MANILA, PhilippinesThere was no crossfire, and the shots coming from where
the soldiers were positioned were trained directly on the area where noted
botanist Leonardo Co and his companions were working, leading to their
Some old habits die hard; in the case of the countrys security forces, the
excuses they learned under Marcos and military rule (in those dark days,
the police was integrated into the Armed Forces) were reinforced during
the ascendancy of the military in Gloria Macapagal-Arroyos latter years in
DALIT SA KABUNDUKAN
ni Leonard Co
-12 Abril 1978
At narito ang isang bundok: mandi’y tapat sa pangalan,
Matikas at matayog, naghahamon sa kalangitan;
Ang suson niyang mga tuktok, hanay-hanay ang salansan
Waring sa aki’y tumatawag: kapatid ko at at kaibigan!
Balikat niya’y tinapik ko at binati ng may sigla:
Sa ‘ki’y ano ang nagpadpad upang kita ay magkita?
Hayaan mong ang iyong gulod, mga tuktok, isa-isa
Ay mabigyan ko ng ngalan at bilang na tanging kanya.
Waring ako’y itinuring na malaong kaibigan
Ngayo’t muling nagkaniig salubong niya’y anong ringal:
Pinatugtog yaong hangin, nag-alpombra’ng damong ligaw
Wari‘y alak namang hain ang tubig sa kanyang bukal.
Sa iyo kayang katayugang kahit sino’y humahanga
Papa’no ko ihahambing ang diwa ko’t maging tapang?
Sa hamon mong binabadya at lakas mong mapangmangha
Ako kaya’y di alangang matawag mong kasamahan?
O mabunying kalupaan! Nasaan pa ang iyong dangal
Kung bundok mo’y mababa at ilog mo’y matutumal?
Taglay ko ay isang pusong tuwi-tuwina’y nag-aasam
Sa dantay ng kalinga mo at init sa iyong himlay.
Taluktok mo’y kadalasang tinatakpan ng alapaap,
Talampas mo’y yuta’t angaw ang tanawing nakalahad,
Humuhugong, sumisipol ang taglay mong mga gubat,
Habang doon sa ibayo’y naglalaro ang iyong ulap.
Kabundukan, kabundukan, sa akin nga ay ituran
Kung ilan ang iyong bangin, taluktok mong ‘pagyayabang;
Kung ilan ang higante mong mga bato, puno’t baging
Kung ilan ang saluysoy mo’t mga sapang gumagapang.
Pumipintig yaring puso habang kita’y minamasdan
Sumusulak yaring dugo sa pagdama ng iyong damdam
Kabundukan, larawan ka ng mahal na Inang Bayan
Asahan mong namumundok ang bantay mo kahit saan!
Lungsod ng Baguio , Matapos bumaba ng Mt, Pulog.
"Hindi trabaho ng mga intelektwal na magmemorya ng mga walang kuwentang
bagay. Tungkulin ng intelektwal na gamitin ang utak para pag-isipan ang
Jerome Cabansag, PNPCS and Thess
Dollaga as indicated by the filenames
Leonard Co: Naming the plants, planting the seeds
BY GIOVANNI TAPANG, Ph.D.
Thursday, 18 November 2010 00:00
I would have written about the Lotto for this week’s column had not a text
from a friend told me that leading botanist Leonard C. Co was reportedly
killed in a supposed crossfire between the Armed Forces of the Philippines
and the New People’s Army (NPA) in Leyte. They were doing research work
for the Energy Development Corporation (EDC) in Upper Mahiao, Lim-ao,
Kananga, in Leyte province with a security clearance when an Army patrol
that responded to NPA sightings in the area chanced upon them.
Two other members of the EDC research team were reportedly killed together
while two others survived.
I never got to have a long discussion with the famed biologist. I only
gave casual greetings when I chanced upon him inside the University. Yet
older members of AGHAM had profound interactions with him in the course of
his work. In the mid-1970s, Leonard and other activists, mainly from the
then Departments of Botany and Zoology of the University of the
Philippines in Diliman, compiled and published the first authoritative
manual on medicinal plants in the country. They did this with a clear aim
of providing the majority of Filipinos in the countryside a guide from
which they could get ready access to cheap medicines from sources that are
present in their surroundings. The lack of access to medical facilities
and supplies at that time especially in the provinces (still very much a
reality today) made that compilation a very important contribution to many
According to friends, the group worked on this diligently, meeting at
Leonard’s residence almost weekly for at least five years. At the end,
they published a mimeo-graphed 8 1/2" x 13" pamphlet entitled “Philippine
Medicinal Plants Manual” in 1978. The manual was released by the UP
Botanical Society, of which many in the group were members.
He was one of two expert field botanists in that group. As many would
attest, Leonard was the one who could identify with certainty which
medicinal plants that were catalogued in other countries are also found in
the country, and in which particular area or forest in the Philippines.
Friends would recount his encyclopedic memory from which he could recount
the names and medicinal properties of all the plants that he encountered.
Other friends tell us that there was never a dull moment when he was
around. His heart and mind was always at work: laughing with friends,
worrying about his lovelife, or eating delicious Chinese food as his
family owned and ran a Chinese restaurant in Caloocan.
The demise of Leonard Co is a big loss since we only have a few
taxonomists in the country. What is more disturbing is the circumstances
of his death. According to news reports, the Army said that the EDC
informed them of the presence of the rebels in the area. The team got
clearance from the military to do their research in the area and was
informed of their work at that time. Given the situation and based on the
rules of war, the Army should have prioritized first the protection and
safety of the civilians that were present in the area before doing any
operations. We have also not heard about any description of the supposed
NPA group that the Army engaged that day. These and other circumstances
lead us to ask whether the killing is a case of mistaken identity. To
clear things up, an independent civilian investigation of this incident
that resulted in the loss of Co, forest guard Sofronio Cortez and Julius
Borromeo should be initiated.
The death of the three has put the number of environmentalists killed in
the country to a total of 36 since 2001. The three are the first under the
new Aquino administration. Based on the monitoring of Kalikasan People’s
Network for the Environment, most of the killings of environmentalists
occur in areas where there are controversial projects which are
environmentally destructive such as commercial logging and large-scale
mining coupled together with the high presence of government forces and
One poet friend of Leonard tells us that he can even give the local names
of these plants in different places in the country. Praising him for his
memory, the same friend recounts a very moving quote from the esteemed
biologist, “ . . . hindi trabaho ng mga intelektwal na magmemorya ng mga
walang kuwentang bagay. Tungkulin ng intelektwal na gamitin ang utak para
pag-isipan ang mga bagay.” It is not the task of an intellectual to
remember useless things. It is the task of the intellectual to use his
brain to think about things.
We add one more, taking cue from the seeds that Leonard Co’s example has
planted: It is also the task of the intellectual to change these things
for the betterment of all.
Dr. Tapang is the chairperson of AGHAM-Advocates of Science and Technology
for the People.
▲ November 19, 2010 - Press Conference,
at UP Institute of Biology
with Institute Director Dr. Perry Ong ▼
Fact-finding mission for Leonard Co
By Giovanni Tapang, Ph.D.
The Manila Times
Thursday, 09 December 2010
Leonardo Co, renowned Filipino conservationist and botanist, along with
forester Sofronio Cortez and farmer Julius Borromeo, was killed on
November 15, 2010, allegedly by troops of the Philippine Army, while
conducting research on tree biodiversity in the Manawan-Kananga Watershed
in Leyte. On the day of his death, Co and four of his companions were
pursuing research work for the Energy Development Corporation: surveying
and collecting specimen seedlings of endangered trees for replanting.
The Army unit involved in the incident, the 19th Infantry Battalion,
reported that Co was killed in a crossfire with the New People’s Army.
However, accounts from the survivors said that there was no firefight that
The Samahan ng Nagtataguyod ng Agham at Teknolohiya para sa Sambayanan (AGHAM—Advocates
of Science and Technology for the People), in coordination with friends
and families of the victims, organized a fact finding mission to pursue
the truth behind the circumstances of the killing of the three men.
The Fact Finding Mission on the Killings of Leonard Co, Sofrono Cortez and
Julius Borromeo in Kananga, Leyte (FFM) had the following objectives: to
establish facts and gather relevant information on the November 15, 2010
incident in Kananga, Leyte; to gather testimonies and observations from
the people involved in the incident and to identify possible parties and
individuals responsible for the incident. The following are excerpts from
the findings of the fact finding mission.
The main tools of the FFM were the photo and video documentation taken and
recorded during the site visit and key informant interviews. The FFM paid
a courtesy call to the Mayor of Kananga town and conducted meetings with
the Philippine National Police, the 19th IB, the Energy Development
Corporation (EDC) staff and the families and neighbors of the survivors
and victims. Other documents obtained during and after the FFM was also
used to complete the report.
The FFM was divided into three groups. Team 1 interviewed the EDC
personnel and primarily conducted the ocular visit of the site to gather
more information, establish facts and gather possible evidence. Team 1
marked the locations with GPS units for proper geotagging. Team 2 made the
courtesy call to the mayor and visited the communities where the families
of the victims and survivors were. They also visited the family of Cortez
in Baybay, Leyte. Team 3 visited the local PNP and was able to talk to
Chief of Police Sr. Insp. Camacho and informed them of the plans to visit
the site. They also visited the 19th IB headquarters and met with Lt. Col.
Federico Tutaan at the gate.
The team observed the following from its interviews and incident site
visit: The direction of bullet marks on the trees originated from a
vantage point on the ridge above Leonard Co and his team. These bullet
marks indicated that the direction of fire was bearing downwards towards
The tree (Tree No. 4) that Co’s team was studying was hit three times. A
larger tree where one of the survivors hid had six bullet marks on it. The
FFM team did not observe any bullet marks on the trees from the ground
looking up to the ridge nor from any other side except from the vantage
The only consistent explanation for these key observations would be that
the military was positioned on top of the ridge and firing towards Co and
company. There was no indication of any crossfire. The failure of the
military unit involved to provide immediate medical attention and hospital
treatment to Julius Borromeo prolonged his agony and ultimately led to his
death. The military waited at least one hour after they approached the
position of Co’s team before bringing down the bodies and the survivor
Gibe despite his repeated requests, as well as those of the then-alive
Supposing that the military indeed had intelligence information that there
were NPA sightings on November 12 and that this was communicated to the
EDC, what were the precautions taken to inform LC and his team who were
already in the LGPF complex since November 9? Likewise, was the military
informed of the team’s activities prior to the day of the incident?
These questions and others are still unanswered. Justice for Leonard and
his companions remains elusive. The military should give a full accounting
of what happened during that day and the names of the squad or platoon
members that were involved in the shooting. The EDC should make public its
records and protocols with regard to its security relationship with the
Tomorrow is International Human Rights Day. The deaths of Leonard Co and
his companions are a reminder that we still have a long way to go with
regard to attaining the free exercise of our rights in the country.
On a Chance Encounter with a Friend:
A Poem for Leonard Co
Nonilon V. Queano/
“LEONARD CO’S life (which lasted a few weeks short of 57 years) was
much too brief, but it was a life that overflowed with professional
accomplishments and friendships. "Friends are ephemeral, ships passing by
in the night as the saying goes. Leonard built friendships that spanned
- Michael Tan, “Pinoy Kasi, Leonard Co,”
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 12/01/2010.
I would have thought I knew
Bright days from dreary dark
And seen red dawns
Breaking but clearly
Upon forests and greening trees;
I would have thought
There always would be singing,
Even from voids of blue
Though roads creep out
As chance meetings come and go.
It was even perhaps with bravado
That I regarded contradictions
And struggles, inevitable
Oh I could project them all
With the palmate light of wisdom,
Until it happened.
We met in a crowded mall
(Of all places),
I tagged him on the shoulder
As he walked past,
Instantly, he beamed,
His chinky eyes cusped behind glasses
(I had always looked at him amusedly,
Like I would at some strange soul
I’d meet every now and then)
We hardly talked but connected
As old friends who knew so little of each other,
Briefly, sealed our friendships in some half-hug,
Then walked our separate ways so nonchalantly
I had not even had time to think
How long it would take us to meet again.
But it was quick
A few days, his bullet riddled body was splashed
On the front page of the dailies,
With the story of how soldiers
Allegedly mistook him for an NPA rebel,
Shot him then and there.
The look of horror drawn on his face,
His arms covering up as he begged for mercy.
Leonard Co, the much- respected, much-loved
Lead botanist in the country,
The great scientist taxonomist who wiith fellow scientists,
DiscoveredRafflesia leonardi, the plant that bears his name.
Leonard Co, the poet-friend I hardly knew.
What arrogance had I to believe that I understood fully:
That I could explain the contradictions in capitalism,
The struggle against imperialist plunder,
Life and death and the romance of split selves,
The sun, the moon, greenfields, forests, and mountains;
Yet through it all, hard put to making out
The idiocy of the band of killer soliders
Who murdered my poor friend.
And I had not even time to think
Of when or if ever we would meet again.
*Three or four days before the murder of Leonard Co, I bumped into him at
SM North Mall on that heavily congested narrow corridor bridge between
D’Block and the old, main building.
by Pia Montalban
Hindi makasigaw, kahit pa pumapagaspas,
ang salarin sa buhay na inutang
Hindi makasusulat ng pahayag
ang mga hintuturong sanga
upang duruui't idiin ang mga may-sala:
Militar at estadong walang mga bayag!
Hindi makatatakbo ang mga ugat
na sa lupa'y gumagapang ng maingat
naisin man nitong tumawag ng kasamang
magtatanggol sa lingkod-bayang siyentista.
Saksing-pipi, walang kamay,
walang paa, walang bibig, ngunit tiyak--
na may mata at taingang nakadadama,
sa bangungot ng digma.
Paano pa nga ba ipapaliwanag
tinamong bala ng kanilang
na sa punglo'y sumalo't siyang
Paano pa nga ba itatago ng mga salaring
ng mga balang tumagos sa mga puno?
Paano pa nga ba
na ang pamamaslang
ay di engkwentro ng militar
sa mga NPA
kundi kaso ng bobong
military-intelligence ng estado?
ang mga puno
sa naganap na
kina Leonard, Julius at Sofronio.
Fact finding mission for Leonard Co (2)
December 16, 2010 - 8:10pm — chiechie
BY GIOVANNI TAPANG, Ph.D.
Last Monday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) withdrew its charges against
the “Morong 43.” The 43 health workers were arrested in Morong, Rizal last
February 6, 2010 and were detained for more than 10 months. Their eventual
release (if the court approves it) puts in the forefront the case of
Leonard Co and his companions as a human rights issue that squarely falls
under the watch of the current administration.
We hope that this case is resolved in the end with a similar favorable
outcome as the “Morong 43’s” case.
We continue with some excerpts from the report of the Fact Finding Mission
(FFM) on the Killings of Leonard Co, Sofronio Cortez and Julius Borromeo.
