Cannibalism case leaves pall over Palawan town

NARRA, Palawan (AFP) — The prosperous town of Narra was planning to promote itself as an ecotourism destination but instead has gained notoriety for a grisly cannibalism case that has shocked the Philippines.

Four men now languish in the Narra town jail, awaiting trial for allegedly killing a guest at a wedding party and eating parts of their victim. International newspapers reported the crime and local television stations carried footage of the victim’s fire-blackened bones across the nation.

Narra police chief Perla Bacuel said officials and residents of the town on the western island of Palawan "do not want this attention. This destroyed the image of Narra in the Philippines. "They are telling me, don’t talk about this because our guests, especially the foreigners, are afraid to come here," she said.

"Mayor Lucena Demaala has been trying to explain to the public that this is an isolated case and there are no other cases of violence in the town," Bacuel said.

But the sensational nature of the case and continuing mystery over the circumstances have fueled speculation. There are questions over whether a cult was implicated or if the group had claimed other victims.

According to the police report, on July 16, during a wedding dance for the daughter of farm laborer Eladio Baule, 47, guest Benjie Ganay, 25, accidentally touched the bottom of the bride-to-be. This allegedly enraged her father. Baule, his son Gerald, 21 and friends Sabtuary Peque, 36, and Jhunnie Buyot took Ganay on a motorized tricycle into the woods where they stabbed him to death. The four then allegedly set fire to Ganay’s body and ate parts of his body, the police report said.

Bacuel believes they may have served portions of Ganay’s body to some of those who were still drinking at the dance but she questions whether they actually served human flesh at the wedding itself.

Most of the victim’s bones were dumped in a creek in the belief that rain would wash them away but Buyot, a cousin of the victim, who was conscience-stricken over the incident, went to police and confessed to the crime. After a two-day search through the forest, police found the sooty bones along with remains of the clothing and tufts of hair.

The Baule father and son and Peque now sit in a spacious cell, complete with a makeshift ping-pong table, resisting attempts by photographers to take pictures of their faces. Their lawyer had warned them not to speak to the press but when asked, Eladio Baule said: "I don’t know anything of what they are saying. Our embarrassment is too great."

Narra tourism officer Reynaldo de la Rosa complained that the incident occurred in the hinterlands of the town and that most residents would not even have learned of the crime had it not been for media reporting. "The first media reports that came out weren’t too detailed. It made it look like it was part of our culture," he said.

Bacuel said it was the first such case in the history of the town. Violent crime is rare in Narra and the last killing occurred last year during a drunken brawl, she remarked. Why the Baules and their friends went to such extreme lengths to avenge a minor slight is still unclear although police say they were drunk at the time.

Their neighbors remember the suspects as normal people and find it hard to believe they could have committed a gruesome crime.

De la Rosa said Narra’s tourist resorts were still suffering the effects of the cannibalism case. It came as the town was about to step up promotion of its beaches, waterfalls, mountain treks and hot springs.

"We are changing our strategy on how to transform the (bad) publicity," for Narra’s benefit, he said.

But city hall employee Romela Morales was still resentful. "Many people are saying the people of Narra are cannibals," she said.

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