MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Justice (DOJ) dismissed yesterday the murder charges filed against Army soldiers allegedly involved in the death of noted botanist Leonard Co and two other civilians during an operation against communist rebels in Leyte in November 2010.
In a 19-page resolution released yesterday, the DOJ ruled that there is no probable cause to indict nine men of the Army’s 19th Infantry Battalion led by 1Lt. Ronald Odchimar for murder, as sought in the complaint filed by Co’s widow Glenda.
The DOJ panel though did not totally clear the respondents, as it found them liable for a lesser offense: reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide and attempted homicide.
A panel of fiscals led by Assistant State Prosecutor George Yarte Jr. concluded after preliminary investigation that a key element of murder – intentional felony or motive to kill – was absent in this case.
The fiscals bought the defense of the respondents that they were unaware of the presence of Co’s team in the area where they were conducting an operation against New People’s Army rebels.
The troops, according to the fiscals, only operated under “a mistake of fact,” citing the “remoteness and seclusion of the forested areas where there is little or hardly any possibility of civilian presence.”
Apart from Odchimar, also charged were Cameron Perez, Cpl. Marlon Mores, and Pfcs. Albert Belonte, Michael Babon, Elemer Forteza, Roger Fabillar, Gil Guimerey, Alex Apostol, and William Bulic.
They were also indicted for obstruction of justice along with 27 other officers.
Co, 56, a specialist in plant taxonomy and ethnobotany who was serving as biodiversity consultant of Lopez-owned EDC, was gathering specimen seedlings of endangered trees with a five-member team of civilians when elements of the 19th IB sprayed them with bullets on Nov. 15, 2010 in Barangay Lim-ao in Kananga, Leyte.
Co, Sofronio Cortez, a forest guard of the Energy Development Corp.’s Environmental Management Division; and Julius Borromeo, a member of the Tongonan Farmers Association, were killed in the incident.