A summary of these documents are available at www.justiceforleonard co.org
Aside from the conclusion that the team was shot on one side from a ridge,
another striking issue was the failure of the military unit involved in
the shooting to provide immediate medical attention to Julius Borromeo. He
was shot only once in his chest and could have lived had he been brought
to a hospital immediately. Borromeo actually lived on for around two hours
after he was shot. It was only at around two in the afternoon that they
were brought down to the nearby working pad 403 of the Energy Development
Corp. (EDC) together with the bodies and the survivor. Borromeo eventually
expired as he was brought to the pad.
Another important point was that nearly 20 hours elapsed after the
incident before the police SOCO team was able to access the site. The
police was not allowed to go to the site immediately since the military
said that there was a “hot pursuit operation” ongoing. The police SOCO
team was only able to go up to the site at around eight of the following
morning. Prior to this, only the military had access to the incident site
since the shooting. According to our interviews, no one from the staff of
the EDC was able to join the SOCO team. This failure of the police to
secure the site early is a glaring error and puts the reports of the SOCO
and the military into question. What happened during the 20 hours between
the incident and the arrival of the SOCO team?
Another point that the FFM team raised was that the EDC considers the area
around the pads as part of their regular work area. Co included the site
near pad 403 since he had visited the area already. In fact, the area
where the incident happened has been already part of a previous wildlife
survey done with the EDC. Since the EDC considers the site as part of the
work area, they do not usually inform the military about activities in
these places. However, the EDC claimed that they did inform the military
of Leonard Co’s itinerary on the day of the incident. On the other hand,
there is the claim of the military that they also informed the EDC about
their operations in the area. What kind of coordination did the EDC and
the military have in such situations?
As such, whether the incident site is still within the EDC work area is
still unclear. One of the FFM’s recommendations is for the EDC to make
public its security team’s spot report. They should clarify the protocols
for their communications and coordination with the military especially
that there are other research and survey activities that the EDC are still
conducting. The EDC, the 19th Infantry Battalion and the police should
make documents that would further shed light to the incident.
The FFM team is also concerned with the security and safety of the two
witnesses. As such, they should be provided safe sanctuary and be free
from harassment by those involved in the shooting.
Yesterday (December 15) marks one month of the killings in Kananga. We
lost a top caliber botanist who has given his talents for the Filipino.
The families of those who died lost their loved ones. In an article on
taxonomy entitled +gReviving the Lost Art of Naming the World+h by Carol
Kaesuk Yoon which appeared in The New York Times last August 10, 2009, it
was said that +gwithout the power to order and name life, a person simply
does not know how to live in the world, how to understand it.+h Although
we lost Leonard, who can put order to plants by naming them, we will not
lose sight of making sense of their death by seeing through this case to
obtain justice not only for Leonard but also for Sofronio Cortez and
Dr. Tapang is the chairman of AGHAM-Advocates of Science and Technology
for the People.
At the press conference held this morning at the UP Institute of Biology,
the FACT-FINDING MISSION-KANANGA KILLINGS, revealed that
* the direction of the bullet marks on the trees originated from a vantage
point on the ridge above Leonard Co and his team * the direction of fire
was concentrated on the area where Leonard and his 4 other companions were
standing * tree no.4 was hit three (3) times and the large tree were
Ronino Gibe hid had six (6) bullet marks in it, and * that there are no
bullet marks on the trees from the ground looking up to the ridge nor from
any other side except from the vantage position.
MANILA, Philippines - A scientists' group Agham has condemned the killing
of distinguished ethno-botanist Leonardo Co and two of his assistants and
called for an independent civilian investigation into the incident.
Co and 4 companions were conducting research work for the Energy
Development Corporation (EDC) in Upper Mahiao, Lim-ao, Kananga Leyte when
they were allegedly caught in the crossfire between an Army patrol and New
People's Army (NPA) guerrillas last Monday.
However, Agham chairperson Giovanni Tapang said the statements of the
survivors lead them to believe that no exchange of gunfire took place.
Given the vantage point and prior information of the soldiers, Tapang
thinks the killing resulted from the indiscriminate firing of troops
without any verification of their targets.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has insisted that a legitimate
encounter with the NPA took place. Lt. Col Federico Tutaan, commanding
officer of the 19th Infantry Batallion operating in Kananga Leyte, also
said that the rebels fired the first shot.
International Humanitarian Law (IHL) states that all parties to a conflict
must ensure at all times that civilians are protected. This includes the
responsibility to distinguish between combatants and civilians.
Republic Act 9851 or the Philippine Act on Crimes Against International
Humanitarian Law, Genocide, and Other Crimes Against Humanity, which took
effect this year, penalizes violations of IHL.
Agham hailed Co as one of a few remaining high-caliber taxonomists in the
"The loss of a scientist like Leonard Co, who has stayed in the country
despite other opportunities abroad, is saddening, but the circumstances of
his death makes it doubly worse," said Tapang.
AGHAM National Secretariat
P.O.Box 268 Araneta Center 1135 Cubao Quezon City Philippines
COMMUNITY HEALTH EDUCATION, SERVICES AND TRAINING
IN THE CORDILLERA REGION
( C H E S T C O R E )
Resurrection Cathedral Compound, 362 Magsaysay Avenue, Baguio City 2600
Tel. (074) 4422572/ Email: email@example.com
The Cordilleras cry out with grief over the loss of Leonard Co, a great
scientist who devoted a major part of his life to documenting the Region’s
medicinal plants and indigenous knowledge about their use in the book
Medicinal Plants of the Cordilleras. During the decade of the 1980s,
Leonard served as staff of the Community Health Education, Services and
Training in the Cordillera Region (CHESTCORE).
Leonard helped build community-based health programs among indigenous
peasant communities in the Mountain Province, Ifugao, Benguet, Abra and
Kalinga. He endured treacherous rides along rocky mountain roads and
trekked up many steep trails on foot to reach communities suffering
centuries of government neglect and lack of social services. He trained
local health workers on the use of medicinal plants and the practice of
acupuncture so they could attend to their community’s health needs.
Leonard was a living example of the practice of ‘science and health for
the people’. He refused to be confined to the university or the
laboratory. He patiently interviewed elders and traditional healers,
learning local culture and traditions. Drawing on his knowledge and
skills, he recorded and systematized the people’s collective knowledge and
practice on medicinal plants. He did not use this body of work for his own
personal career or economic advancement but instead offered it back for
the communities’ benefit and use. In fact, his contribution benefits not
only the Cordilleran communities but enriches the body of science and
health knowledge we can all draw upon.
It is but unfortunate that Leonard’s years of service to the people was
suddenly cut short by a few minutes of gunfire.
What happened to Leonard is not an isolated case. Many health
professionals working in farflung communities have been accused of aiding
or being members of the New People’s Army or the Communist Party of the
Philippines. Instead of being lauded as heroes for choosing to devote
their lives to community service and for opting to give up opportunities
for career advancement abroad or in private practice, many of them have
been harassed, arrested on false pretenses and even killed. Most prominent
examples include the killing of Dr. Bobby de la Paz in Samar, the summary
execution of Dr. Johnny Escandor who served in Bicol, the attempted
assassination of Dr. Chandu Claver in Kalinga and the arrest and continued
detention of the Morong 43.
We strongly condemn the killing of Leonard Co and two of his staff at the
hands of the Philippine Army’s 19th IB. We demand that justice be served
and those responsible not be allowed to hide behind the guise that Leonard
and his companions were “caught in the crossfire”.
We salute Leonard for being a people’s scientist and a health worker for
the people. Whenever a community health worker in the Cordilleras
prescribes medicinal plants or gives acupuncture treatment, we shall
remember Leonard and pay him the highest tribute by continuing his work
and his legacy. #
Nov. 15 began like any other
day for the families of Julio Borromeo and Sofronio Cortez. Borromeo was
even excited because his work with Leonardo Co would be his highest paying
job so far. But by the afternoon of that day, the lives of their families
KANANGA, LEYTE – It was not only
Glenda Co, wife of killed botanist Leonard Co, who lost a husband when
soldiers from the 19th Infantry Battalion (IB) allegedly fired at Co’s
team on that fateful day of Nov. 15 while Co was conducting work inside
the compound of the Lopez-owned Energy Development Corporation (EDC).
Teresa Borromeo, 45 and Arsenia Cortez, 52, also lost their husbands.
In a fact-finding mission led by the
progressive scientists’ group Agham held last Nov. 26 to 28 in Kananga,
Leyte, the wives of the two other victims, Julio Borromeo and Sofronio
Cortez, demanded justice. “We want justice. We cannot accept that they
died just like that,” Arsenia said.
Teresa said she does not believe
that her husband and the rest of Co’s team were caught in a gun battle
between the New People’s Army (NPA) and the 19th IB. “It is impossible.
All those who work for the EDC have their IDs and some have their
uniforms. How could the military mistakenly identify them as NPA?” said
Their lives were never the same
again, especially for Teresa. Her husband Julio is the only breadwinner of
the family and they have six children, the youngest is six years old.
Teresa Borromeo, 45 is not only grieving for the loss of her husband;
she does not know how to provide for the needs of their six children.
(Photo by Anne Marxze D. Umil / bulatlat.com)
For now, the EDC is supporting the
family. The company gave the family sacks of rice, said Estelita Bayo,
their godmother in their wedding. They live in barangay Tongonan, Ormoc,
Sofronio, on the other hand, was a
just bit well off. He was a regular employee of EDC for 26 years and
worked as a forest guard. He has three children, two of whom already
finished college and the youngest, 16, is already in fourth year high
school. The family lives in Baybay, Ormoc City.
Nov.15 was Julio’s first day working
with Co; it was also his first day to have a more gainful sideline. “His
work is per job order and is not regular. His work with Dr. Co was the
highest income that he would supposedly take home,” said Bayo. Julio was
supposed to bring home P200 ($4.46) a day for working as assistant to Co’s
team for five days.
It was an ordinary day for Julio and
Policarpio Balute, a local farmer. They were fetched by Danny Vituella, an
employee of EDC. Teresa said it was their usual routine whenever Borromeo
would receive a job order from EDC.
“He left early in the morning, around
seven o’clock. He did not even eat his breakfast. He was only wearing a
T-shirt and pants with his EDC identification card. He brought his
umbrella and a sack for the leaves they would supposedly gather,” Teresa
Sofronio, on the other hand, was
wearing long sleeves polo with an EDC logo and a raincoat also with EDC
logo. Arsenia said her husband was always wearing a uniform whenever he
worked in the forest within the EDC complex.
The Bad News
What seemed to be an ordinary day became a day of terror.
At about 4:00 p.m. of Nov. 15, Teresa
was fetched by Vituella. “He just said that there was a problem.”
Arsenia Cortez, 52, widow of Sofronio Cortez (Photo by Anne Marxze
D. Umil / bulatlat.com)
Arsenia, who just recovered from
sickness at that time, was fetched at about past 6:00 p.m. from their
house in barangay Hilapnitan, Baybay. “We were fetched here by two EDC
employees and a doctor because I just recovered from my illness at that
time and they thought that I would collapse upon hearing the news.”
After two hours of traveling, Teresa
saw the body of her husband at V. Rama Funeral House in Kananga. Her
husband’s body had gunshots in the chest.
Arsenia arrived at Kananga hospital
at about 8:00 p.m. but no one could tell her the news. “When we came,
nobody said anything and they were pointing at each other. Then I just
said, ‘What? Is Ponyong dead?’ Then I started crying and then we proceeded
to V. Rama where his body was.”
The EDC shouldered the funeral
expenses for the dead. The company also donated cash and has been giving
them food supplies.
Teresa is not only grieving for the
loss of her husband; she does not know how to provide for the needs of
their six children. “They are pitiful, especially the children,” said Bayo,
almost crying now.
Cortez’s family does not want to
comment on the case. They said they would only comment when the result of
the autopsy and forensic examination being conducted by pathologist Dr.
Raquel del Rosario-Fortun is released. But they demand justice and said
that the perpetrators should be punished.
“My husband was a kind man,” Teresa
said. “We want justice. We want the perpetrators to be held accountable
for killing my husband and his companions.”
Leonard;s book: Some Medicinal Plants of the
Remembering Leonard Co
by Rey Claro Casambre
(Leonard Co, one of the finest, if not the finest, botanists this country
has produced was killed yesterday while doing field research in Leyte in
what the military described a "crossfire" between the 19th IB of the
Philippine Army and the New People's Army (NPA). A survivor who witnessed
the shooting and barrio residents in the vicinity have since disputed the
army's claim, saying there were no NPAs in the area, and no one was
shooting back at the soldiers.)
I first met Leonard in 1975, when he was still in his third year as a
botany major in UP. He belonged then to a group of bright and dedicated
activists who were either undergrad majors or graduates of botany or
zoology. This group in turn was part of a larger network of Filipino
scientists and technologists who were all committed to using their
scientific and technical knowledge and skills to serve the Filipino
people. At that time, it meant being part of the Filipino people's
resistance against the Marcos dictatorship, and of their struggle for an
independent, genuinely democratic and just society.
The group to which Leonard belonged had decided to undertake a study of
medicinal plants in the Philippines, with the aim of eventually
contributing to the popularization of local herbal medicines and the
production of medicines from readily available and accessible materials.
This would greatly benefit the majority of Filipinos in the countrysides
where doctors and western medicines are scarce.
To this end, Leonard played a key and major role in the group's compiling
and publishing the first authoritative manual on medicinal plants. The
group worked on this diligently for at least five years, publishing the
mimeographed 8 1/2 x 13 "Manual on Some Philippine Medicinal Plants" in
1977. The manual was published in the name of the UP Botanical Society, to
which many in the group belonged.
As far as we know, this was a pioneering and seminal work. Not long
afterwards some botanists published printed and glossy books on Philippine
medicinal plants. But none of them could compare to the wealth of material
in the original 1977 Philippine Medicinal Plants manual.
Leonard was one of two highly expert field botanists in that group and was
the only one left after the other went abroad to study and work. He was
perfect for the job. While still an undergraduate doing field research,
Leonard had already discovered new species and varieties of Philippine
plants which were eventually credited to and named after the professors
under whom he worked. Even then, few could match, much less surpass,
Leonard's mastery of Philippine flora. Needless to say, Leonard was the
one in the group who would identify with certainty which medicinal plants
that were catalogued in other countries are also found in the country, and
in which particular area or forest in the Philippines. Undoubtedly, this
was his passion.
