MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Army has relieved 8 soldiers over the death of a woman and her two sons allegedly caught in a crossfire in Davao del Sur Thursday.
Lieutenant Dante Jimenez, 27th Infantry Battalion's Bravo Company commander, and 7 of his men have been relieved while an investigation into the death of of Juvy Capeon and her children, Pop and John, is ongoing.
Meanwhile, 27th IB commander Lt. Col. Noel Alexis Bravo was also placed under investigation but was not relieved.
It was Bravo who claimed that the three were caught in a crossfire between government soldiers and alleged NPA rebels, led by Daquil Capeon, the victims' husband and father.
Bravo said the soldiers were deployed to Sitio Aliong, Barangay Kimlawis after they received information that a group of armed men was spotted in the area.
He said the soldiers were allegedly fired upon by armed men as they approached one of the huts at around 6 a.m.
"As a routine procedure, the troops went to the area to check but while approaching a hut, they were fired upon so they returned fire," Bravo said in an interview on Thursday.
However, some groups are claiming that Capeon's family was "massacred" in their home.
According to the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center – Kasama sa Kalikasan (LRC-KsK/Friends of the Earth-Philippines), Capeon's family was killed in "an alleged military raid in Tampakan."
LRC-KsK said the fatalities are members of the B'laan indigenous tribe of Bong Mal.
It added that Capeon's wife "vehemently opposed the presence and operations of SMI Xstrata in their community."
Capeon is reportedly a nephew of Gorelmin Malid, who also strongly opposed the presence of a mining firm in the area. Gorelmin was also killed in 2002.
Local church leaders and several tribal and anti-mining groups also reported that the victims were shot in the head.
Alyansa Tigil Muna national coordinator Jaybee Garganera dismissed claims that an encounter indeed took place between government soldiers and NPA rebels.
"Assuming that there was an exchange of fire, there must have been a failure of intelligence, as women and children were killed unexplainably," he said.
Bernardo, however, insisted that the military raid was a legitimate one and said it was "unfortunate" that the victims served as "collateral damage." – with a report from Francis Canlas, ABS-CBN News Southern Mindanao