ILOILO City – Finding the complaints to be sufficient in form and substance, the Ombudsman, through the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for the Military and Other Law Enforcement Offices (MOLEO), has issued an order directing P/Col. Leo Irwin Agpangan, P/Maj. Francisco Paguia, P/Lt. Col. Mark Anthony Darroca of the Antique PNP, and a certain 1/Lt. Labrador of the 301st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division of the Philippine Army to file their counter-affidavits in the criminal and administrative complaints brought against them by the families of 7 staff members of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines Panay killed in a joint police and military operation in a house in Brgy. Atabay, San Jose, Antique around midnight on August 15, 2018.
PNP and AFP officials claimed that Felix Salditos, Peter Mecenas, Jayson Talibo, Liezel Bandiola, Jason Sanchez, Eldie Labinghisa, and Karen Ceralvo all died during the course of a firefight against government troops who were attempting to serve a warrant of arrest. The police operatives were reportedly under the command of P/Col. Agpangan, P/Maj. Paguia, and P/Lt. Col. Darroca, while military personnel were led by 1/Lt. Labrador.
In August 2019, the victims’ next-of-kin filed the complaint for Murder and War Crimes under Republic Act 9851 after autopsy examinations conducted by the Commission on Human Rights Forensic Center revealed that at least 4 of the victims suffered physical injuries unrelated to gunshot wounds. According to the complaint, the nature of these other injuries show that these were inflicted while the victims were still alive, which is wholly inconsistent with the PNP and the AFP’s narrative.
The complainants also sought the Ombudsman’s help in securing records and official documents related to the deadly operation in order to ascertain the identities of all police and military officers and personnel involved. These records have not been disclosed despite request from the victims’ families, highlighting the lack of transparency surrounding the events of August 15, 2018.
While the investigation into the Antique 7 killings is still at an early stage, the Ombudsman’s directive to the PNP and AFP commanders involved to address these charges is a significant step in demanding accountability for the ever-increasing number of deaths resulting from police and military operations across the country.
The case of the Antique 7 also serves as a litmus test for the government’s willingness to thoroughly investigate and prosecute state security forces for possible war crimes committed during internal armed conflicts./www.panaytoday.net