Tearful closure for families of 3 men abducted by NPA in 2017

DAVAO CITY, Philippines (UPDATED) – Since her husband was abducted by communist rebels in Bukidnon in 2017, Aida España kept hoping that Army Technical Sergeant Reynante España would one day come back home, alive.

On Thursday, August 22, Aida got half her wish as the military informed her that they had found the remains of her husband and his two uncles.

The New People's Army (NPA) abducted Reynante, his uncles retired cop Joel Rey Galendez and Datu Silang Dionesio Habana, and Galendez's son in a blockade in  Barangay Kalaganan, Kitaotao, along the Talaingod-San Fernando Bukidnon road on August 22, 2017.

The 3 were taken to the mountains of Kitaotao where they were later executed and buried in shallows grave along the slope of a hill.  Galendez's son was released to local officials days after the incident.

Soldiers found Dionesio and Reynante in the same grave while Galendez's remains were in another grave, about 5 meters away.

Major General Jose Faustino Jr, 10th Infantry Division Commander, suspected that the NPA tried the victims in a kangaroo court since one was a soldier and another was a retired cop.

Lieutenant Colonel Silas Trasmontero, 89th Infantry Batallion Commander, said that they found the grave sites based on information from members of the Komiting Rebolusyonaryo sa Municipalidad who had dissociated from the NPA on August 7 this year. This was after the 89IB conducted a community support program in the area.

Dashed hopes

CLOSURE. Relatives of the 3 men abducted by  the NPA in Bukidnon in 2017, wait at the grave site. Photo by Bobby Lagsa/Rappler

CLOSURE. Relatives of the 3 men abducted by the NPA in Bukidnon in 2017, wait at the grave site.

Photo by Bobby Lagsa/Rappler

Reynante belonged to the 30th IB and filed a retirement claim in 2017 after many years of service. Aida said that her husband filed the claim as she gave birth to their only child, after 18 years of marriage. 

"He wanted to finance a business in San Fernando because he was about to retire and wanted to give us a better future. That did not happen as he was kidnapped," Aida said.

Like Aida, Dionesio's mother Anna and the men's relatives were hoping that the 3 were still alive – hopes fueled by an "emissary" that the NPA had sent to collect money and other demands for their release.

Anna said that they received text messages from the NPA asking for money, two horses, pigs, and rice.

"Even if I don't have money, as I am poor myself, I gave what they demanded," Anna said.

Anna said they traveled from Loreto, Agusan del Sur, to San Fernando in Bukidnon to deliver the money to the negotiator known only as "Tata." In July, they paid the emissary P6,000.

"We pooled our money so we can give it to them. We are so poor but he is my son, he has 4 children," Anna said.

Aida said that he asked the negotiator to record his husband's voice or provide a written signature as a proof of life, but nothing was given to her. In February this year, she stopped giving money.

Closure

Anna, frail and old, crossed rivers 7 times to get to her son's grave. In between sobs, she recalled how her son was so gentle that their tribe chose him to be their leader.

MOTHER'S GRIEF. Anna Habana breaks down after seeing the grave of her son, tribal chieftain Datu Silang Dionesio Habana. Photo by Bobby Lagsa/Rappler

MOTHER'S GRIEF. Anna Habana breaks down after seeing the grave of her son, tribal chieftain Datu Silang Dionesio Habana.

Photo by Bobby Lagsa/Rappler

Aida tried to hold  back tears as the Scene of Crime Operatives cleared her husband's grave. "He didn't have to die this way," she said.

A little later, she said, "Finally we will have closure on their death as we finally found them."

Anna said that she was ready to spend the rest of her life looking for her son Dionesio. "I will spend every peso I saved to look for you, my son," Anna said as she looked at her son's grave.

The family would bring home the remains to their hometown in Loreto, Agusan del Sur, to give them a proper burial. 

Lieutenant General Felimon T. Santos Jr, Eastern Mindanao Command chief, said in a statement that the Armed Forces condemned the killings which were against International Humanitarian Law. He also expressed his sympathies to the families.

"At least, we were able to put closure on their agony," Santos said.

The families said they would file complaints before the Commission on Human Rights over the killings. – Rappler.com