Written by Marilou Guieb and Larry Fabian / Correspondents
WITH hearts heavy with grief, members of the Ligiw family traveled the long road to Baguio from their home in Licuan-Baay in Abra to file a case of extrajudicial killing on March 26 with the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA).
Edna Ligiw, Jessie Ligiw and Edwin Ligiw, assisted by advocates of Human Rights non-governmental organizations, went to the CHR regional office with fear still visible in their eyes.
They said, almost a month ago on March 7, a search team of 50 residents of Domenglay and neighboring villages followed a path of tall grasses and wild vegetation pressed to the ground, indicating that heavy things were dragged through them. The walk led to a shallow fresh grave.
Slippers and clothes told the search team that dead bodies were buried in the shallow grave, but it was only the next day on March 8 did they exhume the bodies. Barangay Captain Josephine Cariño said the police needed to be present to investigate the crime scene.
When exhumed, the bodies of Fermin (30), his brother Edgar (42) and their father Licuben (70) were all in fetal position, one on top of the other. The brothers had their wrists bound with nylon ropes and Licuben showed rope marks around his neck. Eddie, who was shirtless when found, had dark marks in his chest and Fermin’s head was partly bashed in, all signs that they were all badly tortured.
It was another brother, Jessie who last saw them in their pacalso, a farm hut where the family stayed to work when tending their fields as farms are far from the settlements.
Jessie said that on the day he last saw his father and two brothers, he had breakfast with them of rice and patani. He left for Lacub town, spotting soldiers headed toward their hut. The family also observed soldiers looking over their hut from mountain ridges.
Upon returning home by nightfall, he found the hut ransacked. There was no sign of cooking at the hearth. By morning, he found the tracks of combat boots around the hut.
As Audrey Beltran of the Cordillera People’s Alliance was narrating the events, Edna, second of the siblings, silently sobbed. She and her brothers spoke to the local media asking for help for justice, but could hardly speak out of their sorrow.
Edwin lives in Tineg, Abra, where any cellular-phone network is not yet operational. In an interview, he said, “Some relatives had to ride hours by motorcycle just to inform me of the plight of my family after they went missing.”
In Ilocano, he said. “When I arrived, that’s when I knew the search team already found their graves. Seeing them, I could not imagine the brutality of how they were killed and buried because I never knew any reason why this would happen to them. Especially my father, who I knew to have a good heart, I could not recall him doing anything wrong against other people.”
Edwin saw on the pathway leading to their hut what he believed the perpetrators ate before the crime and put them in a bag—Cloud 9 chocolate and biscuits and some cigarette butts.
The three victims were leaders of Balitok, the acronym for Baay-Licuan Takderan Umno a Karbengan (Stand Up For Your Rights), Kastan or Kakailian Salakniban Tay Amin ti Nagtaudan (People Defending the Ancestral Land), and the provincial chapter of the Cordillera People’s Alliance. They were Tingguians who belonged to the Binongan tribe.
The CHRA said these organizations have long been under attack from the Armed Forces of the Philippines’s vilification campaign. The Ligiw family played a significant role in stopping the entry of the Olympus Mining Co. in Baay Licuan, Abra.
The surviving members of the Ligiw family, piecing the evidence and circumstances together, pointedly blamed the killing of their three family members to the 41st IBPA.
In fact, Fermin already had his encounter earlier with the brigade.
The said infantry battalion began their Abra military combat operations in Lacub, Licuan Baay and Malibcong on February16.
On February 22, according to the CHRA accounts, the soldiers chanced upon Fermin. They coerced him to guide them to NPA stations or suspected members. After taking the cabbages he carried, he was accused of aiding the NPA and was prohibited to leave Sucao village.
On March 2 soldiers told the people of Lenneng, the neighboring village where the victims were killed, not to venture out to the forests, as combat operations were ongoing. The following day, the three Ligiw men went missing, and before Fermin could report his own account to the Abra Human Rights Movement as he planned, he was silenced in his grave.
There is grave mistrust in the communtiy against the military. While the customary funeral ritual was being performed on March 10, PNP men came to take Jessie for protection, but this was refused. Elders feared there was a cover-up in the investigation. Imelda Tabiando, a development worker who accompanied the Ligiw family to Baguio City, said soldiers and police made several attempts to ask relatives to retract their testimonies.
The CHRA said the Ligiw massacre added up the cases of human-rights violation due to militarization, also pointing especially to the 41st IB to be responsible for the following incidents:
In 2004 combat operations in Abra killed Bernabe Bangoey and wounded Fernando Mino despite their declaration they were civilians. The following year, Francisco Tangbaoan died when he was used as a human shield together with two others who were wounded. In 2006 farmer John Maximo was also killed in a combat operation. In 2013 charcoal maker Maymar Alcantara was accused to be an NPA member and was tortured.
The CHRA is now calling for support to the Ligiw family and to the clamor of affected communities to send messages to President Aquino, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles and Gen. Voltaire Gazmin to have the 41st Battalion pulled out from their communities, and to withdraw Oplan Bayanihan, the counterinsurgency program that victimizes even innocent civilians.
There is an atmosphere of fear in the villages, disrupting normal day-to-day life as families are afraid to venture out in the fields, said Audrey Beltran, deputy secretary-general of CHRA.
FromApril 4 to 7, the community scheduled a solidarity mission in the village where the Ligiw men were tortured and killed.