MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Justice launched on Wednesday a fact-finding investigation on the death of one of the country's top botanists and 2 of his companions in a reported crossfire between government troops and communist rebels in Kananga, Leyte.
Justice chief Leila de Lima issued Department Order No. 799 formally ordering a fact-finding investigation on the death of Leonardo Co, Sofronio Cortez and Julius Borromeo last November 15.
"In the interest of the service and pursuant to the provisions of existing laws, and considering that the right to life of innocent non-combatants appears to have been violated with the death of Leonardo Co, Sofronio Corte and Julius Borromeo, who were killed in Leyte allegedly during a crossfire between the members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the New People's Army, a Fact-Finding Investigation Panel is hereby created," the order stated.
The fact-finding panel is composed of Assistant State Prosecutors Diosdado B. Solidum and Bryan Jacinto S. Cacha of the National Prosecution Service, and Atty. Romulo Asis, chief of the National Bureau of Investigation death investigation division.
The order said these personnel "shall coordinate with the National Bureau of Investigation(NBI), Leyte and the PNP (Philippine National Police) Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), Leyte, and such other offices and agencies which may have also conducted an investigation or inquiry on the death of Leonardo Co, et al., gather evidence, assess and evaluate evidence, and submit, within thirty (30) days from receipt of this Order, their written report and recommendation within thirty (30) days from receipt of this order on whether an appropriate complaint for preliminary investigation may be filed."
The 56-year old Co, a specialist in plant taxonomy and ethnobotany, was in the area collecting specimens for a reforestation project for the Lopez-owned Energy Development Corp. (EDC), which hired him as consultant. He was also president of the Philippine Native Plants Conservation Society, Inc.
Cortez was a forest guard of EDC while Borromeo was a member of the Tongonan Farmers Association.
EDC operates power plants in Leyte.
The Military's Central Command (CentCom) said soldiers of the Army's 19th Infantry Battalion (IB) clashed with at least 8 NPA rebels during a security operation in the vicinity of EDC compound in Kananga.
The Armed Forces and the PNP are conducting a separate investigation into the possible violation of military regulations in said incident.
Meanwhile, the Center for Environental Concerns has also formed a special fact finding mission to probe the death of Co and two others. The team departs for Kanaga, Leyte on Friday (Nov. 26).