9 soldiers quizzed on Rebelyn Pitao killing deny allegations

For three hours, the soldiers took turns answering questions from the makeshift interview room near the stage, separated from the public by a divider draped in maroon and a huge white board, its plywood back facing the audience. 

Leoncio Pitao alias Parago, commander of  the Pulang Bagani Command of the New Peoples’ Army initially named four soldiers and later added nine more names to his list of suspects behind Rebelyn’s killing.

The military earlier requested that the soldiers be presented in a closed-door session but the request was denied in a decision handed down Wednesday morning. The military appealed but in the afternoon, its motion for reconsideration was again denied. But the CHR in the same order enjoined  everyone present in the public hearing, “particularly members of the media,” from “taking any video or audio recording or any photographs throughout the duration of the testimony of the military personnel.”

Of the 13 from Pitao’s list, only nine were presented by the 10th Infantry Division for having names that matched or nearly matched the names on Pitao’s list.  

The CHR, based on Pitao’s list of suspects that he announced through media interviews, summoned to the inquiry the alleged members of the “Military Intelligence Group” of the 10th Infantry Division: a certain Adan Osulao, a certain Helvin Bitang, a certain Ben Tipait, a certain Pedregosa, a certain Sgt. Romeo Marcos, a certain Romeo Carreon, a certain Major Cabanalan, a certain Cpl. Winnie Carapatan, a certain Sgt. Melvin Onla, a certain Sgt. Zenith, a certain Cpl. Costa, a certain Cpl. Emba and a certain Reynaldo Dedagis.

The first four names mentioned by Pitao were Tipait, Osulao, Bitang and Pedregoza.

There is no MIG in the 10th ID but an MIB or Military Intelligence Battalion. The MIG is a unit directly under the Armed Forces chief.  It is the MIB that is under an Army division.

Tipait, according to his wife’s lawyer, Heraclio Malaki, has been in Manila since February 9 for “military education.” Malaki said Tipait’s wife was worried since Tipait is a rebel-returnee who has earned the “extreme anger” of the NPA for having been “very instrumental in quelling many (NPA) operations)” and will expose his family to danger.

Tipait is believed to be a member of the MIG.

Maj. Gen. Reynaldo Mapagu, chief of the 10th ID explained to CHR chair Leila de Lima and commissioners Ma. Victoria Cardona and Norberto dela Cruz, that he could present only nine of the 13 on the list because their names either matched with the CHR’s list or were the nearest match.

The nine were held in another place somewhere in the hotel and one by one entered the Lantawan Room on the ninth floor of the Royal Mandaya Hotel, the venue of the CHR public inquiry on the “abduction, torture, rape and killing” of 20-year old Rebelyn Pitao,  through the backdoor or fire exit.

They were called to the makeshift interview room one by one : Cpl. Henry Bitang of the 10th  MIB or Military Intelligence Battalion (for a certain Helvin Bitang), Cpl. Orly Pedregoza also of the 10th MIB (for a certain Pedregosa), Cpl. Romel Marcos, a clerk at t
he 72nd IB in Mawab, Compostela Valley (for a certain Romeo Marcos), Major Romeo Cabanalan, administrative officer of the 10th ID’s Headquarters Service Battalion (for a certain Maj. Cabanalan), Cpl. Winnie Carampatana of the 10th MIB (for a certain Cpl. Winnie Carapatan), Sgt. Martin Punla also of the 10th MIB (for a certain Sgt. Melvin Onla), Sgt. Renato Senith of the 10th MIB (for a certain Sgt. Zenith),   Cpl. Marvin Acosta of the 1002nd Division Reconnaisance Company in Malungon, Sarangani (for a certain Cpl. Costa) and Pfc Jimmy Embac of the 73rd IB in Sarangani province (for a certain Cpl. Emba).

Unaccounted for are Adan Osulao, Romeo Carreon, and Reynaldo Dedagis.

After interrogating Marcos, de Lima asked Mapagu to explain the presence of soldiers whose names were not on the list. Mapagu explained that “in our interest to fully cooperate,” they also presented those whose names were closest to the names on the CHR list.

Earlier in the morning, 10th ID chief of staff Lysander Suerte showed reporters a matrix of the names on the CHR/Pitao list and the Division’s roster and the matrix showed “no match found” for three names. Only five names were very closely matched.

Of the nine soldiers presented, one left the makeshift interview room to present himself to the public: Major Cabanalan. Cabanalan has been assigned at the 10th ID headquarters since September 2008. He was previously with the 73rd IB. In fact, most of the nine soldiers used to be with the 73rd

Five of the nine soldiers belong to the MIB: Bitang, Pedregoza, Carampatan, Punla and Senith (if Punla and Senith are Melvin Onla and Sgt. Zenith of the CHR/Pitao list).

Of the five, three were found to belong to an intelligence team: Bitang, Pedregoza and Carampatana, with the latter as team leader.

De Lima said that due to time constraints, the CHR will evaluate the records and determine the need for another public inquiry. She said they need to look into the records also of Task Force Rebelyn.

“It makes us more curious about the standing of those three other named personnel,” De Lima said referring to Tipait, Carreon and Masulao.

Mapagu in his March 29 letter to de Lima recommended that the inquiry be conducted in a closed door session to give the Commissioners “ample opportunity to ask and elicit (answers)  directly from the military personnel without necessarily violating their constitutionally guaranteed rights.

Mapagu cited four “essential reasons”  which the CHR found “insufficient to justify any deviation from its broad constititutional mandate to investigate alleged human rights violations and hold public hearings in connection therewith.”  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)