Sources said Eden asked Adrian to get her purse inside the house so she could give the man change. But as he did, the gunman opened fire from less than three feet away.

The shooting was also witnessed by her other son Nathaniel as he returned home from an errand to buy meat.

None of Eden’s neighbors claimed to have witnessed the killing despite it happening mid-morning and on the street. Police believe neighbors are possibly too nervous to speak out given what happened to both her and her husband.

The victim was rushed to the Sorsogon Medical Mission Group Hospital but was declared dead a few minutes later. She was already in the morgue when her relatives arrived.

Tearful reunion

Edgar Jolloso said the family were doubly saddened given the brutality of the shooting.
“She was not a criminal - why did they do it to her?” he asked.

Jolloso said his daughter came to her ancestral home just two days earlier in Barangay Pangpang, Sorsogon City to ask if he could organize a family reunion for April 5 and invite her siblings home from Manila.

“I never imagined we would all have a reunion –but that it would be for her wake,” he told the Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project through his tears.
He said his daughter never mentioned any threat on her life.

Asked as to who could be responsible, he suggested it could be the person –or people – responsible for killing her husband in April 2007.
Husband’s killing

Willy Jerus, a leader of the Samahan ng mga Magsasaka ng Sorsogon (SaMaSor), a peasant organization allied with the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (Peasant Movement in the Philippines), and a member of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, was shot dead while watering plants in front of their house on April 16, 2007 by a man on a motorcycle.

An initial investigation into that killing by Sorsogon City Police named a Roberto Ricartes as chief suspect and a case was eventually filed in Regional Trial Court 52. But a re-investigation of the case conducted by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) as part of Task Force Jerus subsequently found the name Ricartes to be fictitious.

The CIDG investigation identified a new suspect – a named soldier from Camarines Norte whose name and rank is confirmed by documentation available from the government’s Task Force 211 website. The case, listed as Task Force 211 file number 1061 is reportedly ongoing and the suspect still at large according to official records published last year. He still remains at large today according to the local police.

The soldier who was alleged to have used a motorcycle with the license plate number EM-5718 was positively identified as the killer by two witnesses who were shown photos.

The suspect was said to have been an intelligence agent of the Military Intelligence Command (MICO) at the time –but this has not been confirmed.

The head of MICO in Sorsogon reportedly survived an ambush attempt by alleged members of the communist NPA one week before Jerus was killed. The incident happened close by the Jerus home.

Task Force Jerus redux

The Sorsogon police provincial office has created Task Force Jerus anew to try and investigate the killing of Willy’s widow Eden - but its spokesman admitted they were having difficulties.

Chief Inspector Fred Nierva, police community relations officer and spokesman said they had no witness so far save the two young boys.

Nierva added that the investigation was looking into all possible angles including the obvious one that it was linked to the shooting of her husband.

Bullet casings taken from outside the sari-sari store do not match those retrieved during the investigation into the killing of Willy which obviously rules out the possibility that the same gun was used.

Army’s version

Nierva told us he did not know the source of information behind a text message sent out to local media by a representative of the army’s 901st Infantry Battalion just hours after Eden’s killing.
The text message was sent to different media outlets in Sorsogon by Captain Razaleigh Bansawan, civil-military relations officer of the 901st IB based at Barangay Villahermosa, Daraga, Albay. He claimed the NPA was behind her killing.

In the message, Bansawan said her refusal to act as a look-out or poste for the NPA was the reason she was shot.

The full text of the message sent out read: "March 31, 2009 at 9 :45 a.m. a certain Edelina Jerus y Jollosa, 37 yo, widow and resident of brgy. Roro san juan, sorsogon city, widow was shot while inside her sari-sari store by a member of the sparu of the communist terrorists NPA riding in motorcycle. Victim was pronounced dead on arrival by the attending doctor at sorsogon doctr this city."

Accrdng to the witness, the victim was shot since she refuse orders fm the NPA to serve as their look out (poste) in the area and contrary to the claimed of the NPA allied communist mind organizations pointing their fingers to the afp regarding this brutality wherein in fact they are the one who responsible for this as proven by their numerous atrocities such cellsite bombing, killing of innocent civilian in catanduanes and Masbate province and intimidating the civilian just to give in to their demand.

The text message was received by the media in Sorsogon March 31, 2009 at 10 p.m. Karapatan Bicol spokesperson John Concepcion rejected the army’s claims in an interview on Radyo Natin’s Banwaan Aramon Ta program.

Concepcion maintained the claim was simply designed to “deceive the public” and lead investigators away from the real culprits.

He chided the military for their fast conclusion describing it as “a ready-made statement.” He added it was surprising that while the police investigating the case had yet come up with any official statement, the military was already blaming the NPA.

No supporting evidence

Deputy police provincial director and Task Force Jerus head Superintendent Elmer Ferrera said he had talked to Bansawan about his text message but had failed to find any actionable information.

Fererra said that while Bansawan confirmed releasing his report to local media, he was unable to confirm its accuracy.

He also refused to reveal his source, Ferrera said. Consequently the official investigation is not yet giving any credence to the army’s claims.

“We’d rather work on it slowly than pin down a group or an individual with nothing to do with it,” Ferrera added. “We will not deliver justice simply by putting a fall guy on trial.”

While the Task Force is refusing to make any definitive link connecting the husband and wife killings it says there is a strong possibility they are connected. The fact that the guns used were not the same means little, investigators say.

Fererra said his team is continuing to work on both cases and claims the soldier suspect in Willy’s killing has reportedly been discharged from the service and is already somewhere in Mindanao.

“We are liaising with our colleagues there”, adds Ferrera.

NPA’s response

In a press release issued by the NPA’s Celso Minguez Command the insurgent group denied any hand in the killing of Eden.

Samuel Guerrero, Bagong Hukbong Bayan-Celso Minguez Command spokesperson, said the army report was “a pure lie meant to mislead the public about the truth story behind Eden’s death.”

He alleged Eden was killed by an army “death squad” after she refused to have the case of her husband settled out of court.

Guerrero claimed the killing of Willy Jerus was a strong proof of the existence of a death squad which is why the army wanted “a settlement” with Eden.

“The army bungled in their effort to cover-up their crime and just succeeded in exposing their own misdeeds,” he stressed.


Janet Frivaldo, head of Hustisya-Sorsogon meanwhile said the killing of Eden would not cower them into silence.

She said they would continue to press for justice as well as meeting soon to discuss whether there were new safety and security concerns to be addressed in the light of their colleague’s murder.

Frivaldo is herself a sister of Max Frivaldo, a Bayan Muna leader and municipal councilor in Irosin town, who was shot dead inside his house - and sister to Cris -a law student and Bayan Muna leader who was killed ten months later in February 2006.

As with the killings of Eden and Willy, the cases of the Frivaldo brothers remain unsolved as of today.

Family plight

Eden’s father said the family now faces the grim reality of having to look after Adrian and Nathaniel who are now orphans. He said he would be switching their schools and bringing them to live with him.

He said he worries about their mental health since both are already showing signs of trauma.
“Whenever they see someone on a motorcycle they now instinctively hide until it is gone,” the boy’s grandfather told us.

As of now no government agency or private organization had offered the children any kind of counselling.

The boys’ grandfather said the family would welcome any help – especially any offer of support that would help in their education.

The local office of Karapatan says they already have plans to help the boys but would not yet elaborate. (Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project / Bobby Labalan. The author is the editor of the weekly newspaper Bicol Gazette.)

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