There was never a dull moment when Leonard was around, with the enthusiasm
with which he performed his duties in the group, his intense and
ever-active mind and his frequently troubled heart. In the groups meetings
and while working, there was always seriousness, punctuated with laughter,
interspersed with discussions of his courting woes, and garnished with
delicious chinese food (the family owned and ran a chinese restaurant in
After the Marcos dictatorship was overthrown, I met Leonard again only a
couple or so times. The last one was a few years back when my wife and I
chanced upon him outside his workplace at Pavilion 4 of Palma Hall at UP,
and he eagerly invited us in to a cup of excellent brewed coffee. While
showing us his bottled and catalogued collections, he related how he had
concentrated on his scientific endeavors, working with various NGOs and at
UP, and intimated how his constant field work and exposure to the
countryside has kept his aspirations for a just and free society alive and
MANILA, Philippines—Botanist and plant taxonomist Leonardo Co may have
trekked mountains, climbed trees and hiked through woods throughout
the country as he studied plant life, but there was one place he
returned home Saturday—the University of the Philippines in Diliman—accompanied
by members of his family, friends and coworkers who cried for justice
as they celebrated his life and his works, through which he would
continue to live.
in his coffin was conferred the honor of being displayed in front of
the UP Oblation, the iconic university statue depicting a naked man
facing upward with his arms outstretched.
officials and personnel, including chancellor Sergio Cao, welcomed
UP’s son home and paid tribute. UP President Emerlinda Roman was also
present earlier in the day.
“Leonard is a true son of UP,” said Perry Ong, a wildlife biologist
and Co’s friend. “One of your sons has returned, fulfilling the
exhortations of the Oblation to serve the people.”
Volley of gunfire
56-year-old Co and companions Sofronio Cortes and Julius Borromeo were
killed after allegedly being caught in a volley of gunfire between
soldiers and rebels in the forests of Kananga, Leyte, on Monday.
doubts have cropped up about this version of events, especially after
a witness said he did not hear answering gunfire. Investigations are
said Co always went back to the university, no matter where he went.
“Since he entered UP in 1972, he never left. No matter where he
worked, he always went back to the herbarium,” Ong said, referring to
the greenery of plants and herbs for which Co had essentially stood as
signify that Co will always be a part of UP, a third of his ashes
after cremation would be given to the UP Institute of Biology and
scattered under one of UP’s trees.
Book on medicinal plants
Another third would be scattered in Palanan, Isabela, the site of the
forest that he had studied so ardently. The rest would be with his
did not get his degree until 2008 since he was always out in the
field. He also holds the distinction of being the only BS Botany
graduate who did not submit a thesis. In lieu of a thesis, he
submitted his book on the medicinal plants of the Cordilleras.
Throughout the years, he was a constant presence in UP. Even without
any formal appointment papers, he worked there and attended faculty
meetings, and no one questioned his presence.
Colleagues still laud his expertise, saying that he could point to any
plant and handily give its scientific name and species.
was so dedicated a taxonomist that he named his young daughter Linnaei
Marie after the father of taxonomy, Carl Linnaeus.
Van Gogh of botany
would also live on in the Rafflesia leonardi, an endemic parasitic
plant species and one of the biggest flowers in the Philippines which
was named after him.
Julie Barcelona, a botanist who had named “one of the most beautiful
rafflesia” after Co, said that he had once told her that he felt like
he was the Van Gogh of botany.
worth and the things I have done will be appreciated more after I’m
dead,” Barcelona recalled Co as saying.
she said she made sure to let Co know that he was very much
to hear his colleagues and friends tell it, the presence of the
coffee-, cooking- and harmonica-loving Co was very valuable—as a
botanist and as a friend—when he was still alive.
Saturday, in tribute programs at the UP, they poured out their
gratitude for being part of his life.
‘Love letter to the world’
La Frankie, a scientist who had worked with Co, said the slain
botanist reminded him of the Mother Theresa remark that she was a
“little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love
letter to the world.”
“When I think of Leonardo, I remember him as a love letter to the
world,” La Frankie said.
said Co wanted to help and be part of something bigger than himself,
and was not a self-centered man.
a scientist, Co was excellent, he added. He was always a “truth teller
about plants, and everybody else was second place.”
Pot, Co’s childhood friend, recalled that the botanist passionately
wanted science to be relevant and to help people, hence his focus on
the medicinal uses of plants.
said that Co might not have gotten stellar marks in class, but what he
set out to accomplish proved far greater than what his other
was invited thrice to Harvard University, where his enthusiasm for
studying the Philippine flora was commended as remarkable, as attested
to by a letter from Emily Wood, senior collections associate of
Stuart Davies, of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, also
remembered Co as an industrious man who worked well into the night
documenting the plants he harvested.
Amoroso of the Central Mindanao University said Co always carried a
long stick for collecting specimen and always shared whatever he had
Mundita Lim of the Protected
Areas and Wildlife Bureau, wept as she recalled how Co, as well as
botanist Daniel Lagunzad, were her “secret weapons” whenever she
needed data about plants.
Emilio Sotalbo, retired director of the Campus Maintenance Office,
said Co was so persistent in going after specimen that he once climbed
up a tree quickly but once up, called for help in getting down.
Members of Co’s family recalled with amusement how the brilliant
botanist had a penchant for losing or breaking things such as cameras
or laptops, after which he would run to his family or friends for
his family indulged Co and allowed him to pursue what he wanted, since
he was the eldest and the only male among his siblings, according to
his brother-in-law Bobby Austria.
“You will all agree that genius thrives best in a nurturing
environment. That environment was his family,” Austria said.
Austria shared the family’s grief and frustration at the apparent lack
of action over the death of Co and his companions. He said what was
being reported were all “press releases.”
family wanted nothing less than justice, he said.
Conference delegates at Pavillon 4, Herbarium
welcome Leonardo Co to the UP
to Lenard by the UP Instittute of Biology ▼
Conference to present the report of the Fact Finding Mission to Kananga,
UP Institute of Biology
Dec. 8, 2010
A revolutionary tribute to a true people's scientist:
By SIMON "Ka Filiw" NAOGSAN
Spokesperson, Cordillera Peoples' Democratic Front
The Cordillera People's Democratic Front mourns with the family of slain
botanist Leonard Co and condemns in the strongest possible terms the 8th
Infantry Division (Armed Forces of the Philippines) for the killing of the
brilliant scientist and two other civilians in Kananga, Leyte.
Leonard Co is remembered by the people of the Cordillera as a brilliant
scientist who utilized his expertise to unselfishly respond to the needs
of the masses. During the many years he spent in the Cordillera, he lived
among the people of many communities and trekked through numerous
mountains and forests to gather, document, and study medicinal plants.
With his photographic memory, Leonard Co was like a walking encyclopedia.
Tribal elders remember his keen insights and immense contribution to their
knowledge, as well as his humor and exemplary humility in learning from
and teaching the masses.
One tribal elder recalls that Leonard Co urged him and other tribal elders
to "protect and defend your ancestral lands because it is not only rich in
gold and other mineral wealth but is also a vast source of indigenous
medicinal plants and other forest products." A tribal herbalist and elder
who usually accompanied Leonard Co to Mount Sisipitan once said, "the
usual two-hour hike from the nearest barrio to Mount Sisipitan took us a
whole day because Dr. Co would name all the plants along the way up to the
mountain. It was like being in a walking class room."
The results of Leonard Co's labor have greatly advanced community-based
rural health care in the Cordillera.
He worked with non-governmental development organizations and people's
organizations in addressing the health needs of the masses. He promoted
self-reliance and enriched tribal herbal medicinal knowledge with
scientific means. He helped pioneer the community-based processing of
herbal medicines into tablet and capsule form. With these, communities
were able to treat common diseases without relying too much on expensive
and not readily available prescription drugs.
His death at the hands of the military is a great loss to the Filipino
people. The CPDF extends to him the highest accolade and vows to continue
to defend the Cordillera ancestral lands in line with his call to preserve
the source of indigenous medicinal flora.
We join the family, colleagues, friends and the rest of the indigenous
people who had the privilege of working with Leonard Co, in demanding
immediate justice for the slain people's scientist. We demand the
immediate dismissal and criminal prosecution of all the officers and men
of the 8th ID, the 802nd Brigade and the 19th Infantry Battalion who are
responsible in the brutal murder of Co and his two companions.
With the murder of one of the country's top botanists and specialist in
plant taxonomy and ethno-botany, the challenge falls on his fellow
patriotic and pro-people scientists to follow in the footsteps of Leonard
Co and make science and technology truly serve the Filipino masses.
CPP honors Leonardo
The CPP honored
Leonardo Co for his great contribution to the classification of local
plant species and their medical benefits. Since the 1980s until his
death in the hands of the military, Co led the compilation of data for
the first authoritative manual of indigenous medicinal plants in the
Philippines. This compilation serves as an invaluable reference for
revolutionary and progressive health workers in providing training and
services to the masses, especially in the countryside.
Co was one of the founders of
Community Health, Education, Services and Training in the Cordillera
Region (Chestcore) in 1981. This organization conducted valuable work
among the national minorities in Cordillera and other places and in
systematizing the knowledge of the masses in the region about medicinal
plants for basic health care. It was able to document 122 medicinal
plants in the region complete with their scientific and common names,
descriptions, illustrations and their nutritional and medicinal values.
CPP condemns Nov. 15 Leyte massacre, urges
investigation by joint GRP-NDFP committee Communist Party of the Philippines
November 18, 2010
The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)
condemns in the strongest possible terms the Armed Forces of the
Philippines (AFP) and its Philippine Army 19th Infantry Battalion for the
Nov. 15 killing in Kananga, Leyte of one of the country's leading
botanists and two of his assistants.
University of the Philippines lecturer Dr. Leonard Co and his assistants
Sofronio Cortez and Julius Borromeo were killed after forces of the 19th
IB mistook them for armed guerrillas of the New Peoples' Army (NPA) and
fired at them while they were doing fieldwork at the edge of a forested
area of Kananga in cooperation with the Energy Development Corporation (EDC).
Two members of the team, Policarpio Batute and Ronino Gibe, survived the
massacre, while three others--students undergoing internship--remain
missing as of this writing.
To cover up for their crime, the 19th IB claimed that Co and company were
caught in an AFP-NPA crossfire. The 19th IB also claimed that they sent
their forces to the area in response to reports by the EDC about the
presence of NPA members--an allegation denied by EDC officials. Batute, a
local peasant who served as guide to Co's group and survived the carnage,
disputed the military claims, saying that there were no NPA guerrillas in
the vicinity and that the gunfire came only from the position of the AFP
forces. He said that the AFP soldiers did not even verify their targets
before shooting as soon as they arrived at the area and fired
indiscriminately for more than 15 minutes.
The CPP demanded the immediate pullout of the 19th IB from the area and
disciplinary measures for its officers and forces behind the massacre. The
CPP also demanded more severe measures against the 19th IB for past crimes
against humanity, pointing out that the same military unit was responsible
for several fascist atrocities in the past ten years, including the April
2003 mass torture and massacre of nine peasants in Kananga, Leyte and the
Nov. 21, 2007 massacre of ten peasants in Palo, Leyte.
"The officials and men of the 19th IB should immediately be demobilized,
disarmed and confined to barracks to ensure that the investigation of the
Nov. 15 massacre can be carried out smoothly and its perpetrators
subjected to criminal prosecution and punishment," said the CPP.
The CPP urged Co and his assistants' families, colleagues and friends to
file their complaints before the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) of the
Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines
(NDFP). The Aquino government should instruct the AFP to allow the JMC
unimpeded access to the area in order for it carry out a thoroughgoing
investigation into the massacre. The investigators should also determine
what became of the missing student-members of Co's team.
The CPP extended its deepest condolences to the family, collegues and
friends of the victims of this dastardly crime. It also paid tribute to
Co's work as one of the leading plant taxonomist in the Philippines.
"Since the early 1980s up to his killing, Leonard Co had been leading in
the painstaking work for the first authoritative compilation of
information on indigenous medicinal plants in the Philippines. The
compilation he had been coming out with has served as an invaluable
reference for revolutionary and progressive health workers in giving
medical training and services to the masses, especially in the rural
areas," said the CPP.
Co was the founder of the progressive community-based primary health care
organization Community Health, Education, Services and Training in the
Cordillera Region (Chestcore), way back in 1981. This organization
significantly helped in the medical training and primary health services
given to national minority communities in the Cordilleras and elsewhere
and in systematizing the indigenous communities' knowledge about medicinal
plants for their own primary health care. One of their achievements under
his leadership and tutelege was the listing and and documentation of 122
medicinal plants in the region with their scientific and common names,
descriptions, illustrations and nutritional and medicinal values.
Information Bureau, Communist Party of the Philippines, Press Release,
November 18, 2010
ADVOCATES OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY FOR THE PEOPLE (AGHAM)
P.O. Box 268 Araneta Center 1135 Cubao
Quezon City Philippines
T: +63 2 4343173
F: +63 2 9209099
Opinion/ Talk of the Town
HOW IT HAPPENED
Death of a botanist
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 18:43:00 12/25/2010
This is a reconstruction of events that led to the killings of University
of the Philippines botanist Leonardo Co, forester Sofronio Cortez and
farmer Julius Borromeo on November 15 allegedly by troops of the
Co and four of his
companions were conducting research on tree biodiversity in the
Manawan-Kananga Watershed in Leyte for the Lopez-owned Energy Development
Corp. They were collecting specimen seedlings of endangered trees for
The reconstruction of events was made by a 33-member fact-finding mission
organized by Agham-Advocates of Science and Technology for the People, a
group of mostly UP teachers and graduates. The mission gathered
testimonies and observations from people involved in the incident.
An Army unit claimed that Co, Cortez and Borromeo were killed in a
crossfire with the New People’s Army. But Agham said there was no
firefight, basing its conclusion on accounts of survivors.)
DAY OF SHOOTING
7 a.m.: Sofronio
Cortez left his home wearing a long-sleeved shirt and an Energy
Development Corp. (EDC) ID. He brought a backpack with him. Julius
Borromeo (who was wearing a brown T-shirt and yellow raincoat) and
Policarpio Balute, a guide, were fetched by a driver from EDC before
breakfast at around 7 a.m. Borromeo brought a sack with him (where food
and collected samples are placed). This was his first day for this job
Leonard Co and forester Ronino Gibe had breakfast at the canteen of the
Leyte Geothermal Plant Facility (LGPF) staff house.
8 a.m.: Co and
Gibe were fetched by a brown pick-up service vehicle and brought to the
Environmental Management Division (EMD) office where they talked to
Leonita P. Sabando. Co notified Sabando of the plan to go to Pad 403. [A
pad is a source of steam which a geothermal plant uses for electricity
Pad 403 is a good forest site for collecting samples, according to the
forest guards. Gibe went to the Community Partnership Department (CPD) and
asked about ilang-ilang seedlings and informed Ali Sulla about the trip to
8:30 a.m.: Co,
Gibe and Cortez visited the nursery at the LGPF from the EMD site. They
were joined here by Balute and Borromeo. At around this time, EDC said
that it informed the military through various channels about the team
going to Pad 403.
9 a.m.: The team
left the nursery and went to Pad 403 using the service vehicle.
