3 soldiers in Bincungan slay nabbed; 5 others hunted

Human rights group Task Force Detainees helped the relatives of the late Bacar Japalali, 56, and his wife Carmen who was then three months pregnant, press double murder charges against soldiers from the 404th Infantry Brigade based in Tuburan, Mawab, Compostela Valley.

Elements from the Tagum City Police Station, accompanied by the victims' relatives and TFD, nabbed the accused  — Privates First Class Marlon Sabellano, Rodel Bacangoy and Jupil Balilihan — assigned at the headquarters of the Army's 10th Infantry Division in Camp Panacan in Davao City.

Rita Melecio of the TFD Mindanao office said the accused were turned in by their legal officer, a certain Capt. Jennifer Limjoco. 

Melecio said two other accused are with the 10th ID but, quoting Captain Limjoco, "only three were arrested since the others were on a mission detail."

The other accused were identified in the warrants of arrest issued by a regional trial court judge in Tagum City as Sgt. Jerry Serafin Napoles, the alleged team leader, and Privates Sumogoy, Araneta, Entero and Ugsod.

Melecio said she received information that one of the remaining at-large suspects has already gone into hiding and his unit listed him as "absent without leave" or AWOL.

"I believe that soldier who went AWOL could be Napoles", she said.

She slammed the military's failure to present the other two suspects, calling the Army's excuse "unfair."

"Whether the soldiers are on a mission or not, it's the Army's responsibility to turn them in to police and civilian authorities to face charges levelled against them", Melecio said.

Thirty two Army troopers from the 404th Infantry Brigade stormed the shanty of the Japalalis in Sitio Talaba orning of Sept. 8, 2004 on alleged reports that the couple had weapons and that they harbored armed men believed to be Moro rebels.

The raid was carried out without backing from the local city police and soldiers, using automatic rifles and grenade launchers fired at the house, instantly killing its occupants.

The incident became known as “Bincungan Massacre.”

Police investigation conducted after the incident revealed the victims were shot while still sleeping inside their mosquito net.

Not a firearm was found though the victim's kin admitted Bacar was a member of the MILF.

Melecio said the Ombudsman for Military resolved that 32 soldiers be indicted but former 11th Regional Trial Court Judge Jesus Aventurado reduced the number to eight  'to spare the innocent," citing military reports that it was the group of Napoles who actually opened fire at the house.

Melecio added Aventurado downgraded the charges to double homicide, citing the mitigating circumstance of Napoles issuing order that the victims be rushed to the nearest hospital.

"Justice is still a long, far way ahead", Melecio said on Tuesday. She said the apprehension of some of the suspects is just the start of a "long court battle."

Melecio also noted "irregularities" even during the turning over of the three suspects to the Tagum police. She said the suspects' legal officer failed to identify "who is who" among the three.

Aventurado inhibited himself from the case soon after the counsel for the defendants accused him of being biased towards the victims' relatives, the complainants.

The case was raffled off, according to Melecio and another regional trial court judge, Judge Belo, got the case. Belo was the one who issued the arrest warrants.

Melecio and the complainants went to Cagayan de Oro on Tuesday, to serve warrants on remaining suspects who are reportedly now assigned to the 4th Infantry Division in Camp Evangelista.

She said she had coordinated with the Cagayan de Oro police to effect the arrest.

Melecio said the victims' relatives are happy with the developments of the case after the long wait, and appealed to President Macapagal-Arroyo and to the Department of Nationa Defense (DND) in facilitating the accused surrender.

Karapatan Mindanao’s Kelly Delgado on Tuesday said justice is attained only when there is conviction. He also called on authorities to indemnify the victims' kin. (Frinston L. Lim/MindaNews)