MANILA, Philippines - It was the military who shot and killed renowned plant taxonomist and ethnobiologist Leonard Co and his 2 companions, an independent fact-finding mission claimed on Wednesday.
The mission, which is composed of members of the academe and cause-oriented group, presented its findings after conducting an investigation in the jungles of Kananga, Leyte, where Leonard and his team were slain on November 15.
Mission head Giovanni Tapang of the scientists' group Agham said bullet trajectories at the site suggests that the gunshots all came from one direction.
Evidence also suggests that Co and his group were the main targets of the gunmen, he added.
This contradicted earlier statements by the Army’s 19th Infantry Battalion in Leyte, who said that the victims were caught in a crossfire between government troops and New People’s Army (NPA) rebels.
"Since the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] was the only armed group in the area, this indicates that it was the soldiers that fired at Co and his companions,” Tapang said.
The mission also said that delays in bringing another victim, Julius Borromeo, to a hospital may have cost him his life.
"It took almost two hours before Julius was brought down from the site to receive medical attention, despite his repeated pleadings,” Tapang said.
More than the loss of a top-caliber Filipino scientist, Tapang believes there is more at stake in seeking justice for Co.
"Kailangan natin matigil yung impunity. Hindi naman pwedeng pag may mga scientists o field workers dun, basta nalang babarilin ng walang kalaban-laban," he said.
The mission’s findings will be forwarded to the Commission on Human Rights, the Department of Justice, and the National Bureau of Investigation.
AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Jose Mabanta Jr. said on Wednesday that he welcomes the findings of the fact-finding mission.
He said they are ready to take action against soldiers responsible if the findings are proven in court.