At about 9:15 a.m.: The team went to Pad 411d from Pad 403 since Co was
not sure that this was the site he earlier visited.
At about 9:30
a.m.: Co and his team went back to Pad 403 upon checking the map of Gibe.
At about 9:50 a.m.: The team reached Tree 5-01 (mayapis), recorded its
location and marked the tree with orange paint as 5-01. Three meters away
was Tree 5-02 (Syzigium spp.) and Balute marked it 5-02. About 59 meters
away, the team found Tree 5-03 (tanguile) and walked around it.
At about 11 a.m.: It rained hard and Co decided to stop the survey. They
then planned to go back to the nursery. Cortez then texted the driver to
fetch the team.
At about 11:15
a.m.: Cortez received an SMS from the driver informing them that he was
already at Pad 403. However, the rain abated and Co suggested that they
continue to measure and survey the trees.
Balute was the one
measuring the diameter of the trees, Gibe was the one recording the data,
and Borromeo was in charge of bringing their food and other implements.
Cortez and Co were examining the trees and leaves and identifying the
At about 11:30
a.m.: The team walked a few meters to Tree No. 4 and was in the process of
deciding on its species by looking up at the leaves. The team had just
finished recording the statistics of Tree No. 4. Balute noticed that there
were fruit seeds on the ground. He also sensed that there were other
people in the area but continued with his work.
noon: On Gibe’s left was Borromeo. On Gibe’s right was Co then Cortez with
Balute at the back of the tree (in reference to Gibe). Gibe had just taken
the picture of the tree on his cell camera while Balute was about to
scrape the bark of the fourth tree to have it numbered when gunshots were
fired from where they were facing. The team was positioned at the front of
those who were shooting.
One by one, they
dropped to the ground and pleaded for the shooting to stop. Co shouted:
“Maawa kayo. Hindi kami kalaban.” Balute yelled “Hindi po kami kalaban.
Tama na po.” Gibe seconded these pleas by shouting the same.
But the gunfire
did not stop. They were sure that whoever was firing heard them as they
also heard one man from the group shooting at them saying: “Dia lang diay
mo!” (“Nandito lang pala kayo!”) As Balute described it, there was rapid
fire and some big explosions, causing the ground to shake.
At around noon: Balute decided to run away from the place and tried to
convince the others to follow him. He was thinking that if he would not
run, he would eventually die there. The four were still lying face down on
the ground with only tree branches and roots for cover.
Balute was able to
run away from the site because he was positioned at the back of a big
tree, unlike the others who had nothing for cover.
Co was crying and
complaining about his back. Cortez was still able to ask Co about his
condition, to which Co replied that he was shot in the back. Gibe crept
toward a large tree in front of him and hid behind its buttress. Gibe
tried to call for help from his cell phone but was not able to. The
gunfire lasted for 15 to 20 minutes.
The military said
that a 19th Infantry Battalion unit led by First Lieutenant [Ronald]
Odchimar chanced upon a unit of the New People’s Army (NPA) and exchanged
fire with it. The “crossfire” lasted for some 10 to 12 minutes. Asked to
characterize the exchanges, Lt. Col. Federico Tutaan said M16s were used
by the NPA. The firing was continuous for that period. He did not say if
there were other firearms used.
Shortly before this, Balute reached Pad 403 where he caught up with the
driver and had himself brought to the EDC office of the EMD. EDC received
an SMS from Gibe at 12:17 p.m. From Gibe’s affidavit, the SMS was: “2long
pinagbabaril po kami near 411d.” This was sent to Ali Sulla of the CPD in
12:30 p.m.: An SMS
from Sulla was received on Co’s phone saying “Sir gud am, may encounter
daw dyan ali muna kayo.” At around this time, Balute arrived in the EMD
office and informed EDC about the shooting. This was EDC’s first
confirmation of the incident. EDC then dispatched a vehicle to go to Pad
Another SMS was received on Co’s phone from Sabando, “Sir Lenard, Nino ds
s lps. per security advise, pull out fr area immediately.”
advanced closer to Co and the others who were then still lying face down
on the ground. They approached the team from both sides. The soldiers were
wearing camouflaged uniforms. Some of them approached Gibe who was then
behind the buttress of a big tree.
At around this
time, the EDC vehicle would have arrived at Pad 403. Gibe decided to break
cover and identify himself. A soldier ordered him to come out while
pointing a gun at him and saying: “May isa pa palang buhay dito.” Gibe
raised his arms while asking for help for his companions. The others were
not responding, except for Borromeo who was lying down and moaning.
One soldier said,
“Wala na. ’Di na aabot sa ospital kasama mo.” This soldier then asked him
about his two other armed companions and asked Gibe to show his weapons.
Gibe denied that he or any of his four companions had arms. He said that
one was able to escape and he knew that he had no weapons with him.
One soldier said:
“P... ina, natalay tayo!” The soldier talking to Gibe ordered him to lie
face down and close his eyes. Gibe complied as the soldier said that the
former should not look at him and his companions. They saw the GPS unit
and cell phone and took these from Gibe. The soldier ordered him to be
still and silent while Gibe was continually asking for pity and help for
The soldiers then asked Gibe to identify himself and his group’s purpose
in the area. Gibe answered that they were employees of EDC and he showed
them his identification card. “Ako po si Ronino Gibe, taga Los Baños,
Laguna, taga-EDC po ako at kasama ko po si Sir Leonard Co, UP professor po
siya. Si Kuya Ponyong po EDC employee dito sa Leyte Geothermal.”
The soldier then
asked Gibe about his engineer’s notebook, Co’s notes, GPS unit and map.
Gibe answered that the team was doing a survey of the location of the
trees. The soldier asked him further about the sketch that Co’s team had
of the area. Gibe explained that they were marking the areas where they
can get seeds, seedlings and wildings, and pointed to the group’s sack
with the collected samples.
The soldier asked
Gibe about his group’s contact and Gibe replied that he was part of EDC
and his contact was Sabando from the EMD and Sulla from the CPD. The
soldier stopped his interrogation but Gibe continued to plead. The soldier
told him to keep quiet: “Wag kang maingay! Ligtas ka na!”
Minutes before 1 p.m.: Gibe saw Borromeo bleeding and heard him say that
he was hit near the heart. Borromeo was asking the soldiers that they go
down. Gibe shouted for help but no one from the soldiers answered.
Borromeo was still able to ask Gibe about the latter’s condition before
the soldiers berated Gibe to stop talking.
1:44 p.m.: At this
point, Tutaan received an SMS from his higher ups to do a medivac
immediately. Upon his receipt of the ground report, Tutaan said that he
had already ordered a medivac.
At about 2 p.m.: For about two hours, Gibe was lying face down. He saw
some soldiers meeting at a distance. He was then asked to stand up. A
soldier then repeated the earlier questions posed to Gibe on his group’s
purpose and coordination. The soldier asked Gibe if he knew of the
military’s operation in the area and mentioned that the military had two
companions who were killed [“at nalagasan kami ng dalawang kasama”].
Gibe answered in
the negative and said that the team was with Cortez who was an EDC
employee and that he knew that they had prior coordination with EDC. The
soldier asked again about his contact and Gibe repeated that he was part
of EDC and his contacts were Sabando and Sulla.
A soldier asked Gibe: “Imposible naman na hindi nyo nakita yung tatlong
tao na may mga armas? Thirty minutes na kaming nagoobserba na
Gibe said that his
group did not see anyone and kept on asking for help for Borromeo.
The military then gave first aid to Borromeo, who heard them call his
condition peklat. Gibe asked for his cell phone and this was when he got
to talk to Sabando and relay details of the incident.
The soldiers then ordered Gibe to get up and proceed to Pad 403 near the
Mahi-aw plant. Borromeo was laid down on a sack and brought down by the
soldiers. Gibe was showing the tree markings they made along the way down
to Pad 403.
At about 3 p.m.:
Gibe saw the vehicles of EDC arrive together with an ambulance at Pad 403.
He boarded a service vehicle of EDC and was brought to Osfa Hospital in
Ormoc City. He heard that Borromeo died at the pad. The soldiers then
brought down the bodies of Co and Cortez to Pad 403. EDC then brought the
bodies to V. Rama Funeral Homes.
At about 4 p.m.:
Tutaan declared the site a “no-crisis zone” but mopping-up operations by
the military continued after that.
4:30 p.m.: The
chief of police, a certain Senior Inspector Camacho, learned of the event
from the Kananga vice mayor. He confirmed the information from the 19th IB
but the police were not allowed access to the site “kasi may hot pursuit
NOV. 16: The police Soco team was able to do a site visit only at this
time. EDC did not join the police team.
NOV. 17: EDC was able to access the site.
Kung ano ang sinasabi ng mga puno ng Kananga sa
pagpatay kina Leonardo Co
Posted By Kenneth Roland A. Guda
December 8, 2010
Nakatingala sila sa isang puno, pinagmamasdan ang mga dahon, tanghaling
tapat ng Nobyembre 15.
Nasa isang masukal na gubat sa Kananga, Leyte ang field work team ni
Leonardo Co. Isang tanyag na taxonomist – o siyentistang nagkaklasipika ng
mga tanim at puno – si Leonard. Nangongolekta sila ng seedlings ng mga
puno sa lugar. Pangkaraniwang gawain na ito ng mga siyentistang tulad niya.
Kasama niya ang kanyang mga guide at katuwang sa pananaliksik na sina
Sofronio “Ponyong” Cortez, Julius “Oyong” Borromeo, Policarpio “Carping”
Balute, at Ronino “Niño” Gibe. Nasa gitna sila ng munting palaisipan:
Tanguile ba o isang specie ng Shorea ang punong tinitingala? Nalito sila,
dahil may nakitang terminal bud ng Shorea sa ibaba ng puno. Pero mukha
namang Tanguile, isang tanyag na hardwood, ang puno.
Nakatingala sila sa isang puno, pinagmamasdan ang mga dahon, nang
magsimula ang pamamaril.
Interogasyon habang agaw-buhay
Nang matapos ang pamamaril, natagpuang patay ang tanyag na taxonomist na
si Leonard. Gayundin sina Ponyong at Oyong. Nakatakas, pero may malalim na
sugat sa kalooban, sina Carping at Niño.
Mula sa mga pahayag ni Carping sa midya, sinumpaang salaysay ni Niño na
sinumite sa Commission on Human Rights, gayundin sa pag-aaral ng isang
independiyenteng fact-finding team na pinamunuan ng grupong Agham (Science
and Technology for the People), maaaring mabuo ang mga sirkumstansiya ng
Tatlong araw na silang nasa field work noong Nobyembre 15. Sakop ng
operasyon ng isang geothermal plant ng Energy Development Corporation o
EDC sa Kananga ang lugar ng pag-aaral nina Leonard. Dating pinatatakbo ng
Philippine National Oil Company na pag-aari ng gobyerno, ngayo’y isang
pribadong kompanyang pag-aari ng pamilyang Lopez ang EDC.
Tamang tama, konsultant ng EDC sa biodiversity si Leonard, kung kaya may
akses siya sa kagubatang kinasasakupan ng operasyon ng planta. Nandoon
siya para mangolekta ng seedlings ng mga matatayog na puno sa bahaging ito
Nakatingala sila sa isang puno, inaaral ang mga dahon, nang may magpaputok
sa likod ng grupo. Agad na nakatago si Niño. Sa lumabas na mga pahayag
niya sa midya, sinabi naman ni Policarpio na nakatakbo siya. Pero sina
Leonard, Sofronio at Julius ang tinamaan. Mula sa mga pahayag nina Niño at
Policarpio, mistulang pinaulanan sila ng bala. Parang umaangat ang lupa,
anila, sa pagtalop ng bala sa lupa. Tumatalsik ang balat ng puno. Habang
nakadapa, hindi maiangat ni Niño ang kanyang ulo sa takot na madaplisan ng
Nang matapos ang pagpapaputok – 20 minutos iyon, bagamat ayon sa militar
ay 10 hanggang 12 minuto lamang – lumapit ang mga sundalo. Kinuwestiyon si
Niño: Nasaan na ang mga kasamahan n’yong armado? Bakit nandito kayo? Bakit
may drowing kayo ng lugar? Bakit may GPS kayo? Lumalabas na tumagal
mahigit isang oras ang pagtatanong.
Hawak ng isang miyembro ng FFM Team ang karatulang tumutukoy sa isang
clearing sa ibaba bilang "Pad 403", ang lugar na pinagbabaan sa tatlong
namatay matapos ang pamamaril. Ang tinutungtungang ito ng miyembro ng FFM
Team ay ilang metro lang mula sa unang puno na minarkahan nina Leonard.
Mahihinuha sa larawan kung gaano kalapit ang pinangyarihan ng pamamaril
kina Leonard sa isang clearing, kung kaya lalong nakakapagduda kung bakit
tumagal nang higit isang oras ang militar bago ibaba ang mga namatay. (KR
Hawak ng isang miyembro ng FFM Team ang karatulang tumutukoy sa isang
clearing sa ibaba bilang "Pad 403", ang lugar na pinagbabaan sa tatlong
namatay matapos ang pamamaril. (KR Guda)
Ibinaba sila, alas-dos na ng hapon. Binitbit sila ng mga sundalo, at
ibinaba sa nalalapit na pad (isang sementadong clearing na dinebelop ng
EDC), tinatawag na “Pad 403,” at doon naghihintay na ang mga tauhan at
sasakyan ng EDC.
Pumanaw na sina Leonard noon. Patay na rin si Ponyong. Ngunit sugatan pa
si Oyong, ayon mismo sa militar. Dumadaing pa umano si Oyong, matapos ang
putukan. Posibleng dahil isang oras pa ang lumipas, isang oras pang
nagsagawa ng interogasyon ang militar, pumanaw din malaon si Oyong.
Mula sa Pad 403, sa pagitan ng alas-dos at 4:30 ng hapon, dinala ng
sasakyan ng EDC at ilang sundalo ang tatlong bangkay sa himpilan ng
pulisya para ipa-blotter ang kaganapan. Mula sa himpilan, dinala sa
ospital para ideklarang patay, at saka dinala sa punerarya.
Di agad nakapag-imbestiga ang pulis at Leyte SOCO sa lugar ng insidente.
Ayon kay Senior Insp. Joel Camacho, hepe ng PNP sa Kananga, kinabukasan ng
alas-11 ng umaga na unang naimbestigahan ang lugar at nakapagsagawa ng
forensic examination sa lugar ang SOCO. Dahil umano ito sa “hot pursuit
operations” na ginagawa pa ng militar noong hapon ng Nobyembre 15, matapos
mabaril sina Leonard.
Tanyag na tao
Tulad ng matatayog na puno ng Kananga ang reputasyon ni Leonard bilang
siyentista. Ito marahil ang dahilan kung bakit nakuha ng pagkamatay niya
ang atensiyon ng midya at publiko.
