Tuesday, 21 March 2000

Hacienda Looc killings:
Still many loose ends

By Gina Mission



The weapons used could have been a "high-powered" firearm or firearms. The victims could not have been shot at close range. Neither could they have been tortured before being killed.

.....These were among the initial findings made by a three-member team from the National Bureau of Investigation, which exhumed and examined the bodies of farmers Terry Sevilla and Roger Alla, who were shot to death on the evening of March 4 in Hacienda Looc, Nasugbu, Batangas.

.....The NBI stepped into the picture because of the mysterious circumstances surrounding the killings, as well as the conflicting accounts of the police and of individuals and groups interested in the case. The slain farmers were members of Umalpas-Ka, an alliance of Hacienda Looc farmers opposed to the conversion of their farm lands into Harbour Town, a resort that, when fully built by real estate developers Fil-Estate Golf and Development, Inc and the Manila Southcoast.Development Corporation, will include four golf courses and a marina.

.....Antonio Vertido, the NBI team’s medico legal officer, said a high-powered firearm or firearms could have been used, judging by the wounds found on the victims' bodies. But he could not tell exactly what kind of firearm or firearms, saying the wounds could have been "altered" in the process of embalming.

.....In any case, he said, that finding could serve as a lead in further investigations by the NBI.

.....Vertido described as conjecture a report that Sevilla and Alla were shot at close range because there were no "black spots" to indicate it. He did not elaborate.

.....He also disputed allegations by Umalpas-Ka members that the two farmers were tortured before their deaths, saying there was "no tissue reaction" showing that kind of physical force.

.....The NBI conducted its inquiry upon the request of the victims' families, who are being assisted by the Public Interest Law Center, and Atty. Dominique Misa, president of Karapatan-Batangas, a human rights alliance.

.....The exhumation was done at the cemetery in barangay Looc, one of four barangays composing the hacienda. It was witnessed by the families of both victims, members of Umalpas-Ka, and six journalists from Manila.

.....Sevilla and Alla were killed a day after members of the farmers' alliance staged protests outside the main offices of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Quezon City. The farmers criticized the DENR for lifting its cease-and-desist order on Fil-Estate and Manila Southcoast, a move that now allows the two realty firms to start bulldozing a private road in barangay Looc.

.....Sevilla and Alla themselves were not with the protesting group that day. They and another farmer were walking home from a party in sitio Cumbento in Barangay Looc when a group of armed men mowed them down about 50 meters from a mobile police outpost, according to subsequent investigation by the Nasugbu police.

.....Their companion was able to escape and is now in hiding for fear of his life. Some Umalpas-Ka members said they had talked to him before he went into hiding. For security reasons, however, they withheld his name.

.....Eulogio Clavel, a cousin of victim Alla, earlier told PNI that the bodies of the slain farmers bore black spots when he saw them before they were touched by the embalmer. Such dark spots, he said, indicate that they were shot at a very close range. He also said the facial expression of the victims showed they were in great pain, which he thought indicated physical torture before they died.

.....The dark spots that Clavel claimed to have seen were no longer apparent to Vertido when his team exhumed and examined the bodies.

.....An entry in the Nasugbu police blotter referred to the case as a "shooting incident" that resulted "in the death" of the two victims.

.....It stated that around 11 p.m. on March 4, the police station received a report from SPO1 Gregorio de la Cruz of the 401st PNP mobile division in Looc, one of two policemen on duty at the outpost, regarding the killings that took place "nearby."

.....On the basis of that report, members of the Nasugbu police station, led by SPO1 Godofredo Sajona-Magaling, together with duty investigator PO3 Rodrigo Soriano Ocoma prepared to go to the crime scene to conduct an investigation. They arrived in Looc at seven o’clock the following morning. Looc is about two hours by car from the Nasugbu police station. The police explained that they first looked for a funeral chapel willing to send a funeral car to Looc along with the police team.

.....Nasugbu police chief Arcadio Mission (no relation to this reporter) said De la Cruz' companion at the Looc outpost, SPO3 Fred Garcia, together with a few CAFGU members, guarded the bodies from 11 p.m. until the Nasugbu police arrived the following morning. Oscar Atadero of the Kilusang Magbubukid sa Pilipinas (KMP) recalled that Garcia once burned the flag of Umalpas-Ka, during a rally in barangay Looc in 1996.

.....Pictures of the victims' bodies, which Nasugbu police investigator Rodrigo Soriano Ocoma said were taken at around 7 a.m. on March 5, showed each body holding a bolo. Mission later said the bolos belonged to the late farmers.

.....The police version of the time the bodies were taken from the crime scene does not tally with a statement of Clavel, the cousin of victim Alla. Clavel said he arrived there between five and six in the morning of March 5 and found the bodies gone, implying that they had been taken away earlier than 7 a.m.

.....Families of the victims also complained that the Nasugbu police took the bodies without their consent. Mission denied the accusation, saying his men had obtained the relatives' permission before taking the bodies to the police station.

.....In fact, Mission added, he himself went to the hacienda on March 5 to investigate but that the victims’ families shooed him away. "Sabi nila pampagulo lang daw kami (They said we were just confusing things)," he said.

.....When he went to the house of the lone witness, Mission said he was also told to leave as the man was "still in shock."

.....Despite all this, Mission said, "we are proceeding with (our own) investigation." That investigation has not yielded any new information so far.

.....UMALPAS-KA secretary general Guillermo Baustista said the manner the police took custody of the bodies raised suspicions that these would be cleaned of evidence before an impartial autopsy could be done.

.....As of the day of the exhumation on March 13, the report of Dr. Estella Hizon, rural health officer of Nasugbu who examined the bodies before they were taken to a funeral home, was still "not available," although Umalpas-Ka officers said they were earlier told they would get it on March 11.

.....Three other farmers of Hacienda Looc were killed in 1997 and 1998, but the slayings have not been resolved up to this time. Neither Mission nor Ocoma knew the status of the three cases, saying they were not yet assigned in Nasugbu when these happened.