SIDEBAR: The soldiers’ accounts

A former member of the 25th IB, Bitang joined MIB on February 1, 2007 and operated in Panabo City, his area of responsibility.  

Bitang said their job is to collect data about the “paligid” (environs) and give the information to the team leader.

He said he did not know Pitao personally but heard he was a commander of the NPA through the media. He said he learned about  what happened to Rebelyn on March 5, “sa TV. Patay na siya.”

Rebelyn was abducted early evening of March 4 in Bago Gallera, Talomo, Davao City. Her body was found in an irrigation canal in Barangay San Isidro, Carmen, Davao del Norte, some 55.5  kilometers away, late afternoon of March 5. Her mother, Evangeline, saw her daughter’s remains at a funeral parlor in Panabo City late evening of March 5.

TV reports on her having been found dead came out only on March 6.

Bitang said he was at home March 4, tending to a sick child the entire day and went also at home, with two friends, that evening.

He said they were told to report morning of March 6 by his battalion commander, John Sebastian Fuerte, “dahil sa na involve pangalan namin” (because our names were implicated).

“Nato-torture utak ko” (my mind is being tortured) for having been implicated in the case, he said.
De Lima asked Bitang if he knew a Danilo Santiago. He said yes, that he was his neighbor and that he was killed.  He later said Santiago was his “asset” and he defined “asset” as “best friend.”

Asked about Danilo Pitao, Bitang said the two were brothers.

De Lima told Bitang Danilo Santiago and Danilo Pitao are one and the same person — the brother of the NPA commander, Leoncio Pitao. Santiago was killed in June last year.

Santiago, 42, married, a member of the Davao del Norte’s provincial civil security services and resident of Mankilam, Tagum City, was the younger brother of Leonardo Pitao, said PO3 Nathaniel Apolonio. Apolonio said Santiago’s real family name is Pitao but another report said Leoncio and Danilo have the same mother.

Santiago’s wife, Revite, told reporters in Tagum City then that her  husband was last seen together with a “certain Sgt. Melvin Bitang of  the Military Intelligence  Battalion.”

Cpl. Orly Pedregoza said his area of responsibility is Paquibato District. Leoncio Pitao is based in this district.

Formerly with the 73rd IB, Pedregoza said he has been with the MIB for two years now and his work is to collect information “about the enemy of the state, mga criminal, lahat ng illegal.”

He said he had not seen Pitao, the NPA commander. He said he learned about his daughter’s death on March 6. He said he was in Camp Panacan when he saw the news on TV.

Pedregoza said he was in Camp Panacan on March 4, to re-enlist. Soldiers, he explained, have to re-enlist every three years.

He said he learned around March 8, from his team leader, that his name was among those implicated by Pitao.

The names of  the implicated soldiers were announced through media on March 9.

Cpl. Winnie Carampatana, who acknowledged he is the team leader of the MIB in the Paquibato district, said his task is to “designate magandang gawain”  (good deeds) like ordering his men to liaison with t
he barangay leaders.

Carampatana, 36, enlisted in the Army in 1998 and has been with the MIB since January 1, 2007.

Carampatana’s inquiry took the longest among the nine, parts of which had to be translated to Cebuano.

At one point, Carampatana was asked if part of their job was to conduct surveillance on the New Peoples Army (NPA). He answered “criminals.”

“Does criminal include the NPA?.. Why do you hesitate if the topic is NPA? Are you on instruction? “ the commissioners asked. 

Carampatana said he was “kulbaan lang gamay” (a bit nervous).

Asked if he knew Danilo Santiago was Bitang’s asset, Carampatana said he just heard about Danilo Santiago through the radio.

But asked what he heard about Santiago over the radio, Carampatana replied, in Cebuano, “that’s all I heard.”

Asked where he was on March 4, Carampatana quickly replied, he was re-enlisting. The CHR commissioners noted how quickly he replied.

Carampatana said he was at home on March 4. 

Asked if he had an ID, he said yes. 

“You’re not afraid?” he was asked. He said no. 

Earlier, his colleagues said they don’t carry ID cards since they might get into a checkpoint of the NPA.

“ Di ko mahadlok kay wa man koy sala” (I am not afraid because I have committed no sin), he said. 

Cpl. Romel Marcos, 28, has been with the Army for the last six years. He said he came to the city from his base in Mawab, Compostela Valley, because he was told his name was the nearest to “Romeo Marcos.”

De Lima repeatedly said Marcos looked “very young.” Only the commissioners and the soldiers’ counsel, however, could see Marcos.

A clerk at the headquarters of the 72nd IB, Marcos said he traveled two hours by bus the night before, to report to the 10th ID “dahil sa malapit pangalan ko sa kay Romeo Marcos.”

Sgt. Martin R. Punla, who was also asked by De Lima to remove his “props,” apparentely referring to shades and cap, told the CHR his job in the MIB is “VIP security.”

Punla said he was in Tagum City on March 4 and in Davao City on March 5 but could not name immediately the VIPs that he recently secured, or the kind of vehicles and colors used. “Baka may iniiwasan kang kulay” (Are you avoiding a specific color?), De Lima asked.

Asked if he knew why he was summoned, he replied, “yun po ang malaking katanungan sa akin” (that’s a big question for me). 

Sgt. Renato Senith, 33, who is also with the MIB said he does not belong to a team but he is under Major Fuerte.

Asked if he had assets, he said he has friends. Asked where he was on dates de Lima mentioned, Senith replied, “house,” prompting her to ask, “so hindi ka pumapasok?” (so you don’t go to work?)

Cpl. Marvin Acosta, 31, said he was called by the 10th ID to report because his name was nearest to the “Cpl. Costa” of the CHR list. He said he is from the 1002 infantry brigade in Malungon, Sarangani province.

He said he saw Pitao only on TV.

Pfc Jimmy Embac of the 73rd IB in Sarangani province said he was summoned “para clarification lang daw” (for clarification).

He said he knows about Pitao only as commander of the NPAwhose daughter was killed. He also came from the 73rd IB.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)