UPDATE (May 31, 2021): Karapatan-TK now confirms that KI Cometa is alive and in the custody of authorities, though they feared that he might have been injured or tortured. More details to follow.
UPDATE (June 2, 2021): After nearly 13 days of red-tape, Karapatan-TK says that the body of Palawan native Christopher Bolon is expected to be released to the family tonight.
The search continues for UPLB alumnus KI Cometa, believed to have been involved in a bloody raid that killed three others in Sta. Rosa, Laguna.
It was May 21, at around 1:30 AM. Human rights alliance Karapatan Timog Katagalugan (TK) said that there was no encounter between authorities and three others in a transient home in Sta. Rosa, Laguna. What happened was rather a “summary execution.”
An initial investigation by the alliance’s fact-finding team, the results of which were released through social media two days later and have been updated since, revealed that there was a three-hour bloodbath at the Blue Sky and Greenhouse Transient House of Buena Rosa Subdivision in Brgy. Macabling in the City of Sta. Rosa.
Three were confirmed killed, among them being a certain Rommel Riza, whom authorities have spinned as “resisting” the serving of his arrest warrant, in addition to being painted as members of the revolutionary armed group New People’s Army (NPA). Elements of the 202nd Infantry Brigade of Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) and PNP Santa Rosa were involved in the incident.
But after a week of investigations, the UPLB community was in for a shock: an initially unidentified fourth victim, who witnesses said to have been taken by authorities, was alumnus Kemuel Ian “KI” Cometa. Serving as a councilor for the College of Arts and Sciences Student Council (CASSC) back in 2013 and as a Kabataan Partylist coordinator for the province of Laguna in 2016, Cometa was present when the slaughter took place.
Like a broken record
Karapatan-TK questioned the “nanlaban” angle, citing that neighbors only heard eight gunshots while the police report stated that no less than 29 cartridge cases were fired. The M16 rifle said to have been found in the area was believed to have been planted as evidence claiming that it would have been difficult to smuggle to their subdivision.
An eye-witness narrated that four covered bodies were carried outside the transient home by 4 AM, the same number of residents in the rented room as confirmed by the landlord. The investigation by Karapatan TK also revealed that one male was seen to have been wounded by the gunfire.
“Maraming dapat na ipaliwanag ang mga yunit ng PNP at AFP na nag-operasyon noong gabing iyon. Kung walong putok lamang ng baril ang nadinig ng mga residente, malinaw na walang labanang naganap at ang nangyari ay kaso ng pamamaslang,” Karapatan-TK said.
The testimonies showed that the police and military immediately barged-in and opened fire on the four as they arrived on the scene. One officer was also said to have warned them of fighting back which is followed by a gunshot.
Karapatan-TK alleged that there were no intentions in bringing the victims alive as the three were slain in their beds and lacked proof of resistance in the blood stain. The alliance even found the police report to be inconsistent and conflicting, ruling the incident out as a “summary execution” rather than an encounter.
“Ang kriminal na rekord ng PNP sa pagsasagawa ng mga ‘law enforcement operations,’ na nagtatapos sa kamatayan ng karamihan sa mga target nito, at ang napakaraming halimbawa ng tanim-ebidensya ang siyang magpapatunay na hindi na sasapat ang anumang pinalalabas na dahilan ng PNP sa kanilang mga reyd, mapa-operasyon kontra-droga o diumano’y kontra-terorismo,” they said.
Yet to be found
KI, who grew up in Quezon province, is known to have been a student leader and an active member of other student organizations during his time in UPLB. KI’s hometown friend, who was only mentioned as Ashley in a post by Anakbayan Quezon, recollected his abilities and dedication in helping people.
“His wit and charm always motivate and influence people to move out of their comfort zones. He has the abilities of a good leader, even when we were in high school,” she said.
Even after seven years, Ashley said that KI remained a friend of hers and all the people he met, including a lot of farmers, workers, and students. She calls for the AFP and PNP to surface him and respect his right to live and right for due process.
A close friend of KI, who asked to only be identified as Jerice, recalled the efforts KI has done for their university organization and how he has greatly helped Jeric in numerous instances throughout college.
Jerice said that KI is a good person and can be proven by the people he has met in his life.
“Mas pinili niyang mag-serbisyo sa mga mamamayan imbis na mabuhay ng komportable na katulad natin. Pinili niya ang masa na walang kalaban-laban sa mga taong pilit na ginigipit sila. Hindi siya kaaway ng estado,” he said.
Rey Victor Evangelista, a former orgmate and another close friend of KI, said in a Facebook post that KI was someone who was willing to help people around him which is to no surprise why he chose to be a student leader in UPLB. It was natural for him to consider the welfare of other people before his own which makes Evangelista proud of his work with the masses.
Evangelista recalled Cometa as “a friend you could always rely on.”
“Naalala ko n[o]on na tuwing gipit ako sa budget ay walang pag-aatubili nya akong pinapahiram ng pera. Lagi rin nya akong tinutulungan sa mga school requirements ko at sinasamahan sa mga acad-related trip. Kahit pangongolekta ng insekto sa [F]orestry [referring to the College of Forestry and Natural Resources in UPLB] para sa entom subj[ect] ko nuon [sic] ay sinamahan pa rin nya ako. Napaka supportive din nya sa ibang bagay,” Evangelista reminisced.
