Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Rebel leader's wife condemns release of soldier accused in daughter's murder in Mindanao

DAVAO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / January 19, 2010) – The wife of a top communist rebel leader accused authorities on Tuesday of protecting one of two government soldiers allegedly behind the brutal murder of her daughter in the southern Philippines.

Evangeline Pitao, wife of New People’s Army commander Leoncio Pitao, said the two soldiers – Army Private First Class Edmar Tipait and Army Technical Sergeant Elpidio Canilla – were released by the police after the duo was arrested at a checkpoint for violating the gun ban in Davao City over the weekend.

The two soldiers who were in civilian clothes, she said, had no permits from the Commission on Elections allowing them to carry firearms or exempting them from the gun ban.

The poll body ordered a six-month nationwide gun ban beginning January 10 ahead of the May 10 national and local polls to minimize political violence during the election campaign period.

Only duty policemen and soldiers and members of law enforcement agencies are authorized to bear arms provided they have permits from the Commission on Elections exempting them from the gun ban.

“We condemn this continued cover up and protection by the state for the criminals, hoodlums in uniforms, men who have been responsible for the most heinous crimes in the country,” Pitao said.

Pitao, who is also the spokesperson for the group called Hustisya, an alliance of relatives of victims of extrajudicial killings in the southern Philippines, said Tipait was one of more than a dozen military intelligence agents and security officials allegedly responsible for the murder of her daughter Evelyn Pitao in March last year.

The 20-year old Pitao was abducted in Davao City on March 4. Her naked body was found the next day floating in a shallow creek in the village of San Isidro in Davao del Norte’s Carmen town. Her family said the body bore torture marks and was believed raped before she was stabbed in the chest.

Her father and family blamed the military for the woman’s killing.

Pitao’s group said Tipait was also implicated in the alleged rape and murder of political activist Marjorie Lastimoso. The woman was also abducted and killed in Maco town several years ago.

Both Tipait and Canilla are assigned with the Military Intelligence Group under the Army’s 10th Infantry Division in Davao City, Hustisya said. “They should have been in jail, but the soldiers were released after the arrest,” she said, adding, the duo was freed Sunday. “Criminal charges should have been filed against them for gun ban violation.”

Human rights group Karapatan also condemned the release of the soldiers despite their violation of the gun ban.

Army Captain Emmanuel Garcia, a spokesman for the 10th Infantry Division, said they have ordered an investigation into the reports that the soldiers violated the gun ban. “We are looking into this report and there is an ongoing investigation and we are fully cooperating with the police,” he said.

He said the police confiscated the firearms of the two soldiers at the checkpoint and released them after an investigation. The soldiers were returning to their barracks from a mission when police stopped them at the checkpoint. “We are not tolerating anything here. There is a due process and we will abide by this due process,” Garcia said.

Garcia said human rights groups should also investigate and condemn the NPA for the recent killing of Dionesio Baslan, a former rebel, in Tagum City. The former NPA fighter was executed by rebels for allegedly aiding the government's anti-insurgency campaign in Mindanao.

Last year, communist rebels gunned down Ruben Bitang, a suspect in the brutal murder of Pitao, in Panabo City in Davao del Norte province.

The NPA said Bitang was the alleged driver of the van used in the abduction of the rebel leader’s daughter. Bitang’s nephew, Army Sergeant Helvin Bitang, who is assigned with the Military Intelligence Group, was also among those accused by the rebels in the killing of Pitao.

Communist rebels vowed to seek to justice for the murder of Pitao, a teacher by profession who led a simple and quiet life with her family in Davao City.

Her father who is also known as Kumander Parago is the chieftain of the NPA’s Pulang Bagani Command. Pitao tagged at least 11 military intelligence agents as behind the murder.

The Army’s 10th Infantry Division and the Eastern Mindanao Command have repeatedly denied any involvements of soldiers to the murder. Police also put up Task Force Rebelyn which is investigating the killing of Pitao’s daughter.

But the NPA said the police task force is insignificant. “Its sole purpose is to do the bidding of the criminal Arroyo regime. It has only proven the public perception that it was hastily set up to instantly absolve the criminal agents of the 10th Infantry Division-Eastern Mindanao Command-AFP for masterminding and executing Rebelyn's abduction, torture, rape and murder,” Leoncio Pitao said.

“The Zarzuela of the 10th Infantry Division-Eastern Mindanao Command-Armed Forces of the Philippines during the Commission on Human Rights public hearing and the lies it has propagated related to Rebelyn's death are just the tip of the rottenness of the AFP organization. The duplicity and criminal deeds of Arroyo's running dogs has long been exposed here in Southern Mindanao. It comes as no surprise that the rotten state is not on the people's side, but on the executioners, the killers, the minions of the 10th Infantry Division-Eastern Mindanao Command-AFP,” he said.

The Commission on Human Rights investigated last year in Davao City the murder of Pitao.

The NPA has ordered the arrest of all those involved in the killing of the woman while the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines also held Arroyo and the AFP responsible for the murder.

The CPP said the murder of Pitao’s daughter highlights the Arroyo regime’s innumerable crimes against unarmed civilians who are invariably regarded by the military and its counter-insurgency strategists as combatants in the raging civil war.

Communist rebels broke off peace talks with Manila in 2004 after the United States on government's prodding listed the CPP and the NPA, including the National Democratic Front as foreign terrorist organizations and froze their assets abroad. (Mindanao Examiner)

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