Nobyembre 17 na nang lumabas sa midya ang insidente, matapos ihayag ng
militar sa midya ang kanilang bersiyon sa pangyayari. “Naipit” sa isang
engkuwentro – isang “chance encounter” pa nga raw – ang grupo ni Leonard.
Ayon kay Lt. Col. Federico Tutaan, kumander ng 19th Infantry Battalion ng
Philippine Army na siyang may sakop sa operasyon ng militar doon,
Nobyembre 12 pa lamang ay nakakuha na sila ng impormasyon na may mga
rebeldeng New People’s Army (NPA) sa lugar na ito ng EDC.
“It was a battalion operation,” paliwanag ni Tutaan, nang kapanayamin ng
naturang fact-finding team (kasama ang Pinoy Weekly) na pumunta sa Kananga
sa basbas ng pamilya ni Leonard noong Nob. 27. Ayon kay Tutaan,
nagsasagawa ng operasyon ang kanyang tropa sa lugar magmula Nobyembre 14.
(Araw mismo ito na nagdeklara ang Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) ng
“unofficial ceasefire” para mapanood ng mga sundalo sa telebisyon ang
laban sa boksing ni Manny Pacquiao kay Antonio Margarito.)
Isang squad mula sa naturang batalyon ang nagkataong nakakita sa “di
bababa sa 10” miyembro raw ng NPA.
Isang oras na umanong minamanmanan ng mga tropa ng 19th IB, sa pangunguna
ng isang 1Lt. Ronald Odchimar, ang mga rebeldeng umaali-aligid sa isang
lugar. Pumwesto sa isang “mataas, natatago, at superyor” na posisyon ang
mga militar. Una pa raw na nagpaputok ang mga rebelde.
Hindi nakatitiyak si Tutaan na hindi mga tropa niya ang nakapatay kina
Leonard. Pero matitiyak daw ito sa autopsy ng mga bangkay, gayundin sa
ballistic at forensic investigation sa lugar at mga baril na isinumite ni
Tutaan sa Scene of the Crime Operatives ng Philippine National Police at
sa National Bureau of Investigation. Iyon ay kung mismong mga baril na
ginamit sa operasyon ang isinumite ni Tutaan sa mga imbestigador.
“Isang playground kasi ng NPA ang lugar,” sabi ni Tutaan. Bagamat di umano
makapagkampo ang mga rebelde sa lugar dahil sa lapit nito sa battalion
camp ng 19th IB, “frequent” (madalas) umano na nakikita ang NPA doon –
nanghaharas sa kanilang mga tropa, nagbabanta sa planta.
At bagamat nakikipag-ugnayan ang 19th IB sa mga operasyon nito sa lugar,
hindi raw alam ng EDC na may operasyon ang militar sa panahong bago
napaslang sina Leonard.
Pinabubulaanan ito ni Tutaan, dahil “shared information” naman daw sa
pagitan ng militar at EDC ang mga tulad nito. Hindi man nila tuwirang
sinabihan ang EDC sa kanilang aktuwal na operasyon sa lugar, nakatitiyak
siyang alam ng EDC ito.
Sinabi naman sa midya ni Lt. Gen. Ralph Villanueva, hepe ng Central
Command ng AFP kung saan nakapasailalim ang 19th IB, na nasa lugar ang
tropa ng Army para “unahan” (preempt) ang NPA na ayon sa “intelligence
sources” umano ng Army ay nagbabalak daw na atakihin ang mga instalasyon
Itinatanggi naman ito ng EDC. Hindi umano nila alam na may operasyong
nagaganap sa araw na iyon.
Itinanggi rin ng EDC na may madalas na nakikitang NPA sa erya. Ayon kay
Manuel Paete, plant manager ng geothermal plant ng EDC sa Leyte, taong
2005 pa huling nagkaulat ng presensiya ng NPA sa mga lugar na sinasakupan
ng planta. May sariling puwersang panseguridad (pinamumunuan ng dating mga
militar din) ang planta, at maraming checkpoint sa mga kalsada sa loob
Noong mga araw at linggo bago ang pangyayari, wala silang nabalitaan,
nalaman, o nakitang grupo ng mga rebelde sa kanilang lugar.
Ilegal na pagtotroso
Bakit nagsasagawa ng mga operasyong militar ang 19th IB sa lugar ng
operasyon ng EDC, gayong may sarili namang puwersang panseguridad ang huli?
Ayon kay Tutaan, mahalagang instalasyon ang planta sa Kananga. Pangalawang
pinakamalaking geothermal plant ito sa buong mundo, at nagsusuplay ng
kuryente sa Leyte, Cebu, Bohol, Negros, Panay, Biliran, Siquijor, Samar at
ilang bahagi ng Southern Luzon. Presidente at chief executive officer ng
EDC si Paul Aquino, tiyuhin ni Pang. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III at
nangungunang strategist ni Aquino noong panahon ng kampanya.
“Kasama sa mandato ng yunit (namin) ang pag-secure sa vital
installations,” ani Tutaan. At bagamat may sariling puwersang panseguridad
ang EDC, “we (Army) have to secure the general area of EDC.” Ibig sabihin,
ang 107,625 ektaryang bundok at lupaing sakop ng operasyon ng planta.
Naiuulat din sa Kananga ang malaganap na ilegal na pagtotroso sa masukal
na kagubatan dito. Ayon sa State of Local Government Report na inilabas ng
Department of Interior and Local Government noong 2009 hinggil sa
kalagayan ng forest ecosystems sa Kananga: “Forest resources and wildlife
habitat are at risk; Incidence of large-scale illegal logging is high.
Forest resources and wildlife habitat are severely at risk.”
Ayon kay Dr. Pacencia Milan, beteranong ecologist, dating presidente ng
Visayas State University sa Baybay, Leyte, at kaibigan ni Leonard, laganap
ang mga ulat ng ilegal na pagtotroso sa kagubatan malapit sa lugar ng
insidente. Nababalita rin ng ilang impormante niya na may mga militar na
nagpoprotekta umano sa mga operator ng ilegal na pagtotrosong ito. Pero
wala siyang paraan para makumpirma ang impormasyong ito.
Gayunman, ilegal na pagtotroso rin kaya ang dahilan kung bakit nagsasagawa
ng mga operasyong militar ang 19th IB sa lugar? Sabi ni Tutaan, wala
siyang alam na nagsasagawa ng illegal logging sa mismong lugar ng
pagkamatay nina Leonard. Gayunman, alam nilang may nag-oopereyt na illegal
loggers “sa kabilang erya…sa bandang kanan.”
Katunayan, isang linggo bago ang pamamaril kina Leonard, may nahuli
umanong ilegal na mga mangtotroso sa lugar na ito – pero di niya alam kung
sino ang nahuli o ano ang nasamsam ng Department of Environment and
Natural Resources at ilang elemento ng Army.
Pero sa pagkukuwento niya, mukhang maraming alam sa pagtotroso si Tutaan.
Isinalarawan niya sa fact-finding team kung ano ang hitsura ng pinuputol
na troso: “Pag puputulin ang puno, at tumayo ka, di ba bilog ang makikita
mo? (Cross-section ng puno.) Yung bilog na yun, kasya [ang tao] dun!”
Samantala, sinabi ng mga kaanak ni Ponyong sa FFM Team na napag-alaman
nilang may aabot sa 30 kataong rattan cutters (namumutol ng puno ng
rattan) na diumano’y pinayagan ng EDC na gumala at mamutol ng puno ng
rattan sa may lugar ng insidente, isang linggo bago ang mga pamamaslang.
Paliwanag ni Anthony Arbias, kapwa opisyal ni Leonard sa Philippine Native
Plants Conservation Society at isa sa mga miyembro ng FFM Team, mahalagang
bahagi sana ng conservation at reforestation sa mga kagubahatang tulad ng
sa Kananga ang isinasagawa ng grupo ni Leonard. Iyong kinokolekta nilang
seedlings ang maaaring magamit para mapatubo at mapalaki sa nursery at
kalauna’y maitanim sa mga bahagi ng gubat na nakakalbo na.
May engkuwentro ba talaga o wala? May rebelde ba talagang umaaligid sa
mismong laylayan ng geothermal plant ng EDC sa Kananga, Leyte noong
Nobyembre 15? Mahalagang sagutin ang mga tanong na ito, para malaman kung
sino ang responsable sa pagkamatay nina Leonard, Ponyong at Oyong.
Sa pahayag ng National Democratic Front-Eastern Visayas (NDF-EV), ang
pampulitikang organisasyon ng mga rebelde, sinabi ng tagapagsalita nito na
si Fr. Santiago Salas na “improbable” (malayo sa posibilidad) na namatay
sina Leonard sa palitan ng putok sa pagitan ng NPA at mga tropa ng 19th IB.
“The NPA camps are well-hidden and highly secure areas inaccessible to
most, and an NPA unit on maneuvers also stays away from civilians to
maintain secrecy and to avoid endangering them,” ani Salas.
Pinuntahan ng fact-finding team ang mismong site ng insidente. Nakita ng
team ang matatayog na mga punong pinag-aralan nina Leonard. Nakita nito
ang marka na iniwan nina Leonard sa unang tatlong puno. Nakita rin nito
ang punong hinahandang markahan at tinitingala ng lima bago pagbabarilin.
Nakita rin ng fact-finding team ang isang nalalapit na mataas na posisyon.
Isang ridge ito na tinatayang aabot sa 40 metro ang layo sa punong
tiningala nina Leonard. Sa pag-akyat sa ridge na ito, tanaw ang punong
huling sinusuri nina Leonard. Bagamat may kalayuan (tantiya ni Tutaan, 30
hanggang 40 metro ang layo), kitang kita sina Leonard. May “clear shot”
ang sinumang nasa puwestong ito, ika nga.
Sa mahigit isang oras ng pagmamasid at pagdodokumento, napansin din ng
team na lahat ng nakitang pinaghihinalaang marka ng bala (pinaghihinalaang
tama ng mga bala sa mga puno) ay galing sa isang direksiyon lamang. Ang
kabilang bahagi ng mga punong may tama ng bala sa isang direksiyon ay
“Sa ating initial findings mula sa fact-finding mission, (lumalabas na)
isang side lang ang pinanggalingan ng mga bala doon sa pagpunta sa
crime-scene. Isang indikasyon ito na walang crossfire na nangyari,” ani
Dr. Giovanni Tapang, propesor ng physics sa Unibersidad ng Pilipinas,
tagapangulo ng Agham at isa sa mga pinuno ng misyon. “Dito sa ating
pagtantiya sa physical evidence na ito, makikita nating sina Leonard Co na
gumagawa lamang ng isang tree survey sa malapit sa Pad 403 ng EDC ay
tinamaan ng bullets na nanggaling sa ridge.”
Lumalabas na may ilang inconsistencies din sa kuwento ni Tutaan. Sinabi
kasi niya sa fact-finding team, na “nasa harap ng mga tropa ang kalaban (NPA),
nasa kanan (ng militar) sina Co.” Direktang nasa harap ng ridge ang punong
iniimbestigahan noon nina Leonard. Kung sinasabi ng militar na nasa harap
nila noon ang pinaghihinalaang mga NPA, mukhang sina Leonard iyong
Malakas ang posibilidad, kung gayon, na napaghinalaan ng mga militar na
NPA sina Leonard kung kaya pinaputukan.
Dahil ba may dala ang dalawa sa kanila na mahahabang itim na payong na
maaaring pagkamalang baril sa malayo? Dahil ba paboritong sumbrero ni
Leonard ang isang sumbrerong may star sa gitna – sumbrerong karaniwang
sinusuot ng mga lider-rebelde, at pinasikat ng mga rebolusyonaryong lider
sa ibang bansa na sina Che Guevara at Mao Zedong? Ang mga sundalo lamang
na mismong nagpaputok ang tiyak na makasasagot.
Pero sa ngayon, nananatiling nasa proteksiyon sila ng 19th IB. Iginigiit
ng kanilang kumander na si Lt. Col. Tutaan na engkuwentro ang naganap.
Samantala, kung mayroon mang rebelde sa maulang araw na iyon noong
Nobyembre 15, walang ibang nakakita kundi sila.
Di nakita ng EDC, ng sanlaksang mga guwardiya nito, na nagbabantay sa mga
checkpoint, at huling nakabalita ng di-kumpirmadong presensiya ng NPA noon
pang 2005. Di rin alam ng mga manggagawa ng EDC, na nagtatrabaho sa
geothermal wells na matatagpuan malapit sa lugar ng insidente. Di rin alam
ng pulisya, sa pangunguna ni Senior Insp. Camacho, na tila ayaw magsalita
ng taliwas sa sinasabi ng militar, nang kapanayamin ng fact-finding team.
Higit sa lahat, di alam nina Leonard, Ponyong, Oyong, Carping at Nino. Sa
salaysay pa nga nina Nino at Carping, wala silang nakitang ni anino ng
rebelde. Sa obserbasyon nila, mula sa iisang direksiyon ang mga bala.
Ayon sa ilang nakakilala sa kanya, makaranasang siyentista si Leonard.
“Hindi siya nagte-take ng risks,” kuwento ni Dr. Milan. Malamang daw na
pumunta si Leonard sa kagubatang iyon ng Kananga dahil sigurado siya at
ang kanyang team sa kanilang seguridad. Sigurado siyang ligtas siyang
makakapagsarbey ng mga puno.
Posibleng magamit sana ang mga kaalamang nakuha ni Leonard doon para sa
reforestation ng Leyte, na maraming beses nang sinapitan ng trahedya (Ormoc
noong 1991 at Guinsaugon noong 2006) dahil diumano sa mga nakakalbong
Noong araw na iyon, tumitingala sina Leonard hindi lamang sa mga puno.
Mistulang tumitingala sila sa kinabukasan ng Leyte, sa maaaring magawa
para mapaunlad ang nanganganib na kagubatan dito. Tulad ng biglaang
pagbuwal ng mga illegal logger sa mga puno ng Leyte, biglaang nabuwal ng
bala sina Leonard, Ponyong at Oying noong tanghaling iyon ng Nobyembre 15.
Fact Finding Mission to Kananga, Leyte
November 26 - 28, 2010
Snapshot 2008-08-27 17-24-08.tiff
KALIKASAN PEOPLE’S NETWORK FOR THE ENVIRONMENT
26 Matulungin St. Central Dist., Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines, 1100
Tel./Fax; +63 (2) 924-8756; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
19 November 2010
Scientists and environmentalists cry justice for slain renowned
taxonomist Leonard Co
Colleagues, students, scientists, environmentalists and human rights
workers held a tribute and symbolic action to call on justice for the
killing of Leonardo Co, arguably the top plant taxonomist in the country,
and his two companions allegedly by the elements of the Armed Forces of
"We condemn in the strongest terms the killing of distinguished
ethno-botanist Leonardo Co and his companions, Sofronio Cortez and Julius
Borromeo. The foul up of the military has caused a great loss not only to
the scientific community but also to the cause of environmental
conservation in the country." said Giovanni Tapang, chairperson of AGHAM
Advocates of Science and Technology for the People.
