Davao Today

DAVAO CITY—The name Danilo Santiago first appeared in the media on June 14 last year, a day after a man by that name was killed in Tagum, Davao del Norte. When the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) conducted a public inquiry on the killing of Kumander Paragos daughter Rebelyn Pitao in April this year, the name Danilo Santiago again cropped up.

But who was Danilo Santiago? How was his death related to the death of Rebelyn Pitao?

Commissioner Leila De Lima had asked Helvin Bitang, a Military Intelligence Bureau (MIB) personnel, if he knew the man.

Bitang said Santiago was his neighbor. He also said Santiago was his asset and his best friend.

Bitang was among the nine members of the MIB who appeared before the CHR during the inquiry on the killing of Rebelyn Pitao on April 1 this year. The nine were among the 13 MIG and MIB personnel earlier named by Leoncio Pitao, also known as Kumander Parago, as suspects of Rebelyns killing.

Bitang said Danilo Santiago was Paragos brother. He also said that Santiago is dead. Sometimes, he (Santiago) gave information about him (Parago), Bitang told CHR. But despite the information that Santiago provided, they still could not find Paragos whereabouts.

Mary Jean Espira, 33, Santiagos second wife, said Danilo changed his family name from Pitao to Santiago in 1985, after Parago, his brother, became one of the most sought after leaders of the New Peoples Army.

Danilo wanted to go abroad to work as a seaman, said Santiagos wife.

In 1985, Santiago started working as a seaman, which lasted for over ten years. He stopped only after his first wife remarried and left their three children at his custody.

No one would take care of the children, so, he stopped, she said.

Santiago then worked as a chief cook for the Maria Clara restaurant in Panabo city. But his income was not enough to support the whole family, so, he worked as a closed-in bodyguard of Governor Rodolfo del Rosario in Davao del Norte. He still cooked and did catering services on the sides for extra income.

But on May 23, 2007, a certain Captain Ramos of the 73rd Infantry Battalion, recruited him as a military agent.

The military wanted to get information about his brother, said Espira. Her husband accepted the militarys offer because he was afraid they would kill him and harm his family.

Espira said Santiago had asked permission from Parago who told him not to allow himself to be used by the military.

The military made Santiago sign several forms and issued him a .45 caliber pistol.

Since then, Santiago doubled as a military agent on top of his work as a bodyguard of Davao del Norte governor Rodolfo del Rosario. As a military agent, he was required to report to Camp Panacan every month. Espira said his husband had no particular mission or job assignment. He was only being observed by the military.

A year later, Santiago died. The news media reported him as the brother of Leoncio Ka Parago Pitao, an NPA leader operating in Southern Mindanao. He was killed by men on motorcycle.

An NPA statement said the killing was a desperate move by the military to get back at the NPA after they failed to get Parago.

Espira recalled how MIB members used to frequent their house since the military recruited her husband. Theyd visit him three days in a week, she said. Theyd have breakfast and drinking sessions. Sometimes, he could not go to work because of those visits.

She heard the names Bitang, Scarface, Arnel, Aries, Francis and Benjack during those visits and thought that Benjack was the codename of Ben Tipait, one of those investigated by the CHR. Espira said she closely watched her husband when the men were at their house.

I would never leave my husband alone, she said. On June 13 last year, a Friday, Bitang fetched Santiago from their house to help him get the milled rice they solicited from the Provincial Capitol in Tagum City. Bitang, who wore a red sweatshirt, boarded his motorcycle.

That day, her husband was killed.

According to the reports, Santiago boarded a passenger tricycle, which was later blocked by men on motorcycles. Two men finished two magazines on Santiagos body. Then, they took (from Santiago) the military-issued .45 pistol and emptied it on his body. They killed him using his own gun, Espira said, referring to the military issued .45 pistol.

Days after Santiagos death, the motorcycle was seen carried on a six-by-six military truck.

Two days after Santiagos death, his eldest son Dennis, 20, hid in the mountains because of threats to his life. Dennis told me that the MIB told him he can work as a policeman even without the necessary requirements, she said.

On that day that her husband died, Espira sent Bitang a text message, asking him what happened. She got no reply. Since then, she had not seen any of the MIB men who used to visit their house.

Evangeline Pitao, wife of Parago and mother of Rebelyn Pitao, said she believed the killing of her daughter is related to the killing of Danilo Santiago because both are connected with Parago. On the third series of the CHR inquiry in May, Bitang and other MIG personnel did not show up. We want justice, Espira said. (Grace S. Uddin/

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