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Scientists: Army's bullets killed top Filipino botanist Leonard Co


(Updated 7:06 p.m.) The Philippine Army’s bullets killed top Filipino botanist Leonard Co in Leyte province in November, a group of scientists said on Wednesday. “The direction of the fire was mainly concentrated in the area where [the research team of] Co were standing," Giovanni Tapang, national chairperson of Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (Agham), said at a press conference. “There was no indication of any crossfire," Tapang said. “The military certainly killed him and two of his team." Tapang pointed out that an analysis of Co’s gunshot wounds showed that the military could have been on top of a hill when they fired toward the direction of Co and his companions. Co, along with forest guard Sofronio Cortez and guide Julius Borromeo, were killed in an alleged crossfire between the government troops and the New People’s Army in Leyte on Nov. 15. “The failure of the military unit involved to provide immediate medical attention and hospital treatment to Borromeo prolonged his agony and ultimately led to his death," Tapang said. Co and his companions were searching for tree species suitable for a forest restoration project. Agham investigation After the death of Co and some members of his research team, Agham went to Kanaga town in Leyte province to establish facts and gather relevant information on the Nov. 15 incident. Agham's “Fact-Finding Mission on the Killings of Leonard Co" will submit its observations to the Commission on Human Rights, Department of Justice, National Bureau of Investigation, and some international human rights groups. Based on its observation report, Agham could not identify the number of bullets that hit Co. However, according to the family of the victim, Co suffered from three bullet wounds. Tapang pointed out in its observation report that the Army’s 19th IB “should release the names" of the members of the squad and platoon, including their commanding officers, involved in the shooting incident. The firearms of these officers and enlisted men should be secured and surrendered to proper authorities, he said in the press conference. Agham also recommended that the Philippine Army, Energy Development Corp. — the company that tasked Co to go through his research — and Philippine National Police should make accessible all documents that would further shed light on the incident. Caught in crossfire The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), meanwhile, maintained Co and two of his companions were killed as a result of firefight between government forces and NPA rebels. AFP Central Command spokesman Maj. Christopher Tampos nevertheless said they have nothing against Agham for its report blaming the military for the victims' deaths. “We have nothing against Agham or other groups but what we are waiting for is the official result [of the investigation] from the [police] task force," said Tampos, citing the ongoing investigation being conducted by the Philippine National Police (PNP). Tampos said the military conducted two investigations on the incident, one by the Army’s 802nd Brigade and one by the 8th Infantry Division. He said the two arrived at the same results. “There were same results. Their findings were that, indeed, there was encounter in the site," he said. Tampos, however, admitted that the investigations were partial because they were not able to take the statements of the two survivors, who allegedly refused to cooperate in the military probe. “They’ve gotten pictures, evidence on the scene of the encounter, including shells from the opposing side. They recovered (shells) from the troops, from the government forces and there were also spent shells coming from the opposing side," he said. Foremost botanist Co is a foremost botanist of the University of the Philippines-Diliman and Conservation International-Philippines. He was given the honor of having a newly-discovered species of Rafflesia (a plant genus bearing giant flowers), Rafflesia leonardis, named after him. Co, 56, is survived by wife Glenda and daughter Linnaei Marie. – VVP/KBK, GMANews.TV
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