Family doubts botanist killed in crossfire

By Atom Araullo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 17 2010 10:51 PM | Updated as of Nov 18 2010 08:28 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Family and friends of plant taxonomist and ethnobotanist Leonardo Co have reservations about the military's version of events that led to the death of the scientist. 

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) claimed that soldiers were conducting security operations in the vicinity of the Energy Development Corporation (EDC) compound in Kananga town in Leyte after recovering documents indicating an imminent attack on the facility. [Related story: Philippines' top botanist killed in crossfire]

 

Seven New People’s Army (NPA) rebels were reportedly spotted and a firefight then ensued. Co and 2 other companions were caught in the crossfire.

Dr. Perry Ong, director of the University of the Philippines Diliman Institute of Biology, believes Co may have been mistaken as an NPA rebel by the AFP. 

He said botanists typically carry pole cutters and umbrellas during their field work, and these may have been mistaken as long firearms from a distance. 

The family of Co said the AFP's statements about the incident have created more questions than answers. 

They want to know why Co was allowed to enter the area if rebel presence had been reported there. 

In a statement, the National Democratic Front-Eastern Visayas also said it is highly improbable that the group of Co strayed near a highly secretive squad of NPA rebels. 

They believe that the incident was a case of mistaken identity on the part of the AFP acting on "flimsy intelligence report.” 

The top military commander in the Visayas, Lt. Gen. Ralph Villanueva, meanwhile, said that the military and the police have already started investigations into the possible violation of military regulations meant to ensure the safety of civilians in the conduct of its operations.

Villanueva, Armed Forces' Central Command (CentCom) chief, said the police investigation will determine whether the bullets that killed the civilians came from the soldiers of Army's 19th Infantry Battalion (IB) or from the side of the NPAs.