Outrage at Murder of Guerrilla Leader's Daughter

The crime has been met with widespread disgust and condemnation, and calls for a independent, transparent investigation.

Outrage at Murder of Guerrilla Leader's Daughter

The crime has been met with widespread disgust and condemnation, and calls for a independent, transparent investigation.

Rebelyn Pitao was wearing her white school teacher’s uniform when she left home to go to work on March 4. “Ma, I have to go now,” she called out to her mother Evangeline.

It was 6.30 am – the last time Evangeline saw her 20-year old daughter.

Rebelyn usually arrived back home by 6.30 pm each school day. But later that evening there was still no sign of her. Evangeline was worried: an hour and a half later, local police officers and a tricycle driver knocked on her door and brought news that Rebelyn had been abducted on her way home by gunmen.

“When I heard she had been taken, I knew I would never see her alive again,” said Evangeline from her small house in Bago Galera, Toril District in Davao City. “I knew they would kill her because they were angry at her father.”

Rebelyn, who would have turned 21 on March 20, was the third child and daughter of New People’s Army, NPA, leader Leoncio Pitao, also known as Commander Parago. Her partially-naked body was found late the following day, March 5, in an irrigation ditch in Barangay (village) San Isidro in Carmen, Davao Del Norte, about 50 kilometres north from here. She had been bound, gagged, raped and repeatedly stabbed in the chest.

“There were rope markings around her neck and mud all over her body,” her mother told the Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project.

According to the Scene of Crime Operatives, SOCO, of the Davao City police, Rebelyn had been dead for more than 20 hours before she was found by a local farmer. It suggests she was killed very soon after being taken.

“Her body bore five wounds inflicted by a thin sharp object such as an ice pick, which pierced her lungs and liver,” according to Dr Tomas Dimaandal who conducted the autopsy at a local funeral home. His report added that her genitals had suffered cuts “possibly caused by a hard object”. Her mouth had been taped up.

Evangeline explained how, with the police officers listening, tricycle driver Danny Peliciano told her that two unknown men had boarded his vehicle alongside Rebelyn when she climbed in to ride home. As they neared Bago Gallera de Oro subdivision a white van – a Toyota Revo – blocked their path and forced the tricycle to stop.

“Two other men came out of the van and dragged her out of the tricycle. The driver said Rebelyn was screaming for help but he could not do anything because the men were armed. The driver said he ran away. Then they dragged my daughter inside the van,” she said.

Evangeline believes the other two men on the tricycle were accomplices and all four men climbed in the van.

The abduction site is about 300 metres from the national highway and is beside a church with the nearest house 50 metres away.

Peliciano is now missing: a fellow driver who did not wish to be named said that right after the incident he quit working his usual route and disappeared. “He is no longer staying at home and we have no idea where he is now. I think he went into hiding because he is a witness,” said the man.

Evangeline believes her daughter may have been attacked inside the van or taken to a place in nearby Panabo City or Carmen where she was tied up, tortured and killed soon after and then taken after dark to the ditch.

It is believed she was dumped there between midnight and 1 am.

According to a police report obtained by the Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project from the Carmen police station, Rebelyn’s body was discovered by rice farmer Raffy Agres whose signed affidavit says he found her lying in the flooded ditch at around 5 pm on March 4.

A makeshift bamboo cross now stands in the knee-deep water where Rebelyn was found. According to Brieta, the bodies of two men were also found dumped here in 2004.

The killing of Rebelyn has been met with widespread public disgust and condemnation and demands for an independent and transparent investigation.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has ordered government agencies to conduct a thorough investigation, and Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte has called the killing “a deed most foul and the work of a monster”.

A senior military officer has described it as “a crime against humanity”, while Senator Richard Gordon said a “war crime” had been committed.

So far, however, Task Force Rebelyn, the group set up to investigate the crime, claims it has few real leads. Davao City police chief Senior Superintendent Ramon Apolinario initially complained his men had only a few clues to work with – the testimonies of the tricycle driver and the rice farmer who found her – along with a description of the van allegedly used.

Rebelyn’s guerilla father claims the vehicle has been spotted parked outside a “known army safe house in Carmen” – something the military hotly denies.

Almost from the very moment she was reported missing, the Philippine army’s high command has come out vehemently and repeatedly in public to deny the military was in any way responsible for Rebelyn’s abduction or her subsequent torture and killing.

But after her father –Commander Parago – publicly named four military suspects as his daughter’s killers, the army’s position has slowly changed. While it still denies any responsibility, it now admits two of the men Parago mentioned are currently their military intelligence officers who are now “restricted” to the barracks at the 10th Infantry Division headquarters in Camp Panacan in Davao.

The military is now pledging 100 per cent cooperation with the police inquiry.

Major General Reynaldo B Mapagu, an army spokesman, denied any involvement of the military in the killing of Rebelyn, adding that it was “not the policy of the Philippine army to target civilians in its campaign against the communist insurgents”.

In the hours after she first went missing, military sources suggested Rebelyn was probably the victim of infighting between members of the NPA. They added that she may also have been targeted by relatives of people who were themselves kidnapped and abused by Parago over the years.

But Rebelyn’s father is adamant that no other group could be behind her killing and claims the army “lashed out at her because they couldn’t get me”.

He does not believe that any government-led investigation will bring justice for her daughter.

“There were so many investigations for the victims of extrajudicial killings but none so far have been solved,” he said. “Not just political killings but also killing of journalists in this country – what happened to their investigations?”

Ominously, he added, “We [the NPA] will be the ones to investigate and punish those behind the killing of my daughter.”

Parago’s son Ryan claims he too was attacked by military agents and now lives with his father as an NPA guerilla. “They tried to stab me in 2005 and the next day I left to come here. Had I not, I would have been dead now just like Rebelyn,” he said.

