Commission on Human Rights to probe Cebu killings

CRIME SCENE. Police seal off a crime scene following an anti-drug operation. File photo by Rappler

CRIME SCENE. Police seal off a crime scene following an anti-drug operation.

File photo by Rappler

CEBU CITY, Philippines – The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) will probe the recent spate of drug-related killings in this city, including the supposed shooting incident in a mountainside village that left 5 people dead, among them a call center agent.

CHR Region 7 Chief Investigator Leo Villarino said the CHR central office had ordered CHR-7 to conduct investigations into the killings. (READ: Cebu killings rose after new police chiefs came – Mayor Osmeña)

Villarino said his office already had custody of Charmayne Porral, one of two survivors in the Barangay Malubog incident that happened on Thursday, October 4.

Villarino said Porral had been brought to a temporary sanctuary and would be processed for possible qualification into the CHR's Witness Protection Program so she could remain in its safe house.

Villarino said he was hoping that the other survivor in the Barangay Malubog incident, Antonio Belande, would also avail of CHR protection.

"The security of their life is paramount to us. It's the most important for us, at this time, because they have more to say about what happened," Villarino said in Cebuano.

The incident

Belande said he and Christopher Tangag – a 23-year-old call center agent – were hired to bring a man and a woman to an apartment in Banawa on Wednesday afternoon, October 3. They were drivers of habal-habal or motorcycles for hire.

Porral, the other survivor, said she and her companion had a drug delivery to a woman called "Jessica."

Belande said that while he and Tangag were waiting for their passengers who were in the apartment, 6 men arrived and introduced themselves as police. Some of them were in uniform, others in civilian clothes.

"I'm sure they were police. Before we were blindfolded, they introduced themselves as policemen," Belande said in Cebuano, adding that the men seemed like new cops as they all looked young.

The 4 – the motorcycle drivers and their passengers – were then loaded to a white van around 8 pm on Wednesday. They were blindfolded, and their hands bound by nylon string.

Belande said he overheard one of the men mentioning "Chief Bautista" and "Sir Abella" while talking on the phone. 

"They said, 'Where is Chief Bautista?'" Belande said in Cebuano.

He said that when they arrived somewhere along the TransCentral Highway, they started being unloaded from the vehicle.

At that point, Belande said he overheard Tangag pleading for his life, saying he had a 9-month-old son.

Belande, for his part, said he was the first one that was going to be shot but he "jumped, going down" and got shot on the side.

Porral, the other survivor, said she covered herself with soil and grass after she escaped, and then crawled out at around 8 am on Thursday, October 5, screaming for help.

The 4 others killed were identified as Carl Cabahug, 20; Leyster Abella, 26; Rolando Tayor, 29; and Diorvan Sarijorjo.

Government scholar

Tangag was reportedly on his first week moonlighting habal-habal driver to augment his income when he was killed. He was a Cebu City government scholar who earned a degree in information technology.

His family and friends could not believe that he had been killed.

"I love him very much. I raised him well," Tangag's 68-year-old father said.

"We were shocked, and still could not accept what happened to him," Claudia Sato, a family friend, said in Cebuano. She added that Tangag was never involved in illegal drugs.

PNP Regional Director Debold Sinas denied police involvement in the incident, saying they were busy with the "one-time big-time" anti-drug operations that day that killed a total of 9 people in Talisay City, Cebu City, and Lapu-Lapu City. 

Cebu police initially called the incident an "ambush" but later said it was an apparent "shooting incident" over a transaction gone wrong. Police recovered from the scene empty shells, and illegal drugs and guns inside the van.

Sinas said police would check the owners of the "vehicles" in the crime scene to check their owners, and also the guns that were recovered, if they were used in past crimes. Two motorcycles were also found in the crime scene.

Justification

Sinas also justified the 9 deaths in the PRO-7's operations in  Talisay City and Cebu City, that happened also on Thursday, as part of a legitimate police operation, and that the suspects shot at the police first. 

CHR-7 said the police should prove this.

"They should prove that these persons tried to shoot it out with them, forcing them, to shoot them dead." Villarino said. "It is now your burden to prove, that you killed because it is in legitimate self defense.”

Sinas said they are open to  CHR investigation but Villarino said this had not been the case. 

"They are just simply hiding behind their reason that we need to have clearance first from Camp Crame before we can give you any single piece of document or before we can allow for a personnel to testify in your investigation, and that has happened as early as 2017," the CHR investigator said. 

"They are not giving us their side, so what is left on the table, is the version of the victim or complainants. They are waiving their rights to produce evidence that will exculpate them from liability," Villarino added. – Rappler.com