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PIA Press Release

Soldier gets life for kidnap of 6 civilians in Agusan Sur

by Ernie Ofianga and Franklin Caliguid

Butuan City (6 August) -- A Regional Trial Court judge in Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur has sentenced an Army soldier to life imprisonment in a landmark ruling related to the involuntary disappearance in 2000 of 6 civilians suspected of being communist New People's Army sympathizers.

Judge Dante Luz Viacrusis of RTC Branch 6, in his July 18 decision, found Army Corporal Rodrigo Billones guilty of kidnapping and serious illegal detention of civilians Artemio Ayala Jr., Joseph Belar, Arnold Dangquiasan, Jovencio Lagare, Diosdado Oliver and Romualdo Orcullo.

The ruling came after an eight-year trial with the prosecution and relatives of the victims presenting an Army sergeant who testified against Billones. Viacrusis said the testimony of Sgt. Exequias Duyogan bolstered the case against Billones after he was identified as the leader of a group of soldiers belonging to the Army's 62 Infantry Battalion (IB) that snatched the victims who were then attending a party in Trento town on Oct. 14, 2000.

Viacrusis also ordered the Department of Justice to conduct a separate inquiry on the criminal culpability of Col. Eutiqui Cabando Jr., former commander of the 62nd IB, his executive officer Lt. Enrico Calumag and 11 other soldiers who were separately implicated by Duyogan.

Lawyer John Unay, counsel of the victim's families hailed the court's ruling as it finally served justice. "The ruling defeats the myth that nothing can be done in cases of involuntary disappearance. This is a landmark ruling," Unay said. But Unay said there was still much legal work to go to hold Cabando and Calumag criminally accountable for the victim's disappearance.

"Under the doctrine of command responsibility, they (Cabando and Calumag) must be held accountable for the acts of their men," he said.

He said they have enough testimonial evidence to prove that Cabando and Calumag had a direct hand in the disappearance that was allegedly carried out to avenge the death of Cabando's predecessor who was ambushed by NPA rebels months before the abduction.

"Cabando had a hand in the incident," he said. Unay however, concedes that a case against the Army official, who has since retired from service, faces an uphill battle because the bodies of the victims have not been found.

"The victims were tortured and burned, so when there's no body, then there's no crime. But we are not losing hope," Unay said. (Mindanao News Courier/PIA-Caraga) [top]

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