Last November 15, 2010, Leonardo Co was conducting a biodiversity research
commissioned by Lopez-owned Energy Development Corp (EDC) in the Manawan
Kananga Watershed in Leyte, along with four other companions when alleged
members of the Philippine Army 19th Infantry Battalion (IB) under the
802nd Infantry Brigade shot at the team.
Leonard Co, Sofronio Cortez, a forest guard of the EDC-Environmental
Management Division, and Julius Borromeo, a member of the Tongonan Farmers
Association (ToFA) were killed while Policarpio Balute, a ToFA member, and
Roniño Gibe, a contractual forester of EDC’s corporate social
responsibility department, survived the assault.
"We hold the military under the command of Lt. Col. Federico Tutaan
responsible for the killing of innocent civilians. Tutaan himself admitted
that the soldiers have the vantage position and started the firefight.
They did not conduct desired protocols to validate and secure the presence
of civilians in the area, especially since the environmental research team
was said to have gotten clearance from the military to conduct a
research," said Tapang.
Earlier reports said that the team was caught between a crossfire between
the New People's Army rebels and military. However, witnesses and
survivors recount that the shots came only from one direction raising
question to the real events surrounding the incident.
"We are calling on President Aquino and the Commission on Human Rights to
conduct an immediate, thorough and independent investigation of the case
and hold accountable the perpetuators," said Tapang.
Representatives of Bayan Muna Partylist and Anakpawis partylist have
already filed a resolution for the immediate investigation of the killing
of Leonardo L. Co and and his comapanions.
"it is saddening how a brilliant scientist, who chose to work in the
country and advocated for the conservation of our environment despite the
plenty of opportunities abroad met a fate such as this. We scientists and
researchers always put safety first in our fieldwork. Leonard knew this
and would not have gone there if there was a question on security, so the
killing was definitely a fault of another party. We avow to pursue justice
and the truth behind this killing," said Perry Ong, colleague of Co,
director of the Institute of Biology, College of Science, UP Diliman.
The symbolic action and press conference was attended by various
environmental and science groups, students, colleagues and friends of
Leonard Co and was held in the Institute of Biology University of the
They also launched a petition campaign to add pressure to concerned
government bodies to address the issue immediately. Concerned individuals
can sign the online petition at www.agham.org/justiceforleonardco.
The groups will be holding a tribute later in the evening at Funeraria de
la Paz , where the body of Co lies and join the march tomorrow at UP
Reference: Giovanni Tapang, chairperson AGHAM, 09275736714.
Dr. Perry Ong, director Institute of Biology, College of Science,
KALIKASAN People's Network for the Environment
is a network of people's organizations (POs), non-governmental
organizations (NGOs) and environmental advocates. It believes that the
struggle for the environment is a struggle of the people, thus all
environmental action shall have the interest of the majority at their
Streetwise | BusinessWorld
Leonard Co, unarguably one of the
country’s foremost botanists and biodiversity experts, as well as an
indefatigable conservationist, was killed in a forested area in Kananga,
Leyte last Monday, together with two of his companions, while undertaking
scientific explorations under the auspices of the Energy Development
Corporation. Two others survived.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)
immediately claimed that the three killed were “collateral damage” in a
legitimate military operation against rebel New People’s Army (NPA) who
had been sighted in the area.
More than seven years ago, also in
Kananga town, nine civilians were reported by Tacloban human rights groups
and people’s organizations to have been tortured and massacred by soldiers
of the 19th Infantry Battalion under the command of Lt. Col. Oscar Lactao,
dubbed the “Palparan of Leyte”. The AFP reported the incident as an
“encounter with the NPA”.
Human rights groups decried that
eight of the victims were shot in the head, at close range, and that there
was evidence of torture as shown by scald burns found on the victims’
bodies. Among the dead were Eugenio Tazan, 54-year-old peasant leader of
the San Isidro Small Farmers Association, and 24-year-old Rowena Superior
of the Bagalungon Small Farmers Association, who was three months
pregnant. Four others killed were minors with ages ranging from 13 to 17.
In another infamous case in Palo,
Leyte on Nov 21, 2005, a group of farmers resting by a make-shift
warehouse before they start work on their plots were viciously attacked by
elements of the 19th IB.
Hurling five grenades and firing
continuously for 30 minutes, the soldiers killed seven farmers, including
a pregnant woman, and wounded several others. Not satisfied, the soldiers
hit the survivors with rifle butts, forcing them to confess they were
armed and members of the NPA. Failing to extract confessions, the soldiers
brought in a sack of old rifles and claimed these belonged to the farmers,
in the same fashion that the 16th IB PA planted firearms and explosives as
evidence against the Morong 43 early this year.
As in most cases of human rights
violations in the rural areas, the planners and perpetrators of the
Kananga and Palo massacres remain unpunished despite numerous evidence and
testimonies. The victims being ordinary folk have been consigned to
oblivion, just another statistic in the government’s counter-insurgency
drive, as “rebels” who had been properly “neutralized” or as “collateral
Apparently, this is what the AFP
wants to happen in the case of Co and the two other victims, forest guard
Sofronio Cortez, and farmer Julius Borromeo, who were acting as Co’s
assistants. But since the military cannot impugn the character of Co nor
raise questions about the legitimacy of his group’s presence in the virgin
forest surrounding the EDC geothermal facility, their claim is that the
victims were killed in the supposed crossfire between clashing soldiers
Unfortunately for the AFP, such
claims are being belied by the two survivors of the massacre. “I only
heard a continued burst of gunfire. There was no answering gunfire. None.
That was what I heard…,” said Policarpio Balute, a member of the Tongonan
Farmers Association who served as Co’s guide.
According to Niño Gibe as recounted
by Co’s wife, “(Gibe) said that when my husband tried to get up from the
ground, another burst of gunfire hit him in the back.” “After the second
volley of gunfire, Niño said he held up his hand as sign of surrender and
shouted, ‘Tama na, tama na’ (Stop it), and the gunfire suddenly stopped,”
the wife said.
Compare these eyewitness accounts to
that of Lt. Col. Federico Tutaan, commanding officer of the 19th IB who,
in a press conference held in Tacloban, claimed that before the shooting
started, his soldiers saw a person wearing black and holding an M-16
rifle, prompting them to assume a combat formation. Denying earlier
reports that he said a soldier fired the first shot, Tutaan now says,
“There was a volume of fire. The bullets ricocheted to different
Tutaan added that since early
November, the 19th IB was on “heightened alert and always on a combat
mode” because of intelligence reports that NPA members were planning to
attack the EDC complex. He claimed that it was the EDC that had tipped
them off on the presence of the NPA yet he also claimed they were
uninformed that there were EDC employees in the area.
CENCOM Commanding General Ralph
Villanueva betrayed the AFP’s mindset and default mode of shifting the
blame to the NPAs, if not to the victims themselves, when he said that
investigations are being conducted to determine whether the bullets that
killed Co and his companions came from the soldiers’ rifles or from the
NPAs. Assuming without granting that the bullets did not come from 19th IB
firearms, how could he tell that these came from the NPA minus ballistic
tests on such rifles?
Meanwhile the family of Co has raised
pointed questions about the AFP’s version of what took place. They want to
know why Co was allowed to enter the area if rebel presence had been
reported there. And if the military was in such close coordination with
the EDC with regard to their ongoing operations, why was Co not forewarned
about imminent danger to his group of being “caught in a cross fire”?
Most poignantly, Co’s wife, Glenda
asks in disbelief, “Nangyayari pa rin ang ganito kahit na sa ilalim ni
Pnoy, bakit?” (“This is still happening under Pnoy’s administration,
The climate of impunity that pervades
the entire AFP and other state security forces evidently emboldens them to
continue perpetrating atrocities against perceived or even imagined
“enemies”. Surely, the impunity with which the 19th IB had perpetrated
several massacres and gotten away with them is behind this most recent
The AFP has of late been attempting
to refurbish its tarnished image with grand claims of upholding human
A day after the killings, General
Ricardo David Jr, AFP chief, proudly announced that the AFP was setting up
human rights offices in all three major services – the army, navy and air
force – and would designate HR officers down to the battalion level. The
aim was purportedly “to demonstrate the AFP’s resolve and enhance its
campaign in ensuring observance of human rights, international
humanitarian law and the rule of law.”
However, an objective appraisal of
these welcome words of institutional commitment to human rights in light
of the AFP’s most recent actuations and track record leads to the
inevitable conclusion that this latest pronouncement is nothing more than
a public relations move.
It is in line with the so-called
security sector reform being flaunted by Malacañang, whose aim is not
really to reform the military, police and other state security forces but
to clean up and improve their public image and make them more acceptable
How President Aquino, AFP
Commander-in-Chief, will deal with this indiscriminate and wanton
slaughter of a brilliant scientist and his assistants will again test his
willingness and capacity to uphold human rights over and above the
military’s protestations of innocence.
Published in Business World
19-20 November 2010
Rally for Leonard Co and the Kananga 3
in Manila and Tacloban, Leyte
International Human Rights Day
December 10, 2010
Press Release -- 19 November 2010
Ref: Jigs Clamor, Acting Secretary General, 0929-862-1076
"Killing of the Philippines' top botanist, Leonardo L. Co: another case
of shoot first, ask questions later?" -- KARAPATAN
THE KILLING of the country's top botanist, Leonardo L. Co, 56, in Tongonan,
Ormoc, Leyte last Monday by Philippine Army soldiers who opened fire on
civilians, may be "another case of shoot first, ask questions later," the
human rights group KARAPATAN said.
"Even as we grieve and commiserate with the families of the victims, we
are calling for a thorough, diligent investigation of the incident where
soldiers of the 19th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IBPA)
under their commanding officer Lt. Col. Federico Tutaan are involved. The
incident led to the death not only of the country’s top botanist, Leonardo
Co but also of two (2) others, namely Sofronio G. Cortez, a forest guard
of EDC-Environmental Management Division, and Julius Borromeo, a member of
the Tongonan Farmers Association (ToFA)," Karapatan acting secretary
general Jigs Clamor said.
Leonardo L. Co was a specialist in plant taxonomy and ethnobotany. He was
serving as a biodiversity consultant of Lopez-owned Energy Development
Corp. (EDC) and was gathering specimen seedlings of endangered trees with
a five-member team of civilians when shot at, according to Manuel Paete,
EDC resident manager.
Co’s two other companions, Policarpio Balute, a member of ToFA, and Roniño
Gibe, a contractual forester with EDC’s corporate social responsibility
"How can Lt. Col. Tutaan call this a 'legitimate encounter' between his
troops and supposed New People's Army rebels when the fatalities are
clearly civilians? We doubt seriously that there was ever a crossfire,"
"Tutaan calls the incident unfortunate. We call it condemnable," Clamor
"Tutaan even tried to justify his men's actions by saying that the
visibility in the area was hampered by thick foliage. But why shoot when
their target is not even clear in the first place? That is simply
ridiculous," Clamor said.
"The problem really is the orientation and training of Philippine soldiers
given by US advisers. Obama and Aquino are turning the Philippines into
another Iraq and Afghanistan. This goes to show that even if there are
rules of engagement to follow in the conduct of war, the AFP has only paid
lip-service to that in their so-called 'human rights' handbook," Clamor
Co was the president of the Philippine Native Plants Conservation Society,
museum researcher at the University of the Philippines Institute of
Biological Sciences (UP IBS), curator of the Jose Vera Santos Herbarium,
worked with the Community Health, Education, Services and Training in the
Cordillera Administrative Region (Chestcore) based in Baguio City and
known for his selfless devotion in helping communities about medicinal
plants for their own primary health care.
"First, they illegally arrested, tortured and detained 43 community health
workers. Now they may just have killed a top-rate botanist and a forest
ranger. This puts the AFP’s interest on taking care of the environment,
people's health, or the most fundamental right to human life in very
serious questions," Karapatan said. ###
November 19, 2010
For Reference: Roy Morilla, KMP information officer (09074180098) and Jay
Cuesta, UMA media officer (09291745511)
Groups urged De Lima to seek for justice for
botanist, farmer killed by soldiers
The national farmer organization Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP,
Peasant Movement of the Philippines) and Peasant Network for Land, Justice
and Human Rights (Tanggol Magsasaka) called for justice for Philippine’s
top botanist Dr. Leonardo Co, 50-year-old farmer Julio Borromeo and the
rest of their group who were assaulted by elements of the 19th Infantry
Battalion on November 15, 2010 at Bgy. Tongonan, Kanangga, Leyte.
Dr. Co is an expert botanist from University of the Philippines - Los
Baños (UPLB) hired by Philippine National Oil Corp. - Energy Dev’t Corp. (PNOC
- EDC) Environment Management Dept. (EMD). Dr. Co was with Sofronio
Cortez, a forester of PNOC - EDC EMD, Borromeo, Policarpio Balute, farmer
resident of Tongonan and a young forester who graduated from UPLB.
Based on a report of Katungod (human rights group in Eastern Visayas) and
SAGUPA - SB (KMP Eastern Visayas), Dr. Co’s group was conducting a
research on the vicinity of Mahi-aw Plant of PNOC - EDC about 9 o’ clock
in the morning. They were on rain gears with two big umbrellas with
“ENERGY” printed on it. The team was examining trees and attempting to get
samples and seeds. The two farmers served as their guide while Dr. Co and
Cortez concentrated on examining the trees and their leaves.
About 12 noon, Policarpio sensed that there were other people at the
vicinity but continued to work on the tree. When he was about to scrape
off a bark from the tree, gunshots began to be fired aimed at them. The
victims fell one by one with Dr. Co shouting “maawa kayo, hindi kami
kalaban,” (spare us, we’re not enemies) which Policarpio and the young
forester repeated but the gunfire continued. They also heard one of the
perpetrator to say “Dia lang diay mo!” (you’re just here). Policarpio was
able to hide as he took cover at the tree and decided to run away and
instructed others to follow him. The four were still lying on the ground
with only branches and roots of the trees for cover. The gunfire lasted
for about 15 minutes. There were also ane explosion that pushed the other
victims to leave their positions.
The perpetrators approached them and they saw men in camouflaged uniform,
thus, they confirmed they were soldiers. The wounded young forester who
was still alive showed his identification card. Farmer Borromeo was still
alive but gravely wounded. They were ordered those who survived to proceed
to Pad 403 near the Mahi-aw Plant while the soldiers brought the bodies of
Dr. Co and Sofronio. Consequently, Borromeo died at Pad 403. PNOC - EDC
brought the dead to V. Rama Funeral Homes and the wounded to Ormoc Sugar
Farmers Association Hospital in Ormoc City.
“The military is at it again, killing those who serving the country well.