Parago broke his silence three days after her daughter was found dead. The Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project and several journalists met up with him at a location in the outskirts of this city.

“Since I joined the NPA [in 1978], I’ve been expecting that something will happen to my family,” he said. “You have to be prepared with all the sacrifices in all aspects when you’ll join the revolution.”

Clad in black military uniform, smoking a cigarette and in full battle dress, the 51-year-old Parago worried that what happened to Rebelyn may also happen to other members of his family. “There is a big possibility that they will do my family harm because they could hardly capture me,” he said.

Parago accused two named sergeants with the Military Intelligence Group, MIG, and two named officers serving in the Military Intelligence Battalion, MIB, as those who he says are directly responsible for his daughter’s death. In a separate interview with a radio station he also named others – including an army major.

Parago said that based on the NPA’s “own intelligence information”, the four intelligence officers were responsible for the killing of his brother Danilo in June last year alongside others. “My brother was a provincial guard of Davao del Norte – he was a government employee, and yet still he was killed,” he said.

Parago has long been a wanted man.

He admits his guerrillas have killed suspected informers, but denies that innocent civilians have been targeted.

But many people see absolutely no difference between extrajudicial killings allegedly committed by the military and those said to be the work of the NPA.

In January 7, the NPA are believed to have killed Saturnino Rizaldo, a suspected member of military intelligence. A month later, they also reportedly murdered a second intelligence agent in Paquibato district.

In a mobile phone interview, Simon Santiago, southern Mindanao political director of the NPA, told the Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project that the NPA executed Rizaldo because of his “crime against humanity”.

“The NPA has standing order against those who have committed serious crime against the masses,” Santiago stressed.

The other victim he said was “a former NPA member turned military asset”.

Parago said he waited until his daughter was 11 before telling her about his activities. “When they (my children) asked me where I was, I often told them I was working abroad,”

Shortly after his release from a prison sentence in 2000 and learning that he would again go back to join the NPA, Parago recalled Rebelyn saying, “Pa, I thought we would be together again forever.”

Parago was captured by military agents in 1999 at his home in Toril district. He was released without preconditions after spending just under two years in jail.

He also recounted the time when Rebelyn asked for a new pair of jeans, “I told her to ask for the old pair of jeans from her older sister. Rebelyn did it and did not complain. When her mother was finally able to give her a new pair, Rebelyn was so happy and grateful. Even for the smallest things, Rebelyn never forgot to say ‘thank you’. ”

Evangeline also recalled that since Rebelyn was small, she really wanted to be a teacher. “Since she was small, that was her dream – and she really fulfilled her dream,” she said.

Rebelyn served as a substitute teacher for five months at St Peter’s College of Technology and taught Grade 2.

Evangeline said her daughter’s fellow teachers were surprised to learn she was the daughter of Parago, “Yet their treatment towards us never changed. They even sympathised with us because they knew we were not part of the conflict – we were not combatants.”

Evangeline claimed the military had harassed their family in the past. In 1999, she insisted, seven military agents came into their house and briefly held the family hostage to force her husband to surrender.

“They knew my husband was coming down to visit us because it was All Saints Day,” she recalled. “The children were so scared because we were all held at gunpoint.”

Parago also claims to remember the alleged incident, “I went there to visit but was surprised to see the military. I had a grenade with me but had I tossed it inside my house it would have killed my family as well as the agents – and so I let myself get captured.”

Evangeline said the incident was a traumatic experience for the children. “Trauma has been gone for a long time but now it’s back again because of what happened to their sister,” he said.

Davao City police have been providing 24-hour security during Rebelyn’s wake and Evangeline said she was thankful to Mayor Duterte. While having gone on record as saying he dismissed all allegations that any military or police officers could be involved in the killing, the mayor has made a public promise to Parago to find those responsible. The two have even spoken together on the phone.

For her part, Evangeline is refusing to comment on her family’s future security. “We cannot say anything about it now or what we are going to do now. We have yet to talk about it. But I admit that we are very affected. I’m worried about my children because two of them are still studying and they are now worried for their security,” she said.

Rebelyn’s death brings the number of victims of extrajudicial killings in southern Mindanao since 2001 up to 93, according to Kelly Delgado, secretary-general of the human rights group Karapatan in southern Mindanao region.

The authorities dispute Karapatan’s figure and insist it is much lower.

Delgado claims the killing of Rebelyn was intended as a warning, “This is a message for the family members of not just the NPA but as well those who are in the progressive organisations that they too can be targets. It is also a message meant to demoralise our ranks.

“Since the government has set 2010 as the deadline to crush the communist movement, extrajudicial killings may even get worse because civilians whom they suspect as communist supporters will become soft targets.

“The killings have become systemic and it is impossible to stop them. What we can do now is to become vigilant and impose security measures among people.”

Retired army chief General Hermogenes Esperon and President Arroyo have set a 2010 deadline to end the insurgency.

But last year, army head General Alexander Yano admitted that the government might not be able to wipe out the 40-year-old communist movement by 2010.

The NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, CPP, turns 40 on March 29 – the day before a public hearing on vigilante killings is due to open here.

Bishop Delfin Callao of the Philippine Independent Church has said that an independent body needs to be created to investigate Rebelyn’s killing.

“How can you investigate if you are the accused?” Callao asked reporters in a recent press conference. The investigation, he insisted, should not involve any representatives from government agencies, police or military to join.

"This will assure us of complete impartiality and the findings can be the basis of any criminal charges to be filed against the suspects,” he said.

The investigating body, he said, should be composed of the people from church and civil society organisations. “Even if the government authorities snub the results, the most important thing here is we surface the truth,” he said.

Keith Bacongco is a journalist based in Davao City and one of the founders of AKP Images, an independent photo agency.
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