NBI report on Luisita massacre: Protesters more credible than gov’t

Pia Ranada
NBI report on Luisita massacre: Protesters more credible than gov’t
The 'confidential' 2005 NBI report, now published online in full for the first time, shows that protesters' accounts were more consistent and believable

MANILA, Philippines – Even a National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) report made in 2005 concluded that protesters in the deadly 2004 Hacienda Luisita strike were “more credible” than the government personnel on the scene. 

But 10 years after the Hacienda Luisita massacre in the controversial Tarlac sugar plantation, no trial has brought justice for the 7 protesters killed that day. 

The “confidential” 45-page report, given in full to Rappler, showed that sworn statements from protesters were more consistent and believable than the sworn statements of police, military and Department of Labor and Employment personnel.

The report had allegedly been the basis of the Ombudsman’s decision in 2010 to dismiss the cases against the military and police. The kin of the victims and their supporters were only able to see the report for themselves last October after Anakpawis Party List Representative Fernando Hicap was able to obtain a copy from the Department of Justice.

Hicap made a copy available to labor group Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA). The group gave Rappler a digital copy.

See the full report here:

Among other findings, the report concluded that:

  • “the protesters were more credible than those of the government personnel,”
  • “there were enough reasons to believe that they [the government personnel] may be responsible,” and that,
  • “Their duty to arrest the unruly protesters did not include any right to shoot the victim to death or inflict upon them any injuries.”

It even stated in its recommendations that “there is reasonable ground to believe” that a crime of “multiple homicide” for the deaths of the 7 protesters was committed by 9 police personnel.

And because the evidence gathered by the investigation was “purely circumstantial,” proof beyond reasonable doubt of their guilt can “only be established in a full-blown trial.”

Charges dismissed

To this day, no such trial has taken place.

The Ombudsman’s Military and Law Enforcement Offices dismissed all charges against police and military respondents in December 2010.

Last August 4, the victims’ family filed a motion to reopen the case, which was declined by the Office of the Ombudsman on October 2.

UMA says it’s no coincidence these two foiled attempts happened within the administration of President Benigno Aquino III.

“Aquino cannot ensure justice for the victims because he himself is one of the main perpetrators and staunchest defenders of the Hacienda Luisita massacre,” said UMA deputy secretary general Ranmil Echanis. 

The president belongs to the influential Cojuangco clan, the family that owns CAT and thus stood to lose the most if the protesters had their way.

At the time of the massacre, Aquino was the representative of the second district of Tarlac. A day after, he gave a privilege speech at the floor of the House of Representatives defending the actions of the government troops while at the same time, condemning the deaths. 

The sworn statements

The government personnel present that day on November 16, 2004, asserted that they had only fired warning shots, pointing their guns up in the air and away from protesters who were becoming unruly.

The dead:

  • Jaime Pastidio, 48
  • Jhay-vie Basillo, 20
  • Adriano Caballero Jr, 23
  • Jessie Valdez, 26
  • Juanito Sanchez, 20
  • Jesus Lasa, 32
  • June David, 27

 

According to their accounts, the protesters, numbering around 3,000, were throwing molotov bombs and stones and were carrying knives, bolos and icepicks. The much smaller group of government troops were “overwhelmed,” though many carried rifles. 

The government forces were at the time inside the compound of the Central Azucarera de Tarlac trying to secure the compound’s gate being blocked by the protesters from the outside of the gate.

Protesters, belonging to two different farm workers groups, were opposing the retrenchment of farm workers, militarization in the plantation and the stock distribution option that would give them stocks instead of land.

A common thread in the accounts of government personnel was the presence of unidentified elements in the tumult – persons who did not appear to be either protester or government personnel but who pointed firearms to the crowd.

Garry Pingen, a lieutenant with the Philippine Army at the time, said he saw “a man  wearing a white t-shirt, his face covered from the nose down with a white handkerchief, on top of the sugarcane truck’s hood, loading a magazine with ammunition.” 

The implicated public officers:

  • PO1 Noriel Marcelo
  • PO1 Michael Padiernos Santiago
  • PO1 Joselito Ramos
  • PSI Sabino Vengco
  • PO1 Christopher Dizon Villanueva
  • PO2 Noriel Hulipas Velasco
  • PO1 Jonnie Francia
  • PO1 Venancio Asuncion Jr

 

The man was allegedly standing in the side of the protesters and pointed his gun towards the government troops. 

Pingen’s account was corroborated by other accounts from the government side.

Meanwhile, the interviewed protesters said the violence began with the police bombarding them with water cannon and tear gas. While some confirmed seeing warning shots being fired and gunshots being fired from the ranks of the protesters, they also said they saw police firing directly into the protesters.

Ronaldo Alcantara, a member of one of the unions, said he witnessed PNP gunshots hitting two protesters. 

Another protester said he saw people in black uniforms with “SWAT” letters shooting in the direction of the protesters. 

Protesters shot while retreating

The NBI report concluded that it was possible that “unidentified persons have infiltrated the mass action.”

One basis for this is the statement of a protester that Rene Galang, a protester leader, “invited members of the militant and leftist groups to join and bolster the ULWU picket line.”

Also, a fourth of the 111 arrested from the side of the protesters came from outside Tarlac, namely from Isabela, Bataan, Pangasinan, Quezon, Nueva Ecija, Negros Occidental and Bacolod City.

But the NBI report wondered why, if many government personnel saw the unidentified man with the firearm, why was the man missing from the video they took to document the strike? 

If they were asserting that the man was responsible for shooting the protesters, why was this belied by the position of the bullet holes in the cadavers of the victims?

“The character of the gunshot wounds and degree of dispersal sustained by the protesters implied that the bullets came from a distance,” reads the report.

If the man was indeed within the ranks of the protesters, as asserted by the government side, then the wounds would have appeared differently.

The claim that gunshots were fired in self-defense was also refuted by the bullet wounds.

The protesters shot were “mostly affected at the back and side of their bodies which could only suggest that they got the same while they [were] retreating,” said the report.

Even the accounts of independent witnesses supported the claim of protesters that government forces fired their weapons directly towards the position of the protesters. 

Aside from these discrepancies, the NBI report listed ways the police may have mishandled the investigation of the case. 

PNP investigators, it said, recovered spent ammunition and firearms from the sites where protesters were positioned but recovered none from the government side.

It seemed, said the report that the investigators focused their probe only on the protesters without including the government side.

“This is too unnatural and against the operating standard of procedure in the conduct of any investigation,” it noted.

Can’t get away with ‘duty’ 

The NBI report concluded that “there were enough reasons to believe” that the government troops “may be responsible” for what happened. 

It also said that the government troops’ fatal shooting of the protesters, if proved, was not a necessary consequence of their performance of duty and thus would not exempt them from criminal charges. 

Based on accounts, the government side may have shot the protesters not once but several times after the protesters failed to disperse. 

“Their duty to arrest the unruly protesters did not include any right to shoot the victim to death or inflict upon them any injuries.”

But in the end, the guilt of any party can only be established by a full-blown court trial, which never happened.

Today, the government has begun distributing some of the Luisita plantation to farmers. But according to UMA, only the family of two of the massacre victims, Jesus Laza’s and Jessie Valdez,’ have been given land. – Rappler.com

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.