MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Justice (DOJ) made its first move in its high-profile special investigation into the Bloody Sunday killings last March, suing for murder law enforcement agents over the death of veteran labor leader Emmanuel “Manny” Asuncion.
“In the case of the death of Emmanuel Asuncion, the AO 35 special investigating team (SIT) has recommended the filing of murder [complaints] against certain law enforcement agents involved in the incident,” said Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Wednesday, December 1.
AO 35 refers to Administrative Order 35 which created the panel to investigate politically-motivated killings.
A total of 17 policemen will face murder complaints, mostly from the Calabarzon regional police, and one from the Calabarzon office of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG).
They are: Lieutenants Elbert Santos (CIDG), Shay Jed Sapitula; Senior Master Sergeant Hector Cardinales; Master Sergeant Ariel Dela Cruz; Staff Sergeant Joemark Sajul; Corporals Ernie Ambuyoc, Mark John Defiesta, Arjay Garcia, Caidar Dimacangun, Bryan Sanchez, Ericson Lucido; and Patrolmen Jayson Maala, Juanito Plite, Jonathan Tatel, Prince Benjamin Torres, Jaime Turingan, and Lopera Rey Dacara.
The complaints were filed before the Dasmariñas Office of the City Prosecutor, with hearings scheduled on January 11 and 25. The prosecutors will be the ones to decide if this will result in charges being filed in court.
Asuncion’s home in Rosario, Cavite, was the one searched, but he was killed in Dasmariñas, which is an hour away by car. Police initially said he was chased before he was killed.
But human rights groups said Asuncion and his wife were already in the Workers’ Assistance Center (WAC) in Dasmariñas the night before, on March 6. Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes said Wednesday “Asuncion was unarmed and with his wife and co-worker.”
Asuncion is only one of the nine activists killed on March 7 in simultaneous raids in the Calabarzon region, where a combination of policemen and soldiers implemented search warrants and claimed the activists were armed and fought back. The Supreme Court has since voided the power of Manila and Quezon City judges to issue search warrants outside of their jurisdictions, and required agents to wear body cameras during the serving of any warrant.
Evangelista report out in 2 weeks, Dumagats excluded
The only other development is a recommendation by the provincial internal affairs service (IAS) of the Batangas police to administratively charge policemen involved in the deaths of couple Chai and Ariel Evangelista.
“In the case of the death of the Evangelista spouses, the National Bureau of Investigation is winding up its interviews of witnesses, and the SIT report will be out in about two weeks,” said Guevarra.
Guevarra said the AO 35 investigation excluded the killings of Dumagats Puroy dela Cruz and Randy “Pulong” dela Cruz because “no cause-oriented connection was established.”
Puroy and Pulong are community leaders with the group Dumagat Sierra Madre. Their causes include opposing the construction of the China-funded Kaliwa Dam.
Puroy and Pulong are among dozens of residents in Tanay, Rizal, invited by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) in May 2020 for “local peace engagement,” effectively red-tagging them. The invitation was premised on the assumption that the invitees were linked to communist rebels, a tagging policy which human rights groups had slammed as a deadly witch hunt by the government.
Casey Cruz of the group Bayan Southern Tagalog said relatives of the two “can attest that military trucks” carried the people who killed the tribe leaders.
“They can’t rule out that their deaths are not political killings, because there were buildups that they were being red-tagged by the local ELCAC,” Cruz told Rappler in a phone interview Wednesday.
“Other SIT investigations are going on,” said Guevarra.
An independent examination done by forensic pathologist Raquel Fortun of the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Medicine showed that all nine “were shot to be killed” and “deserve a homicide investigation.”
The investigations shatter a policy of presuming regularity in police operations, especially those that result in a death.
“All victims of the Bloody Sunday raids deserve no less than justice. Those who remain imprisoned such as human rights worker Nimfa Lanzanas should be released, and we continue to urge that similar murder charges be brought against the perpetrators and commanding officers involved in the killings of all the nine who were killed,” said Karapatan in a statement.
Another activist arrested during the Bloody Sunday raids, Erlindo “Lino” Baez, has been freed and cleared after a Batangas court voided the search warrant against him.
Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) and Karapatan highlighted the role the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) played in the red-tagging of these activists, leading to their arrests and deaths.
“Officials of the NTF-ELCAC who incited violence against the groups of the victims and justified the killings as mere anti-crime activities should likewise be investigated for their accountability in these killings,” said Karapatan. – Rappler.com