Dr. Co was a top botanist of the country and he was working with the
farmers when they were assaulted by the military. Justice should be given
to him and the military should be punished,” Antonio Flores, KMP
spokesperson and Tanggol Magsasaka co-convenor.
“The military is indiscriminate in attacking those at the countryside.
This is very common as farmers were usual victims of their attacks. The
science community, peasants and other sectors should seek for justice for
Dr. Co. The military should not be spared of their transgression to the
people,” Flores said.
KMP and Tanggol Magsasaka urged justice sec. Leila De Lima to investigate
the incident and not abandon Co’s family’s right to justice. The groups
said that military’s killing spree should be immediately stopped and those
guilty be punished.
“We send our condolences to Dr. Co, Borromeo’s, and other victims’
families. We would never forget the way they died and continue to seek
justice,” Flores said. #
Fully opened male flower of Rafflesia leonardi. This species was named
in honor of Leonard Co, an avid botanist who devoted much time to the
study of the flora of the Sierra Madre Mountains on Luzon. It was
described in the following publication: Barcelona, J. F, B. Pelser, E.
Cabutaje, and N. A. Bartolome. 2008. Another new species of Rafflesia
(Rafflesiaceae) from Luzon, Philippines: R. leonardi. Blumea 53:
223-228. Photo by JULIE BARCELONA
Since Leonard L. Co died last Nov. 15 as a result of gunshot wounds from
a supposed crossfire between the Philippine Army and an unnamed armed
group, numerous eulogies, tributes and accolades had been expressed
largely by the common people but by scientists as well who are familiar
with his work – people whose lives Leonard’s knowledge had touched. He
was a world-class plant taxonomist bar none. He was an irreparable loss
to the country and to his discipline. Many have mourned and grieved his
sudden demise. His death was also equated to the loss of a national
treasure. There even have been calls for him to be given a posthumous
PhD degree (honoris causa). The two houses of Congress have
passed resolutions calling for an impartial investigation on his death
and acknowledging the loss to the country his death has caused.
But who is Leonard L. Co? Does he deserve all of these praises? If yes,
how come it is emerging only now? And what can the mainstream scientific
community do about this? It is easy to be swayed by the outpouring of
emotions generated by his untimely death and the sense of loss, so it is
best to know the man behind the name before we get carried away.
At the time of his death, he was a museum researcher at the Institute of
Biology, College of Science, University of the Philippines Diliman (UPD).
He was in Kananga, Leyte as a biodiversity expert sent by the Energy
Development Corp., (EDC) for its tree legacy program BINHI looking for
mother trees. Two of his team members were also killed.
A quick scan of his brief resumé reveals his publications: 13
peer-reviewed articles of which he was senior author in three; six books
of which he was the senior author in four. His first publication was in
1977 (remember, he entered UPD in 1972). His last one was in 2009, less
than a year before his death. One of several ongoing writing projects he
was doing included “The Enumeration of Philippine Flowering Plants”
which he intended as an update on the seminal book on Philippine Plants
written by Elmer Merrill who made the initial listing of Philippine
Plants when the US Occupation of the country began at the turn of the
20th century. Early estimates indicate that this will take at least five
years to complete with a full staff complement working fulltime! He was
really a man in a hurry. Friends and colleagues have committed to
complete this work, considered as one of Leonard’s unfinished
No one in the mainstream scientific community would have considered
Leonard one of them, since he did not get his Bachelor of Science Degree
in Botany from the UPD until the summer of 2008. Hence he could not even
be hired to teach until then. But this did not stop him from teaching.
He always shared whatever he knew. He could be the most temperamental
person in the room exploding in anger every now and then when people
failed to do what they were supposed to do, but when a student
approached him regarding a taxonomic issue, he would be ready to provide
the answer and guidance. That explains the outpouring of grief and love
from people who had experienced dealing with him. His name will not be
seen as the adviser of any PhD or Master of Science degree graduate, yet
I personally know of at least two recent PhD graduates that he had
mentored (and one more nearing completion) since he could not be
appointed a member of graduate committees. He might not have had the
formal appointment as a professor but people considered him one because
of their recognition of his scholarly outputs.
People would consider him brilliant but they had reservations to
consider him as a scientist since he had no degree then, yet this did
not stop him from doing research, as his publication outputs attest to.
One of the ways we often did to tease him and test him was to ask him a
particular taxonomic problem and ask him the reference to this question.
He would reply and provide the page number of the reference where the
answer could be found. His swordplay with the living greats in plant
taxonomy is legendary wherein he was able to argue with these icons and
they could only nod in agreement and accept his analysis. I personally
saw international delegates bringing him specimens for identification or
confirmation. He was highly regarded by the international community.
They expressed that Leonard’s death is a great loss to the world of
One of Leonard’s frustrations was his awareness of mediocre people who
could not hold a candle to his broad encyclopedic knowledge and vast
field experience except that these people had a “PhD” after their names
and he did not even have a BS degree. Because of this, he would often be
bypassed because of his then academic deficiency. Society has not
figured out a way to tap geniuses like Leonard.
His last publication in 2006, wherein he was the senior author, was the
book “Forest Trees of Palanan, Philippines: A Study in Population
Ecology.” This was as part of the book series of the Center for Tropical
Forest Science of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institution (CTFS-STRI).
He was very proud of this achievement, as it was the first of its kind
in the Philippines; it was the sixth in the book series that CTFS-STRI
had put out and it was supported by the academe, government,
non-government organization conservation groups and the private sector
(see Figure 1).
It is but fitting to end this with Leonard in his own words, with the
dedication he wrote in the book he gave me during the launching of his
The legacy that you have bequeathed to CI-P and its partners is never
forgotten. It is being continued and raised to a higher level by a new
breed of committed young field biologists – many of whom are proud
authors of this work.
The birth of this book is thus a fitting celebration of that legacy:
the spirit of partnership and collaboration; of mentoring; of passion
for excellence and abhorrence of mediocrity; and most especially of
dreaming, innovating and fighting tooth and nail for the cause of
Leonard + five other junior co-authors”
Nobody was more qualified to say those words about excellence and
mediocrity. He lived those words until he was gunned down doing the work
he loved, identifying tree species in the middle of a remnant forest he
was trying to restore. How ironic.
* * *
Dr. Perry S. Ong is a professor of Wildlife Biology and the director
at the Institute of Biology, University of the Philippines Diliman (IB-UPD).
He is into biodiversity conservation research and is currently focusing
on DNA-barcoding of Philippine biodiversity as well as the ecology of
urban biodiversity. Together with the other staff members of IB-UPD, he
is undertaking research on the biodiversity of five geothermal
production fields of the Energy Development Corp. (EDC) in Mt. Kanlaon
in Negros Occidental, Valencia City in Negros Oriental, Kananga in Leyte,
Mt. Apo in Kidapawan City, North Cotabato in Mindanao and Bacon-Manito (BacMan)
in Sorgogon. E-mail him at
HE DID not seek
fame or glory for his works. His ardor for studying plants was fueled by a
burning passion to contribute to the conservation of the environment. He
was Leonard Co, a peoples scientist whose life was cut short in an alleged
crossfire between government troops and New Peoples Army
On November 28,
2010, Justice for Leonardo Co and Co. Movement visited the site where Dr.
Co, Sofronio Cortez and Julius Borromeo were killed as part of a fact
finding mission in Leyte. The site was inside the Lopez-owned Energy
TACLOBAN CITY The
spokesperson of the Philippine Army in Eastern Visayas declined to comment
on the findings of a team of scientists that there was no crossfire
between government forces and communist rebels as claimed by the military
when noted botanist Leonardo Co and two of his companion were ki
SOME TIME last year
I was at the Sidcor Sunday market looking at household items from Japan.
One tea cup caught my eye because it showed several plants arranged in a
row. I looked closely and could tell from the Kanji (Chinese characters
borrowed by the Japanese) that they were medicinal plants.
We, the members of
the Philippine Native Plant Conservation Society, mourn the loss of our
beloved founder and leader, Leonardo Co. We express our moral
indignation and condemn the senseless killing of a brilliant and
PhilippinesAs the nation mourns with widower Lauro Vizconde, who is still
seeking justice after two decades, another family grieving the loss of a
loved one hopes its own quest for justice would not suffer the same fate.
WHO IS the enemy,
exactly? The New Peoples Army, of course, according to the Philippine
Army. And who is the NPA? Again, according to the Army, it could be
anyone, particularly if he has already been killed in an Army operation.
More importantly, anyone who gets caught in the crossfire is just unlu
Non-government organizations (NGOs) in the Cordillera Administrative
Region (CAR) mourned the death of Filipino botanist Leonard Co, saying
that this was both the nations loss and humanitys loss as well.
-- Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Wednesday ordered an investigation
into the mystery surrounding the death of noted botanist Leonardo Co and
two others in Kananga, Leyte, last week.
CITYThe Community Health Education, Services and Training in the
Cordillera Region (Chestcore) said the death of botanist Leonardo Co, who
was killed in a supposed crossfire between government troops and communist
rebels in a Leyte forest on Nov. 15 was not an isolated case
33, a farmer who served as one of Cos two guides, said the shooting
started in Upper Mahiao, Barangay Lim-ao, but added that he did not hear
any responding volley of gunfire from any direction that could indicate an
on-going battle between Army soldiers and New Peoples Army (NPA
PhilippinesThe killing of Energy Development Corporation biodiversity
consultant Leonardo Co and two others in a forested area in Kananga, Leyte
on Monday might have been a case of mistaken identity.
Philippines A respected Filipino botanist, a forest guard and a farmer
were killed in the crossfire between the military and suspected communist
rebels Monday noon, the company that was running the project for which the
three worked, said on Tuesday.
Marking the 40th day of Lenard's death
by planting 40 native trees
The renown and
revered botanist Leonardo L. Co, 56, was killed by gunfire 15 November,
2010, in a geothermal reservation in Leyte in Upper Mahiao, Barangay. Lim-ao,
Kananga town, Leyte. He was doing research work for the Energy Development
Corporation and was with four other team members. Three of t
Leonardo L. Co is a
prominent Filipino plant taxonomist and ethnobiologist. Born on December
29, 1953, Co served as a museum researcher at the University of the
Philippines Institute of Biology (IB) and as senior botanist of
Si Leonard Co aka 许
振 忠 Nalaman ko mula sa text ng isang kaibigan ang pagkamatay niya sa
Leyte. Naipit umano sa palitan ng putok ng mga sundalo at rebelde. At
kagyat na nagbalik ang maraming alaala. Alyas...
This was according
to the findings of a team of scientists including Co's co-workers that
looked into the killing of the botanist and his companions Sofronio Cortez
and Julius Borromeo last month in the forest of Kananga, Leyte.
We, the members of
the Philippine Native Plant Conservation Society, mourn the loss of our
beloved founder and leader, Leonardo Co. We express our moral
indignation and condemn the senseless killing of a brilliant and
I realize this
takes some explaining: Since Leonard was a botanist, what would that have
made of me? Botanists treat plans and vegetables. No, Leonard also
practiced acupuncture. My fraternity brother and now UP professor Roli
Talampas brought me to Leonards laboratory in one of the buildings at th
friends,colleagues and sympathizers witnessed Leonard Co's last visit to
his second home yesterday (Nov 20) UP President Emerlinda Roman calls for
justice for Leonard Co, the statement was read by UP Chancellor Cao
yesterday After the Oblation ceremonies, the
...procession went to the Herbarium
building, Leonard's favorite place, working area and his second home.
Incidentally, there was a Symposium on Long Term Ecological & Biodiversity
Research on that building. International and Local Scientists who
participated in the symposium went out, to pay homage and sympathy for
Leonard. Leonard is suppose to be one of the speakers that afternoon and
he will discuss The Forest Plot in Palanan Isabela which is one of his
major accomplishment to Philippine botany.
Ang rafflesia ay
sobra isang metro ang laki kaya nasa lupa lang siya nakalatag. Parang
red-orange ang kulay. Hindi maganda ang amoy dahil kumakain ng mga kung
ano-anong mga insekto o mali-liit na hayop. Matatagpuan ito sa kabundukan
ng Antique,ang aking probinsya, at Mindanao dito sa Pilipinas.
PhilippinesI met Prof. Leonard Co only once, in a press conference called
by a group of San Beda alumni who were embarking on a tree-planting
project along the North Luzon Expressway. But they werent going to plant
just any trees. At the bidding of some conservationists and biodiversity
Leonard Co: Scientist for the People
Leonardo Co wrote two very important books: on medicinal plants and the
forest trees of Palanan. He could speak fluent Filipino, English,
Mandarin, and Latin. He could sing, play classical Chinese music with his
harmonica, and make people laugh with his antics. But most of all, he
dedicated his life in the service of the people.
MANILA – Leonardo Co was killed along with two others Sofronio Cortez, a
forest guard and Julius Borromeo,a farmer, in Kananga, Leyte, while
conducting a research about the biodiversity of trees within the compound
of the Energy Development compound on the fateful day of November 15.
Lt. Col. Federico Tutaan of the 19th infantry Battalion claimed that Co
and his companions were killed in a crossfire. But witnesses said the
gunshots were coming only from the direction of the soldiers. Whatever
would be the findings of the investigation, the result would remain the
same, the country lost a multi-talented and a great man.
discover new species was killed.
Co, 56 was survived by his wife Glenda and daughter Linnea Marie, eight
In a tribute given by his friends and colleagues in his wake at Funeraria
Paz, people laughed and shed tears upon hearing different stories and
experiences working with one of the finest, if not the finest, botanist
the country has ever produced.
“A person like Leonard is rare,” said Eleanor Jara, executive director of
the Council of Health and Development (CHD) who worked with Co in the
Cordillera region in 1980s. Co was also doing research then for his book
on medicinal plants in the Cordillera region.
Passion for Science
Since his childhood, Co’s interest was science. Dr. Floresita Co-Austria,
youngest sister of Co said his brother started collecting insects and then
later on he got interested in chemicals. “He had test tubes and has a
collection of chemicals and he experimented with it,” Austria told
Bulatlat. Austria recalled that Co would let them smell mixed chemicals
and told them it was a perfume. “When we smelled it, it had an awful
Austria said when his brother entered the University of the Philippines,
his first course was Chemical Engineer and later on shifted to Botany. Ong
said Co’s biology teacher in high school at Philippine Chinese High
School, Benito Tan who became a world-renowned moss taxonomist probably
influenced Co to take an interest in Botany. A blog post in memoriam for
Co by Mabi David revealed that Co accompanied Tan in his weekly mountain
treks. He was also given a book by Tan, Flora of Manila and started
studying botanical terminology.
Rey Casambre who met Co during martial law in 1975 when Co was in his
third year as botany major in UP said: “He belonged then to a group of
bright and dedicated activists who were either undergrad majors or
graduates of botany or zoology.” The group of Co was part of a larger
network of Filipino scientists and technologists who were all committed to
using their scientific and technical knowledge and skills to serve the
Filipino people, Casambre added.
