Authorities exhumed the skeletons of three missing persons – including a soldier and a retired police officer – in two shallow graves in Kitaotao, Bukidnon yesterday morning – exactly two years after they were reportedly abducted by the rebels.
Lt. Col. Silas Trasmontero, the commander of Philippine Army’s 89th Infantry Battalion, identified the victims as Sgt. Reynante Havana Espana, 42, of San Francisco in Agusan del Sur and then assigned at Surigao del Sur; Joel Rey Galendez, 43, a retired police officer, of Bunawan Agusan del Sur; and Dionisio Camarillo Havana alias Dondon, 37, of Sto. Nino, Carmen, Davao del Norte and tribal datu in Agusan del Sur.
The three were missing since Aug. 22, 2017 after they were reportedly abducted by members of the new People’s Army (NPA) while passing a road blockade in Sitio Nabunturan, Barangay Digonga, Kitaotao, Bukidnon.
The unearthing of the grave sites came after a rebel who recently surrendered gave the tip.
Army officials, led by 10th Infantry Division commander Maj. Gen. Jose Faustino Jr., 1003rd Infantry Brigade commander Col. Nolasco Mempin, and Trasmontero – with members of the media flew, via two Huey helicopters, from Sto. Tomas, Davao del Norte to Kitaotao for the recovery of the bodies in the far-flung sitio.
Local police from Bukidnon, including agents of the Scene of the Crime Operatives (SOCO), later joined in the operation.
Datu Jhanny Cuyan, the deputy mayor, offered a white chicken as a ritual before the digging of the graves.
Two grave sites were dug – the first was with the remains of the soldier and the tribal chieftain and the other was of the policeman.
The devastated families of the victims, who were also transported to the site, confirmed the bodies of the loved ones.
“It’s hurting because we expected that he’s still alive,” Espana’s widow, Aida, told reporters at the grave site. “But we were relieved because the search has ended but it’s just really hurting.”
Since her husband went missing, Aida said there was a negotiation for her husband’s release.
“However, nothing happened,” she said.
Aida said they even gave money, through a negotiator, hoping for the release of her husband.
Evelyn Galendez, the policeman’s sister, said the three – all relatives – came from Cagayan de Oro City on their way home in Surigao. They passed Bukidnon.
The three victims were with Galendez’s 15-year-old son who was released after two months later, she said.
Dino, a former Milisyang Bayan (MB) member who witnessed the crime, said he was visiting a friend when the NPA rebels called him.
He was told to scour the site where the three victims were brought.
“After they (the NPAs) shot the three, they instructed me to bury them because they would be leaving,” he added.
The three, he said, were still able to speak “but they (NPA members) suddenly shot them.”
Dino said seven armed men shot the three victims.
He surrendered to the soldiers of 89th Infantry Battalion two months ago.
Before the exhumation, Trasmontero told reporters that his unit conducted Community Support (CSP) in seven Bukidnon barangays – Kalagangan, Cabuling, Duian, and Matupe in San Fernando and Digongan, Panganan and Kiolom in Kitaotao.
Trasmontero said the CSP team was tasked to find out the socio-cultural, political and economic issues as they aim to address the problems with the collaboration of different government agencies, non-government organizations and other stake holders.
With the five-month CSP operation, he said more than 1,000 regular NPA and MB members surrendered.
During a dialogue, the surenderers revealed significant atrocities that the NPAs committed in the area, including the murder and the burial of three persons who turned out to be the three victims.
Faustino said the collected evidence at the grave site will be used to charge NPA members behind the murder.