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BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – The family of a man the military claimed to have killed in an an encounter in Lacub, Abra, denied that their kin was a New People’s Army (NPA) guerilla.
Jose Diwayan said his older brother, Antonio, “has no connection with the rebel group.”
“We are resentful [about the military’s claim],” Jose said in Ilokano during an October 17 interview. “The people of Lacub can testify that he is a civilian… Residents of (Barangay) Buneg know him very well.”
Antonio, 57 according to the local police report, had lived in the town’s forested area for years, tending the family farm, his brother said.
“He has a swiden farm near the place they claim the encounter took place. He also has livestock, chickens, and other crops in his place,” Jose told Rappler.
The Army’s 5th Infantry Division said the older Diwayan died on October 13 during a clash between the NPA and troops from the 77th Infantry Battalion. The military claimed they recovered his corpse and an M16 rifle after a five-minute clash.
Jose said they are awaiting the result of the autopsy but added that aside from the bullet wounds, his brother’s body also bore bruises and a deep cut on the leg.
The family will pursue the investigation, Jose added, urging local officials for assistance to ensure justice for Antonio.
‘Kind old farmer’
A resident of Barangay Buneg, Loreta Manangbao in an October 15 post, condemned the death of Antonio, saying she knew the “innocent” victim since they came from the same village.
Her post included his barangay clearance , dated August 2022, and an identification card of the political party, United Nationalist Alliance.
“The old man was kind. He helped many, giving food since he was a good farmer,” she said in Ilokano during an online interview on October 16
Relatives and residents of Lacub who knew Antonio shared their grief, anger, and called for justice on social media.
Some slammed the military’s press release about the incident posted on the Facebook page of the 5th Infantry Division.
Manolo Sabadao, barangay captain of Buneg, confirmed in an October 17 phone interview that Antonio has a swidden farm and a hut in the forest area. Speaking in Ilokano, he said that he issued a barangay clearance to Antonio last year.
The barangay chief also noted that the deceased received relief packages from the local government in the past through his relatives in the barangay. However, he clarified that he had not seen Antonio for a long time.
In a statement, the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance urged the local government and the Commission on Human Rights “to immediately and thoroughly investigate” the death of Diwayan.
Police Captain Ronaldo Eslabra, Abra Police Provincial Office public information officer, said Antonio’s killing is now a police matter.
“It is up for the Philippine Army to validate if he was indeed part of the encounter or the claim of the relatives that he was a civilian and was there because he lives in the area, or was he collateral damage,” he explained in mixed Tagalog and English in a phone interview on October 15.
“Since a death was reported, it will be a police matter. So, I believe the PNP, particularly the intelligence and investigation [unit of the] PPO, will also validate the identity of the person,” he said.
“We have to respect human rights, and we have to verify the veracity of the report (so that) once and for all we can clear all the speculations [about the incident],” he said. – Rappler.com