Police Cover-Up in Vigo Murders Assailed

Oct. 01, 2006

The police allegedly duped an elderly mother into signing documents that said the New Peoples Army killed Macel and George Vigo, the two journalists murdered in June in Kidapawan. Church and human-rights groups, in a fact-finding mission, assailed the authorities for the alleged cover-up and for Oplan Bantay Laya.

By Germelina A. Lacorte

KIDAPAWAN CITY Norma Alave is 60 years old and has a failing eyesight. The day after her daughter Maricel Macel Vigo was murdered along with her husband George, on June 19, then Philippine National Police chief Arturo Lomibao came to this city to personally hand over a 10,000-peso check supposedly from President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

The following day, the police summoned her to the police station and asked her to sign some documents. She was told that the papers were meant to establish that she was Macels mother and that George was her son-in-law. So I signed the documents, Alave said, even though she couldnt read what was written on them.

It was only later when her son Gregorio Alave, 29, found out that the documents his mother had signed included a paragraph that identified the Vigo couples killer as someone named Dionisio Madanguit. I retracted the statement because I never knew that man, Mrs. Alave said.

This incident, according to human-rights and church groups that recently conducted a fact-finding mission in this city to investigate the killings, tended to suggest a whitewash and was meant to fit the authorities oft-repeated line that the communist New Peoples Army was behind the murder of the Vigos.

Earlier reports on the case had police and military sources readily pointing to Jonever Madanguit (alias Dionisio), a former member of the New Peoples Army (NPA) now under the custody of the military, as the killer.

But the Kidapawan city Prosecution Office dismissed the PNP case against Madanguit for lack of evidence, so that until now, despite the setting up of the Task Force Vigo to look into the killing, the facts surrounding the couples death is still as hazy.

Church workers and religious leaders who were alarmed over the killings, however, have a different view about the case.

During its September 18 fact-finding journey Duyog sa Panaw, Church leaders pointed out in a statement that the swift investigation on the killing and the polices declaration that it had been solved suggested a cover-up rather than a pursuit of justice.

The fact-finding mission — composed of over 300 Church workers from different faiths and denominations and human rights activists — described the deaths of the Vigo couple as part of a patterned and systematic persecution of groups and individuals critical of the government.

The mission said the attempt to drag the family to support the Task Force Vigos report — that Madanguit was the primary suspect — was actually an effort to whitewash the case.

In a statement, the interfaith fact-finding mission voiced out the familys apprehensions of the possible influence of high-ranking provincial officials on the Task Force Vigo and the possibility of a high-ranking official to be involved.

George and Macel were the eighth in the list of journalists who died this year in the country, which had been dubbed by international media organizations as the worlds most murderous place for journalists, even surpassing war-torn Iraq, where journalists are killed in the crossfire. Here, they are hunted down and murdered, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

And at least 43 percent of the journalists killed after democracy was restored in 1986 were from Mindanao, where the rule of the guns, goons and gold prevail among political dynasties, according to the National Union of Journalist of the Philippines (NUJP).

Barely a month after the Vigo couples death, on July 18, another radioman was slain in Digos City, just three towns away, by still unidentified assailants.

Participants of the fact-finding mission believe that the Vigo killings and the murders of political activists form part of the militarys Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL), hatched at the start of Arroyos rule in 2001 to wipe out the armed insurgency in five years. This plan also identified progressive groups as targets.

Macels younger brother Gregorio said his sister and brother-in-law George had been telling him before their tragic death that theyve been receiving death threats. George, a member of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), has been known to be critical of some local politicians while Macel has been hosting a radio program Tingog sa Kabatan-onan.

He was always saying, Why should I be afraid? I did nothing wrong, said Gregorio, who believed that politics could be behind his sister and brother-in-laws death.

Gregorio has been receiving numerous death threats himself after the couples death and cited instances when he was being followed by suspicious men n motorcycle.

But the wave of extra judicial killings now on the rise in the country is not only affecting journalists but also other political activists, which according to the human rights group Karapatan, has reached 755 this year, including more than 200 members of peasant groups that the military suspected as members and supporters of the Communist insurgency.

Reverend Wilmar Bongado, conference minister of the United Church of Christ of the Philippines (UCCP) Southern Mindanao district conference, said the victims include 24 Church workers.

In North Cotabato and Davao del Sur alone, the upsurge of these unsolved killings has alarmed Church leaders.

A month before the Vigo couples death, on May 7 at around 9 oclock in the evening, men on motorcycle lobbed a grenade at the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) office at the Suerte Subdivision here.

At first, I was puzzled why they were wearing helmets during nighttime, said Roderick Abalde, 26, a member of the partylist group Anakpawis who was hit by shrapnels on the right side of his body. It was only after they lobbed the grenade and I was scampering for safety that I finally realized why.

He was about to start his motorcycle when the two motorcycle-riding assailants came and lobbed the grenade at his direction. When the grenade rolled over the nearby tree, it was already too late to run for cover. Abalde and his companion, Jobanie Tacadao, 25, the secretary-general of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), spent more than a week in the hospital.

According to the mission, the grenade attack was a move to harass or kill Abalde and Tacadao, who were aware they were being tailed prior to the incident.

Church leaders also pointed out other human rights violations in areas under heavy military presence, which included Santa Cruz, where 46 people belonging to the United Farmers Association in Santa Cruz and two barangay tanods were accused of being NPA members and were forcibly made to surrender.

There were also the military operations in the villages of Coronon, Sibulan, Zone 1 and Astorga which victimized civilians and the red-tagging of indigenous peoples who continued to oppose mining activities in Columbio, Sultan Kudarat, among others.

These human rights abuses are just an outcome of the Arroyo governments campaign against insurgency, where she allotted one billion pesos to stomp down the rebel movement, never mind if caught in the crossfire are innocent civilians, said Bongado.

We take a stand against these killings because it has been proven time and again that the military approach to insurgency is not the right approach, said Bishop Delfin Callao Jr., of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente Diocese of Southern Mindanao. The upsurge of these unsolved killings has allowed a culture of impunity to reign, according to the statement released by

Callao said that intensified military operations will only victimize civilians and the money that would have been allotted to social services would be spent on military operations. It will not only waste our much-needed resources, it will also cost the lives of many civilians, he said.

Theres no question about holding military operations as long as they dont affect innocent civilians, said lawyer Engelbert Calgas of the UCCP Lawyers League. But if people with less in life are affected, the Church will always be on the side of the poor.

(Germelina Lacorte/davaotoday.com)

comments powered by Disqus