Karapatan seeks punishment of top military commanders in death of B’laan family

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/03 November)—Let the axe also fall on the heads of the top military commanders having jurisdiction in the mines development site of foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI) where a mother and her two sons where killed last month, human rights group Karapatan urged yesterday.

Reverend Jurie Jaime, Karapatan-Southern Mindanao spokesperson, said in a statement the government should hold accountable not only the 13 soldiers but also the commanders of the 27th Infantry Battalion (IB) and the 10th Infantry Division (ID).

The 27th IB, headed by Lt. Col. Alexis Noel Bravo, has direct supervision over the soldiers involved in the operation that killed Juvy Capion, 27, and her two sons Jordan, 13, and John Mark, 8.

The battalion is under the 10th ID headed by Brig. Gen. Ariel Bernardo.

Juvy was the wife of Daguel Capion, leader of the armed B’laan tribesmen opposing the mining venture of SMI.

Bravo had said that the deaths of the civilians was because of the firefight between the soldiers and Capion’s group, starkly contrasting the claims of militant groups that it was a massacre.

Jaime stressed that “a civilian-led investigation would ferret out the truth because we have to consider the accounts of the witnesses that pointed out that the incident was a massacre.”

Sought Saturday for comment that top military brasses should also be held accountable, Lt. Col. Lyndon Paniza, 10th ID spokesperson, said in a text message that Karapatan’s call “was their prerogative. We cannot do away with that.”

“Besides, we are also in pursuit of truth and justice,” he added.

In an October 31 press statement, Paniza said that an army officer and 12 other soldiers will face a general court martial as investigations revealed that there was a “tactical” lapse into the killing of the B’laan family on October 18.

The 10th ID earlier formed a Board of Inquiry to probe the incident.

Based on its recommendation, the general court martial will be convened to hear and decide the cases involving violations of the Article of War 76 (Misbehaviour before the Enemy) of the Rules of Engagement– particularly rules 4 and 5; the Article of War 96 (Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and a Gentleman); and the Article of War 97 (Conduct Prejudicial to Good Order and Military Discipline), according to Paniza.

“There was a lapse of judgment on the company commander [1Lt. Dante Jimenez] for he failed to direct his men in accordance to the Rules of Engagement,” Paniza said.

However, Paniza denied it was a massacre and insisted it was a legitimate encounter.

“Since the operation was squad-size and was initiated within the company commander’s level, it was the responsibility of 1Lt. Jimenez to assess the situation and properly brief his troops about the confronted circumstances,” Paniza said.

While waiting for the results of the ballistic tests to determine who really killed the victims, Paniza said they need “to promulgate necessary measures to our men who made violations to the Rules of Engagement.”

Karapatan’s Jaime, citing accounts of witnesses and relatives of the victims, claimed there was no gunfight.

He also lamented that the soldiers brought the bodies of the victims outside the hut and laid them on the ground for eight hours.

Major Jake Obligado, chief of civil military operations of 10th ID, told MindaNews Saturday that Karapatan’s call to also particularly hold accountable Bravo, the 27th IB commander, on the deaths of the three civilians “was for their personal consumption.”

But Obligado said they welcome the independent probe called by Karapatan. (Lorie Ann A. Cascaro/MindaNews)