“Kahit saang anggulo nating tingnan, mali ang ginawa ng militar at kapulisan sa pagtatago kay KI. Paglabag ito sa kanyang karapatan at banta rin to sa kaligtasan nating lahat na nakikiisa rin sa mga panawagan ni KI.“ Evangelista said, calling for his dear friend’s surfacing.
The UPLB Genetics Society (GeneSoc) likewise called for the surfacing of their fellow alum and former Technicals Committee Head. They also demanded for the administration to stop the attacks towards human rights and democracy enacted by the continuous red-tagging and Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.
“GeneSoc insists that AFP-PNP surface KI Cometa and abide with the due process of law. Not only that, but we amplify our dissent against the state forces’ complete disregard for human rights through ceaseless, unjustified violence,” GeneSoc said.
Meanwhile, the UPLB University Student Council (USC) also condemned the incident and called for the public officials of Sta. Rosa to help KI’s family and also to the other victims. They will remain firm in their campaign against facism and reiterated their call to defend Southern Tagalog.
“Nakatindig ang konsehong ito kasama ang malawak na hanay ng mga Pilipino sa panawagang itigil na ang pamamaslang pang-bababoy sa mga demokratikong karapatan ng ating mga mamamayan,” UPLB USC said.
Delays and pending information
As Karapatan-TK continued the call to surface Cometa and demand collective accountability from AFP and PNP, families were left to grieve in the face of delayed releases of their loved ones’ bodies.
The family of Christopher Boton, one of the victims in the incident, had to endure delays from PNP Sta. Rosa in releasing Boton’s body. This forced the family to go to Laguna from their unspecified province even with travel restrictions hindering them to do so.
Meanwhile, it took the family of Cristina Estocado, another victim, about eight days for her remains to be returned. The remains of Rommel Riza were also brought back to his family after the long process. Riza’s and Estocado’s separate funerals took place on May 26 and 28, respectively.
“Nais lamang ng mga pamilya makuha ng katahimikan at panahon para magluksa para sa kanilang pinatay na mga kamag-anak sa kabila ng sinapit nilang trahedya. Ngunit habang tumatagal na nabubulok, nakabinbin, at nasa alangan ang mga minamahal nila, lalong dumadaing ang sakit na nararamdaman nila,” Karapatan-TK said.
This was not the only time when authorities were caught “hostaging the dead.” In three weeks, from late December to early January, the family of Vilma Salabao had to wait until the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) successfully helped in negotiating her body’s release. Salabao was one of the Baras Five, mango farm workers who were red-tagged then killed in Brgy. San Juan, Baras, Rizal in December, 2020.
Most recently, the families of four of the Rizal Six (all victims of the COPLAN ASVAL massacre of early March) had to face the alleged bureaucracy of Antipolo Funeral Homes and police.
While developments are still on the way, a humanitarian team was sent to Camp General Nakar, AFP Southern Luzon Command Headquarters in the Quezon province to know the whereabouts of Cometa last May 30.
Calls for justice
Different progressive groups and national democratic mass organizations (NDMOs) condemn the execution and call out the illegal activities on human rights by the AFP-PNP. They assert that this is evidence why it is important to impose body cameras during operations in response to the questionable harassment done by law enforcement.
“Bulok na taktika ng mga militar at mismong ni Duterte ang mang-hostage ng bangkay para lamang maipakita na sumusulong at umaabante ang proyekto ng NTF-ELCAC na pinondohan ng gobyerno ng bilyon-bilyong peso,” Kabataan Partylist Laguna said.
“Hindi na bago ang ganitong uri ng paglabag sa karapatang pantao ng mga mamamatay-tao na AFP, PNP dahil sa mahabang rekord nito ng patayan, paniniktik, at intimidasyon sa mamamayan,” Anakbayan Laguna said.
Karapatan-TK released an open letter to Sta, Rosa City Mayor Arlene Arcillas, Cong. Dan Fernandez, and Laguna Gov. Ramil Hernandez to help the families of the victims and immediate actions towards the AFP-PNP’s delays on claiming their relative’s remains.
“Nananatili ang masaklaw at makatarungang prinsipyo ng karapatang pantao sa lahat ng mamamayan ng bansa, kahit na sila ay diumano’y kasapi ng rebolusyonaryong organisasyon o paratangang terorista,” they said.
They claim that it is a clear indication that Brig. Gen. Felipe Natividad, former chief of Police Regional Office 4a (PRO4) and current chief of PNP-SAF, and Brig. Gen. Eliseo Cruz, current PRO4 chief, is keping Duterte administration’s bloody legacy alive and flowing.
Karapatan-TK challenged the AFP-PNP that if they are true to their service to the people, they must then release the missing victim and put a stop to their bloody operations. [P]
Photos from Anakbayan-Quezon and Rey Victor Evangelista
Design by Justine Marie Fuentes