Abducted Youth Lived to Tell His Tale of Abuse from Military

Some would probably say he was just at the wrong place, at the wrong time. But the torment the 21-year old youth leader has undergone was more than a case of an unfortunate coincidence.

Vol. VII, No. 19, June 17-23, 2007

Some would probably say he was just at the wrong place, at the wrong time. But the torment the 21-year old youth leader has undergone was more than a case of an unfortunate coincidence.

Ronaldo Cabato Jr., Kabataan Party-list regional coordinator in Leyte was abducted, tortured and detained for 28 days. His ordeal began on the evening of May 7, 2007 in Ormoc City, Leyte.

It was also the same night that soldiers arrested Vicente Borja, local campaign officer of Anakpawis party-list, on still questionable charges of rebellion while accompanying Rep. Teddy Casiño, Bayan Muna’s second nominee and his campaign staff during their campaign sortie earlier that day.

A young man’s ordeal with state-sponsored violence

It was at around 8:00 p.m. that more than 20 fully-armed soldiers belonging to the 19th IB of the Philippine Army under the command of Col. Lope Dagoy arrived at Brgy. Malinao, Ormoc City. The soldiers claimed they were there to arrest New People’s Army (NPA) rebels.

The Kabataan party-list office and the residence where Borja and Rep. Teddy Casino and company were staying, were adjacent to each other in the said barangay.

During the ruckus and confusion brought about by the arrest of Borja in the adjacent house, Ronaldo Cabato was about to leave the office when soldiers at the door pointed a gun at him and told him to stay put. At 10 p.m., Cabato decided to make a run for the highway but a soldier in plainclothes brought him back to the office.

Inside, the soldiers began their search of the place. Sample ballots and other campaign paraphernalia were strewn all over the floor. After Cabato was ordered to clean up, he was handcuffed.

At 10:15 p.m., one of the military men in plainclothes came back from the comfort room and allegedly “found” a .38 caliber revolver with six bullets. One of the soldiers then told him, “Kay ikaw ra man ang nadakpan, ikaw ra ang makasohan.” (Since you are the only one who was captured, we will file the case against you.)

While still handcuffed, Cabato was blindfolded and forced to ride inside a Delica van. He struggled against his captors but was overpowered when one of them hit his side with a rifle butt. They brought Cabato to the military camp of the 802nd Brigade. Upon arriving some of the soldiers remarked, “I-dispatsa na natin to.”(Let’s get rid of him.)

He was then brought to the military office and interrogated for hours. He was told to identify the leaders of the party-list groups Bayan Muna, Gabriela, Anakpawis and Kabataan and his involvement in these organizations. He was asked to point out the whereabouts of the leaders of these groups who the military accuses of being communist insurgents. Cabato was also forced to sign statements claiming that he cooperated with the military in revealing such information.

Still handcuffed and blindfolded, he was brutally forced to kneel on 3-inch blocks of ice during the length of the interrogation which lasted until dawn.

Petition for habeas corpus

At 4:00 p.m. of May 8, he was brought to the Regional Trial Court of Ormoc City and was charged with illegal possession of firearms and violation of the COMELEC gun ban. After which, he was transferred to the camp of the 19th IB in Ormoc City where he was interrogated further.

On May 9, Katungod-Eastern Visayas, the local chapter of the human rights alliance Karapatan, filed a petition for habeas corpus for Cabato. The following day, Col. Dagoy issued a statement claiming that they are in custody of Cabato who they said was a suspected member of the New People’s Army.

He was sent to face military officials, including Col. Dagoy in the main camp of the 19th IB in Brgy. Agiting, Ormoc, Leyte. They tried to convince Cabato to become a military asset and to act as witness against the four party-list groups and Vicente Borja in the rebellion cases filed against them. He refused.

He was detained inside the military camp, intermittently being interrogated by different military soldiers. One night he was visited by a soldier who collared him and punched him on the side of his body. “Mayroon akong order na patayin ka,” (I have orders to kill you) the soldier repeatedly threatened him.

Twelve days after he was abducted, on May 19, he was turned over to the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) in Ormoc City where he was imprisoned for 4 days together with other political detainees.

He was only released last June 4, 2007 after posting bail for his two cases.

The fight goes on

“Hadlok jud ko uy. Ikaw bay hulga-on nga patyon,” the 21-year old activist admitted. (I was really afraid. Who would not be when you are threatened with death?)

“Gi-ignan usab ko nila nga kung mangutan ang taga KARAPATAN nako kung gipasakitan ko sulod sa kampo, mo-ingon jud ko nga ‘Oo, grabe gyud’. Pero kung ang akong pamilya ra gani ang mangutana, ingnon nako nga ‘Wala ra’,” Cabato also revealed. (I was also told by the military that whenever somebody from KARAPATAN would ask if I were hurt or mistreated inside the camp, I should tell them ‘Yes, I was really hurt’. But if it were members of my family, I should say ‘No, I wasn’t.)

In an interview, Dennis Abarientos, secretary general of KARAPATAN-Central Visayas said that Ronaldo Cabato’s ordeal in the hands of his captors clearly reveals the utter disregard of the military for human rights and to the oath they swore to serve and protect.

He added that their actions speak so much of the cloak of impunity that seems to protect them from being accountable and punishable for their unspeakable crimes.

“The Armed Forces of the Philippines, headed by their Commander-in-Chief, does not care or mind who they abduct, torture or murder – legal activists, priests, women, children – as long as they achieve their goal of perpetuating themselves in power, all in the guise of fighting insurgency and terrorism,” Abarientos pointed out.

Together with KARAPATAN, the Kabataan Party-list coordinator would file charges against the military personnel involved in his warrantless arrest, arbitrary detention and maltreatment.

Ronaldo Cabato said he would continue to work with the youth party-list group by organizing the youth in Cebu even as he faces his cases in Leyte.

The work does not stop for the youth leader, even in the face of violence and uncertainty.(Bulatlat.com)

Share This Post