The researcher and anchor for the Lingganay Han Kamatuoran Radio Program in Samar and contributing editor of the University of the Philippines Vista Jebri Gil Sida in the same province has released a statement over the abduction of baranggay official Artemio Labon and his son Jeffrey, 21, last March 5, 2012 in Brgy. Pagsang-on, Paranas, Samar. Sida was formerly the regional chair of the Kabataan party list group in Tacloban.
In an earlier report by the Katungod-Sinirangang Bisayas (SB) Karapatan in Samar, it was said that the two were abducted by a group of soldiers from 87th Infantry Battalion The group also said before he was taken, Labong was interrogated and was tortured in front of his 12 year old daughter.
“The family members of Artemio and Ruel saw that those who have taken them were members of the Philippine Army. They were in full battle gear and in uniform. We condemn this act of abduction by the members of the 87th Infantry Battalion and demand the immediate release of the two victims,” the human rights group said.
Sida said that since March 5, they have heard nothing about the two missing civilians since they were forcibly taken by 20 to 30 armed men in military uniform. Artemio’s family sought the help of the media and appealed to the public Sida’s program Lingganay Han Kamatuoran (LHK).
“After almost a week of searching in the locality and in Camp Lukban in Brgy. Maulong, Catbalogan, Samar – where the 8th ID’s General Headquarters is located, the family had yet to find their missing loved ones,” Sida said.
In Military Custody and Acting Under Duress
Sida said that on March 19, he and a few others went to the camp of the 8th Infantry Division in search of the two missing civilians. The two, along with another individual named Roel were allegedly abducted by operating military personnel. Sida’s group was composed of Artemio’s wife Anecita, her two other children, the local barangay chairman Marito Mabanan, two other local officials.
According to Sida, the family’s search in Camp Lukban did not yield positive results because the military casually denied knowlege of the abduction.
“The 8th ID spokesperson Niceforo ‘Jun’ Diaz issued a statement through another local radio program in Tacloban City. Diaz categorically denied having custody of the missing persons, but after that, Anecita reported in our own program that her husband was already contacting them. This began came after the family’s public appeal,” Sida said.
Sida said that Artemio was supposedly sending a letter requesting his family to join him and jeffrey where they were.
“Surprisingly, the letter stated that Artemio was in Camp Lukban. His wife was suspicious, however, because she didn’t recognize the handwriting and said that the language was not of her husband’s. Other reports coming from residents who had previously spoken to Artemio and seen him prior to his disappearance said that he was under military custody when he was last seen in Paranas town,” he said.
The family was also compelled to send clothes and various legal documents Artemio supposedly requested in his letter to an address in Maulong. A relative working in Catbalogan City made the delivery.
What happened Before
In the hours of March 16, Aniceta received a SMS from supposed students studying in Catbalogan but originally hailed from Pagsang-an. They said that Artemio visited them and asked them to relay a message to his family asking them to join him in Maulong. Anecita said that she seriously doubted the veracity of the messages and the credibility of the message senders.
The following day, March 17, Jeffrey reportedly called the barangay captain Mabanan on his cellphone and made the same request that his family be alerted. The whole day, other calls supposedly from Artemio and another unidentified person came in using the same phone number.
“In the first call, Mabanan asked the caller who was supposedly Artemio to confirm his present location. Artemio reportedly answered “Catbalogan.” In the next call, Mabanan talked to a man whose voice he could not identify and told him ‘“Sir, diri man ikaw hi Konsehal Timmy, kumusta man dida an kahimtang ni Konsehal Timmy? (Sir, you’re not Councilor Timmy. How is Councilor Timmy?). “Timmy’ was Artemio’s nickname. The voice hesistated before answering ‘maayos.’ or ‘fine'”, Sida said.
That same day, Mabanan and other concerned barangay officials escorted Artemio’s family and sought help and protection from the Paranas local government.
“By then they were convinced that Artemio and Jeffrey were really under the custody of the military and was acting under duress. They were by then extremely worried for the safety of the two,” Sida said.
The family reiterated their appeal over Sida’s radio program on March 16 and said that they were going to the military authorities to search for Artemio and Sida.
“In Paranas, we were surprised by the overwhelming presence of military men in uniform in the town plaza and immediate surroundings of the municipal hall. Some of them were positioned at the second floor along the balcony. They had seen us arrive and took pictures of us as we walked into the building. Men in military uniforms and others who also looked like they were military but were in civilian garb followed us until we reached the second floor. The men then prodded Anecita and the two kids towards the direction of the 87th Infantry Battalion (IB) Commanding Officer Lt. Col. Jun Balaoro,” he said. “We were not allowed to go with her and some of the men barred our way. We then saw Artemio, and he was there with Jeffrey and Roel.”
Depicted as a Family of Rebel Returnees
Sida and the rest of his group entered the building’s main hall, still trying to reach Anecita and the two children.
“We were photographed many times by the military. I tried to avoid being photographed by attempting to go to the comfort room, but two men followed me. One of them also accosted them saying ‘Uy, diin kamo nag-titinago?’ I then realized that there was a meeting that dubbed as “People’s Day.”
“We were surprised and caught off-guard by the sudden changes when the MPOC secretariat plus the military gestured in a manner as if to indicate that we were instrumental in reuniting the family — the father and two others who were now being tagged as surrenderees or rebel returnees.”
According to Sida, the military positioned themselves in such a way that it appeared as if they were protective of the civilians led by Sida and as if they were eager to secure their cooperation.
“I saw Mrs. Labong and her two kids were guided to the front of the hall along with the rest of her previously-missing family members. They were told to pose for a picture. We found out then that they were being presented to the public as a family or rebel returnees and that were being given a cash grant under the Social Integration Program from the local government. They were depicted as a reunited family of rebel returnees,” he said.
Sida immediately sent messages to his workmates in Tacloban regarding what he saw and experience. The whole time he noticed that two two military personnel who were beside and behind him kept trying to read his messages over his shoulder.
“I still managed to tell my workmates that those of us in the original group who went with Mrs. Labong were being closely monitored and photographed. I narrated via text what happened to Mrs. Labong and the two children,” he said.
Sida went on to report that one of the labong children attempted to seek help from Sida’s group and asked if they can decide to not go with the military. One of the military men, however, interfered and soon after the men the whole Labong family into a car that was reportedly taken them toMaulong.
Sida and the rest of the team returned to Tacloban and continued to send text message to friends and colleagues regarding their situation. The entire time they also worried for the safety of the Labong family.
“The 87th IB under the 8th Infantry Division is expected to issue more denials about the abduction and white the whole issue about what they did tothese innocent people. What they did to us and the family of Mr. Labong was a desperate move to cover-up their usual crime. I would not be too surprised if in the following days the whole Labong family will be paraded in the tri-media as members of the New People’s Army. I appeal to the public and all other sectors to join in the call for the release of the Labong family and to my fellow journalists to help monitor this case,” he said.
The College Editors Guild of the Philippines led by secretary-general Pauline Gidget Estrella has already issued an appeal to the public to help protect Sida by exposing his ordeal and what has been done to the Labong family who remains in the custody of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).