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“Not guilty”: 25 soldiers’ plea before MTC judge for “obstruction of justice”

KANANGA, LEYTE – 25 soldiers out of 28 of the 19th IB based in this town entered a “not guilty” plea to charges of “obstruction of justice”, in an arraignment held morning of Wednesday, March 11, before Judge Marcelino Malate Jr. of the municipal trial court here.

The three others were not around. 2Lt. Cameron D. Perez, according to Army counsel Atty. Vesper Mayor, was in Baguio for a 15-day mission, while Pfc. Enrique Balbarona and Ramil L. Maguilano have since been dismissed from service in 2012 yet.

Atty. Mayor said he did not know why Balbarona and Maguilano were dismissed from service.

The others are Cpl. Henrich Montecalvo; Pfcs Noelito Eblamo, Ramelito Caayon Julito Bucog, Elmer Tapac, Arvie Divinagracia, Jose D. Madrilejos; Cpl. Jesus A. Verona; Pfcs. Leonard E. Regis, Richard O. Salandino, Apollo Elnar, Esperidion C. Java Jr., Cornilio A. Coso, Ricardo Liguidliguid, Edjun Omawas, Modesto Camero Jr., Elmer Costelo, Carlo Romero, Godofredo Capatoy III, Andro B. Villanueva, Arnel Superales, Ramil Maguilano, Edyson Ferenal, Bob Alipoon, and Enrico Malog.

The complaint of obstruction of justice against the 28 was filed by police investigators who claimed they impeded the arrest of the members of the 1st Squadron, 1st Platoon of the 19th IB led by 1Lt. Ronald G. Odchimar.

The charges are in relation to the deaths of renowned botanist Dr. Leonard Co, EDC forester Sofronio G. Cortez, and forest guide Julio L. Borromeo, and the wounding of Ronino C. Gibe and Policarpio Balute last November 15, 2010 yet, while on a scientific exploration of the mountains within the Energy Development Corporation, to identify local tree species.

19th IB troopers operating in the area reportedly fired at the group without warning. The two survivors said they were able to escape by running to the highway, just about a kilometer away from the site of the carnage.

Meanwhile, the arraignment of the suspected soldiers of the 1st Squadron, 1st Platoon led by Odchimar, for the charge of Reckless Imprudence resulting to Homicide was momentarily shelved, following the motion of the Co family lawyer herself.

Atty. Irish Tubania, a Free Legal Assistance Group lawyer, asked the Court to defer it because they have a pending appeal at the Department of Justice, to upgrade the charge to Murder. Tubania said the DOJ has yet to rule on their appeal, two years after they filed it.

Mrs. Glenda Co, Dr. Co’s widow, said that they will pursue the case up to the very end. “Whatever it takes,” she said.

Co and her lawyer had to fly in from Manila for the hearing. A motion from them to transfer the hearing to a court at the NCR was denied. By Lalaine M. Jimenea

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