LAWYER ASKS SC: Declare ‘torture’ camp a crime scene

By Norman Bordadora
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 03:49:00 10/20/2008

MANILA, Philippines—A lawyer for the families of two missing University of the Philippines activists has asked the Supreme Court to declare a former military encampment in Bataan—where anthropologists had found burned human bones—“a crime scene,” and to protect evidence of crime in the area from being tampered with.

In an urgent motion, lawyer Rex Fernandez cited what he said were attempts by unidentified people to break into the now abandoned area.

Fernandez filed the motion last week after a fact-finding team of human rights advocates visited Barangay Bliss in Limay, Bataan, and dug up what anthropologists in the group said were fragments of human bones and personal articles, like a yellow slipper, a shirt and a mattress.

He acted on behalf of the mothers Erlinda Cadapan and Concepcion Empeño, who have been searching for the past two years for their missing daughters, UP students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño. Their daughters’ companion, Manuel Meriño, has also been missing.

The lawyer asked the court to order the local government and the police of Limay to protect any evidence of crime in the area from “contamination, suppression and concealment.”

Merino’s slippers

He also asked the high tribunal to allow the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), the Senate committee on justice and human rights, and the human rights group Karapatan to continue with their investigation and with their search for other “burial sites” in the area.

The fact-finding group made diggings in the area on Monday and Tuesday last week. They were directed to the place by former detainee Raymond Manalo, who said a detachment of the Philippine Army’s 24th Infantry Battalion used to be located there.

Manalo has said it was in the same place where he and his brother Reynaldo were held by their military captors and where Sherlyn, Karen and Meriño were also detained and tortured. He said it was also there where Meriño was allegedly “burned.”

The brothers escaped in 2007 after 18 months in captivity. Manalo said Meriño was wearing a pair of yellow rubber slip-ons when he last saw him.

Camp ‘erased’

Fernandez said police escorts who were with the fact-finding group “reported that there were attempts by unidentified persons to intrude into the area on the night of Oct. 13.” He asked the tribunal to place the area under custodia legis, or court supervision.

He said “the whole camp” pointed to by Raymond Manalo also showed evidence of “acts to conceal the area and to make the area unnoticeable as a military camp.”

“All visible signs of military encampment [were] erased,” Fernandez said.

The lawyer, who was with the fact-finding team, said concrete slabs in what used to be a camp had been broken and the pieces thrown around.

Evidence might be removed

He said Manalo had also pointed to where military structures used to stand and where foxholes had been dug. People in the community had also confirmed that there used to be a military camp in the area, he said.

He said there was danger “that the area might be entered into again and attempts will be made to take out evidence and clean the place further.”

Fernandez said the two-day CHR inspection gave the group just enough time to undertake one digging and that Manalo had pointed to the group eight other possible burial sites.

The Manalo brothers have been granted a writ of amparo by the Court of Appeals. The writ is aimed at protecting people from harassment by security forces and also compels the military to help locate missing people.

In supporting the appellate court’s action in the Manalo case, the high court also upheld its findings linking members of the military—including retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan—to the abduction of the Manalo brothers.


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