Jara said Co also used his skills in determining medicinal plants in the
Cordillera region with people in the countryside as beneficiaries. In a
news report, Community Health, Education, Services and Training in
Cordillera Region (Chestcore) said that Co listed 122 medicinal plants
with their illustrations and scientific and common names. Each plant has
its description that includes habitat, distribution, parts utilized,
indications, directions for use, dosage, and precautionary notes on
toxicity and contra-indications. Co helped the communities of the
Cordillera for helping, through his work, “the communities systematize the
knowledge of traditional healers about medicinal plants for their primary
Prior to Co’s Cordillera Medicinal Plants, he together with his group I977
at UP diligently studied medicinal plants in the country with an aim to
popularize local herbal medicines and the production of medicines from
readily available and accessible materials. “It’s in his heart that
whatever he is doing is for the benefit of the people,” Casambre said in a
separate interview with Bulatlat. The group worked on the book for at
least five years, Casambre said. “Manual on Some Philippine Medicinal
Plants”was first published in mimeographed 8 1/2 x 13, in the name of the
UP Botanical Society where majority of the group belonged.
“As far as we know, this was a pioneering and seminal work. Not long
afterwards some botanists published glossy books on Philippine medicinal
plants. But none of them could compare to the wealth of material in the
original 1977 Philippine Medicinal Plants manual,” said Casambre.
In 2006, Forest Trees of Palanan, Philippines: A study in population
ecology was published. According to Ong, in 16 hectares of Palanan forest
in Isabela, Co marked and measured every tree and identified every plant.
“He counted all the trees, at least 100,000. And you would see those trees
in this book mapped one by one.” Ong added that Co’s study of trees did
not end there. Co went back to the forest every five years to see the
developments of the species. On Oct. 15 during the height of typhoon Juan,
Ong said Co was in Palanan doing his research for the second part of the
Co is the president of the Philippine Native Plants Conservation Society,
Inc. when he got killed.
Refflesia leonardi, one of the largest flowers found in the Philippines,
was named after Co.
Multi-talented and Non-Conformist
Co was not only remembered as a taxonomist who spent more time in the
mountains and in his little space at the University of the Philippines’
Institute of Biology’s herbarium studying his collected specimens.
Elena Ragrario, a classmate and college friend of Co revealed that he is a
multitalented taxonomist. “He also play harmonica. He said harmonica is
the only musical instrument that you can bring in your pocket. He always
has his harmonica wherever we were together with other friends. He
indulged us in classical Chinese music.” She also said Co could sing
International in three languages, English, Tagalong and in Chinese.
Co is half Chinese and half Filipino, and he proudly told his friends that
he is a double G.I.–genuine Ilocano and genuine Intsik (Chinese), added
Ragrario. He was also funny yet temperamental at times, Ong said, adding
that his foul mood easily dissipated.. A colleague also said that Co could
speak not only Mandarin, he also studied Latin so he could properly
identify the plants he was studying. Co also studied acupuncture Mon
Ramirez said, and could name the points in Chinese.
Dr. Edelina Dela Paz also a friend of Co said that he was a walking
encyclopedia, “You would gain knowledge after a chat with him because of
information he shared.”
He also wrote poetry, Ragrario said.
Co was a non-conformist Casambre told Bulatlat. Co got his degree in BS
Botany in 2008. “It really did not matter to him whether he finished his
degree or not. He was driven to do his passion and to make it useful for
Ong said Co got his diploma when the Institute of Biology asked the
College of Science to give Co his degree crediting his works as
taxonomist. “There was a debate of course because of technicalities, but
finally the College of Science gave him his degree.” His friends said that
he should have been given more than a degree. They believe he deserved a
Ph. D. His book “Forest Trees of Palanan, Philippines ” could serve as his
The family of Co was overwhelmed with the testimonies shared by Co’s
colleagues. His father, Co Lian Sing said his sadness went away because of
the revelations of Co’s friends and colleagues. “We did not know that he
had accomplished many things.” (Bulatlat.com)
Demand for Justice and Accountability for the Death
of Leonardo Co by Philippine Native Plants Conservation Society, Inc. on Friday,
December 3, 2010 at 11:26am
We, the members of the Philippine Native Plant Conservation Society, mourn
the loss of our beloved founder and leader, Leonardo Co.
We express our moral indignation and condemn the senseless killing of a
brilliant and irreplaceable mind.
We decry the nonchalance of a military that dismisses this tragedy as a
mere “unfortunate incident”. This is a profound understatement. The void
created by Professor Co's sudden departure is unquantifiable and the
damage done will have exponential repercussions that will only be apparent
in the years to come.
It is with sublime irony that while illegal loggers, poachers, miners, and
kaingeros rape, plunder and defile our natural resources at will, we never
hear of the apprehension of these criminals, much less, with the rabid
intensity suffered by one who has passionately dedicated his entire life
caring for our environment. How can this champion of conservation suffer
at the hands of his supposed guardians? What justifies excessive firepower
on unarmed civilians obviously incapable of retaliation? The military
continues to defend the grave abuse of power and justifies what is clearly
an indefensible position.
If this can happen to a Leonardo Co, what more for other researchers doing
field work in this country? This causes great alarm to the scientific
community. Scientists and volunteers receive meager compensation for their
services, but it is their passion, dedication and love for country that
motivates them in enduring in this thankless profession. Does every
researcher and their family have to fear for their lives going up the
Leonard Co once said “sa Pilipinas ang hustisya ay parang pag taya sa
lotto”. Let us hope that in this, at least, he will be proven wrong. Let
us hope that he, together with the 2 other victims, will be given justice
for their senseless death. This is a direct challenge to the new
Leonard Co did not only die with his boots on, he died doing what he loved
most - understanding the last secrets of our vanishing forest. We hope
that his legacy and sacrifice would inspire this generation to be more
vigilant against the crimes and abuse of this nation towards our
In behalf of the Philippine Native Plants Conservation Society, we express
our deepest sympathies and say our prayers for the families and loved ones
of the three fatalities. But we demand justice and accountability.
A tree is Born, a tree Dies, the forest lives
The renown and revered botanist Leonardo L. Co, 56, was
killed by gunfire 15 November, 2010, in a geothermal reservation in Leyte
in Upper Mahiao, Barangay. Lim-ao, Kananga town, Leyte. He was doing
research work for the Energy Development Corporation and was with four
other team members. Three of them were killed and two survived.
Pressenza Pressenza International Press Agency Manila, 11/29/10 He was the
author of the book, Common Medicinal Plants of the Cordillera Region
(Northern Luzon, Philippines), published 1989, which included a trainers
manual for Community Based Health Programs. His loss to his family and
friends is multiplied greatly because this man was so valuable to his
country. Leonardo was also counted as a National Treasure. Hardly
replaceable, fortunately, his students are willing to carry on with his
important work of study and reforestation.
Secretary Leila de Lima of the Department of Justice (DOJ) created a
three-member panel of prosecutors to conduct a fact-finding inquiry on the
incident, stating to the press: “We can’t always leave the investigation
to the Armed Forces of the Philippines. No matter how they do their jobs,
there will always be suspicions.”
This was said on the sidelines of the 7th National Congress of the
National Union of Journalists of the Philippines in Quezon City. She
hinted at summoning personalities, including Armed Forces officials, to
attend hearings and answer questions, adding, “We need to remove the cloud
of suspicion regarding Co’s death.”
At the time of the killing Mr Co, working as a biodiversity consultant for
the Lopez-owned Energy Development Corporation (EDC), was gathering
specimen seedlings of endangered trees with a five-member team of
civilians. While the media is reporting that both the communist inspired
New People’s Army and the Armed Forces in Leyte accused each other of
firing the shots that killed Co and his companions, a source close to
witnesses informed Pressenza that only government military personnel were
in the area at the time, in other words, there was no cross-fire!
Manuel Paete, EDC resident manager, identified the other fatalities as
Sofronio G. Cortez, a forest guard of EDC-Environmental Management
Division, and Julius Borromeo, a member of the Tongonan Farmers
Lt. Col. Federico Tutaan, commanding officer of the 19th IB, said in a
phone interview to The Inquirer, his men were in the area to respond to a
report of the EDC about the presence of NPA rebels in Sitio Upper Mahiao
of Barangay Lim-ao.
Co’s brother-in-law, Darwin Flores, said to the same media that the family
would like to know what really happened. “I understand that they were
given clearance to proceed to the area,” said Flores, whose sister Glenda
is married to Co. He said he was informed that there was an existing
security protocol between EDC and the local military.
EDC man Paete said Co’s two other companions, Policarpio Balute, a member
of Tofa, and Roniño Gibe, a contractual forester with EDC’s corporate
social responsibility department, survived the crossfire.
Col. Allan Martin, deputy commanding officer of the 802nd Infantry
Brigade, has stated to the press that the soldiers who figured in the
encounter were restricted to their camp in Barangay Aguiting in Kananga.
The soldiers, led by Lt. Ronald Ocheamar, reported a 15-minute gun battle
with seven armed men at about midday. During the press conference, Tutaan
admitted that one of the soldiers fired the first shot because they were
at a vantage point overlooking the area where they saw a man dressed in a
black jacket holding a long firearm.
In a separate statement, CHESTCORE (The Community Health Education,
Services and Training in the Cordillera Region) warned that “what happened
to Leonard is not an isolated case, and many health professionals working
in far-flung communities have been accused of aiding, or of being members
of, the New People’s Army or the Communist Party of the Philippines.
“Instead of being lauded as heroes for choosing to devote their lives to
community service and for opting to give up opportunities for career
advancement abroad or in private practice, many of them have been
harassed, arrested on false charges and even killed," the CHESTCORE
Leonardo Co also served as a museum researcher at the University of the
Philippines Institute of Biology (IB). He was the de facto curator of the
Jose Vera Santos Herbarium, according its director, Dr. Perry Ong. Co was
known in the Cordilleras for his work in helping communities systematize
the knowledge of traditional healers about medicinal plants for their own
primary health care. He also authored, The Forest Trees of Palanan,
Philippines: A Study in Population Ecology.
Non-government organizations in the Cordillera Administrative Region
mourned the death of the Filipino botanist saying that this was both the
nation’s loss and humanity’s loss as well.
Tony Henderson is a freelance writer working in Hong Kong, since 1980, and
previously Japan, for seven years following two years in Mauritius after a
year in Libya
An urgent appeal to President
Benigno Aquino III and the Philippine Legislature to effect a thorough,
independent, and transparent investigation on the killing in Kananga,
Leyte of Leonardo Co, a renowned Filipino scientist, and his two
We, the undersigned scientists,
environmentalists, human rights defenders, friends, relatives and
concerned citizens appeal to President Benigno Aquino III to effect an
immediate, independent, transparent and thorough investigation on the
killing of ethno-botanist and taxonomist, Leonard Co, forester
Sofronio Cortez and farmer Julius Borromeo.
Leonardo Co, along with four
companions, was doing research work for the Energy Development
Corporation (EDC) in Upper Mahiao, Lim-ao, Kananga in Leyte province.
On November 15, 2010, the research team was reported to have been
caught in the crossfire between the Armed Forces of the Philippines
19th Infantry Batallion and the New People's Army in the area. Co,
Cortez and Borromeo were killed, while the two others, forester Ronino
Gibe and farmer Policarpio Balute were wounded.
Families and friends have raised
doubts on the report, as the research team got the required clearance
from the military to carry out their work in the area at that time.
Given this situation, and based on basic duties of the military, they
are expected to act with due diligence to protect and ensure first the
safety of civilians.
The statements of the survivors
seem to belie the reported exchange of gunfire. There were accounts
that the shots came only from one direction. Questions similarly
linger as to why the victims have been riddled with so many bullets.
This senseless loss of lives,
with a scientist and environmentalist like Leonard Co, who has
selflessly offered so much for the promotion and conservation of the
country’s vast floral wealth, is truly saddening. The circumstances of
their death make it doubly worse.
We, the undersigned, call on the
Aquino administration to order an immediate, thorough, transparent
investigation of the incident by an independent civilian team. We call
for the protection and safety of the survivors, witnesses and their
families, prevent any whitewash, render justice to the victims, and
end a growing culture of impunity.
Anthony Arbias of Phillippine Native Plants
Leonard's only daughter Linnaei Marie
Leonard;s father, Lian Seng, and BAYAN's Rita Baua
AGHAM Chair Dr. Gani Tapang with Leonard's parents
and an aunt
Lenard's sister, and husband Dr. Bobi Austria
Atty. Ursua who is handling the case
Front page news the day
after the tree planting
Video on the 40th day gathering
December 23, 2010
Lenard, mostly at work
December 8, 2010
Groups released results of the Citizens'
Fact-finding Mission on the killing of Leonard Co and companions
In a press conference held at the Institute of Biology, University of the
Philippines Diliman, groups presented the results of the Citizens'
Fact-finding mission on the killing of top botanist Leonard Co and
companions. The mission was conducted at the site of the incident,
Kanangga, Leyte last November 26-28, 2010.
The mission was attended by 33 individuals from 14 different organizations
and institutions from Manila, Cebu, Samar and Leyte. It was supported by
Institute of Biology director Dr. Perry Ong, College of Social Science and
Philosophy Dr. Michael Tan, Ateneo Environmental Science professor Dr.
Tess Perez, Visayas State University President Dr. Jose Bacusmo,
Foundation for the Philippine Environment and the family of Leonardo Co.
The results were presented by Dr. Giovanni Tapang, chairperson of AGHAM
Advocates of Science and Technology for the People, Anthony Arbias,
president of the Philippine Native Plant Conservation Society and Atty.
The group established that there was no crossfire, contrary to earlier
reports that the victims were caught in a crossfire between the military
and communist rebels on November 15, 2010. Based on the evidence gathered
at the site, the gunshots only came from one direction and that is from
the vantage point of where the military were positioned.
At the press conference, the Movement for Justice for Leonard Co and
companions was also launched. The movement is comprised of supporters,
family, friends and civil-society groups that aims to spearhead the
campaign, monitor the developments of the case and pursue the issue until
justice has been served and the perpetuators are held accountable.
As a tribute to the efforts and life of Leonard Co, the Philippine
Tropical Forest Conservation Foundation has also launched a Leonardo Co
Forest Research Fund. A sum of 100,000php every year, for years 2011-2016
would be made available to scientists who would want to research on
The report is attached to this email and for questions or more details,
please contact Dr. Giovanni Tapang of AGHAM 09275736714.
Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment (Kalikasan-PNE)
No.26 Matulungin St. Bgy. Central, Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines 1100
Tel. No. +63-2-9248756 Fax No. +63-2-9209099
doing working overtime in the forest of Palanan,
Some ashes of Lenard will be
spread out in the forest of Palanan
Some of the works of Leonard Co
SDigital copies of the "A
Manual on some Philippine Medicinal Plants" will be made available