Murdered Beggar Case Highlights Salvaging Scourge, Claim Activists

Rights groups believe murdered child is victim of extra-judicial killings plaguing Western Mindanao.

Murdered Beggar Case Highlights Salvaging Scourge, Claim Activists

Rights groups believe murdered child is victim of extra-judicial killings plaguing Western Mindanao.

Saturday, 11 April, 2009
Each year, the city authorities bury dozens of unknown and unclaimed men, women and children.

Most are buried collectively in the village of Mampang, about nine kilometres from here.

The bodies – unceremoniously labelled “unclaimed cadavers” by the funeral parlours who keep them for up to a year – are normally found in abandoned, isolated lots in and around the city and its precincts.

Many appear to have died unnatural, violent deaths and some show signs of torture, according to local human rights lawyers who allege they are victims of extra-judicial killings – or “salvaging”, to borrow the expression used here.

The Commission on Human Rights, CHR, Western Mindanao documented the discovery of remains of eight victims of salvaging in March alone – an average of two bodies a week.

“We have not identified them yet. It's kind of a difficult probe,” said CHR regional director Jose Manuel Mamauag of the bodies he sought to catalogue last month.

The victims typically go to their graves unidentified and unmourned.

So it would have been for Edgar had it not been for his mother, who spotted the remains of the missing 14-year-old in a funeral parlour on November 29 last year.

According to an employee of the Villa Funeral Parlour, Edgar’s body was found on October 30 in the Abong-abong area of Zamboanga City. His hands had been tied with alambre (chicken wire) and his body bore multiple stab wounds.

Edgar’s death sparked some local interest when the boy's twin brother, Ben, alleged that the city government's traffic enforcers, known as traffic police, were responsible.

But it seems the killing was soon hushed up and forgotten. Edgar – who came from a village in Santa Catalina municipality – was a street beggar, after all.

According to his brother, both boys – along with several other children who beg during the day and return to their families at night – were rounded up by two men who appeared to be traffic policemen from the Zamboanga City Hall Office on October 27, at around 10 am.

Based on Ben’s recollection, he, his brother and some other boys were playing on a sidewalk when the officers approached, accusing them of involvement in a series of mobile phone robberies in the area.

The men made the boys do some weeding in front of nearby City Hall, before providing them with food later that afternoon.

According to Ben, the men then handcuffed six of the youths – including himself and Edgar – and forced them into a vehicle. Three of the younger children – who Ben said he thought to be aged 12 and under – were later released.

The vehicle set off in the direction of Abong-abong in Barangay Pasonanca, Ben said.

When the boys realised they were heading towards the quiet mountainous area, they started to panic, he added.

“My twin was confident nothing bad would happen to them, but in case something did, I was to tell my mother,” Ben said.

He said he jumped off the vehicle as it slowed while heading up a hill. This was the last time he ever saw his twin.

In the days and weeks that followed, Edgar’s parents searched for their missing son, before finally finding his remains in the funeral parlour a month later.

Senior Superintendent Mario Yanga, the officer in charge of the Zamboanga City Police Office, told the Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project that police had “no clear suspects” in the case.

Yanga said that many of the bodies which turn up in the city’s funeral parlours are left unclaimed are people who have been “liquidated” because of unpaid debts or drug crime.

However, he admitted that the killing of the 14-year-old boy could not be easily dismissed as a straightforward murder.

“The case also opened to us other issues including the need to re-educate our police personnel on different subjects on human rights, including extra-judicial killings,” he said.

The local CHR office has confirmed it had recently been approached by Yanga, who asked them to provide human rights training for police personnel.

Yanga added that the Zamboanga City police are now working closely with the CHR and have established human rights desks in police stations in 98 barangays (villages).

Meanwhile, the Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project held a journalists' training session on reporting on summary killings in Zamboanga City late last month, led by its partner the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.

Anne Montano Soberano, a journalism teacher and a reporter of Bombo Radyo in Zamboanga, said trainers at the session urged local reporters and editors not to dismiss unusual cases, such as that of the 14-year-old boy, as “simple crimes”.

Several of her colleagues believe the boy was a victim of an extra-judicial killing.

“We need to pursue the case and find out what really happened,” Hader Glang, assistant editor of Zamboanga Today, said.

Julie S Alipala is a correspondent of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

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