Abandoned Mount Samat
Military Camp Yields Bones, Evidences, Quest for Justice Continues
PUBLISHED ON October 18, 2008
From the looks of it, it was obvious that painstaking efforts were exerted
to conceal the previous existence of the abandoned military camp. But the
cries for justice of the victims of enforced disappearances and their
relatives can never be muted as the former camp occupied by the 24th IB of
the Philippine Army yielded burnt human bones and other vital evidences
proving the claims of escaped torture victim Raymond Manalo that the
military was involved in the abduction and torture of UP students Sherlyn
Cadapan and Karen Empeño, and farmer Manuel Merino.
BY RAYMUND B. VILLANUEVA
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
On March 22, 2007, Shara Hizarsa was waiting for her father Abner to bring
lunch to school she would later share with him. He has cooked and brought
food for her without fail since he left the underground movement due to
But no one arrived for the girl’s lunch that day.
It had been 19 months since. There is still no father to cook and bring
food for Shara.
Last October 13, Shara commemorated her 12th birthday. Even her mother
Cris cannot be with her on her special day because she had to join dozens
of relatives of the forcibly disappeared under the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo
regime in a fact-finding mission in Barangay Bliss, Limay, Bataan.
In an abandoned military camp near the World War II monument in Mount
Samat, about 50 human rights workers under Karapatan and Desaperacidos,
the victims’ relatives, officials and staff of the Commission on Human
Rights (CHR) and University of the Philippines (UP) anthropologists (led
by Dr. Francisco Datar) dug holes on the ground, hoping to find remains of
summary execution victims. They were led to the site by Raymond Manalo,
one of two brothers who escaped from the custody of the 24th Infantry
Battalion of the 7th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army.
Manalo said that he and his brother Reynaldo were taken to the camp on
November 21 or 22, 2006. A week later, he saw missing UP student Karen
Empeño and farmer Manuel Merino. They were later joined by Sherlyn
Cadapan, another abducted UP student.
Inside the camp, Raymond was ordered to help build the barracks, cook and
clean house for the soldiers, led by a certain Maj. Donald “Allan” Caigas.
He witnessed how the two students were hung upside down on one foot with
sticks repeatedly rammed in their private parts. After each torture
session on the women, Raymond was ordered to clean the room of the
victims’ blood and feces and even wash their underwear. He recalled of
many nights he went to sleep with blood-curdling screams ringing in his
Raymond also recounted in his affidavit that he, his brother Reynaldo and
Merino were taken to “cattle-rustling and harassment missions” by the
soldiers led by Caigas. He witnessed the execution and abduction of
farmers in outlying villages.
One night in June 2007, soldiers took Merino from their holding room,
saying then Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan wanted to talk to him. Several
minutes after, he saw Merino being marched to a grassy field 50 meters
away from the camp’s barbed-wire perimeter. Standing by a window, Manalo
heard screams and moans, like someone who was startled (“Parang
nagulat.”), followed by two gunshots. “Siguro hindi nadale sa saksak, kaya
binaril,” he said. (“They probably failed to kill him by stabbing so they
shot him.”) Then he saw what looked like a bonfire that lasted late into
the night. The next morning, he was told not to look for Merino as he has
already “joined” Cadapan and Empeño. “Pinatay si ‘Tay Manuel dahil sabi ng
militar matanda na siya,” Raymond added. (“Manuel was killed because the
military said he was already old.”)
In July 2007, the Manalo brothers were taken to Caigas’ farm in Bolinao,
Pangasinan to work as laborers where they escaped on the night of August
“Clear and convincing” testimony
The government and army’s top officials took turns belying Raymond’s
testimony by denying the existence of the camp. Defense Secretary Gilbert
Teodoro and retired Armed Forces Chief of Staff Hermogenes Esperon said
that Manalo’s testimony was “baseless.” Lt. Gen. Isagani Cachuela, PA
Northern Luzon commanding general, said that he would not know about the
existence of the camp in Barangay Bliss. Maj. Gen. Ralph Villanueva, 7th
ID commander, which has jurisdiction over the 24th IB, echoed Cachuela’s
statement saying he “still has to find out.” Last September 20, PA
spokesperson Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner also issued a statement saying
Cadapan, Empeno and Merino were nowhere to be found in any army camp where
their relatives and supporters claimed they were detained.
But residents of Barangay Bliss are one in saying that there indeed was a
military camp in their village. The Philippine Daily Inquirer also
reported that former Bataan vice governor Rogelio Roque confirmed that the
military used to occupy the area, which is adjacent to his property.
Despite the military’s claims, Raymond’s testimony was considered by the
Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court (SC) as “factual,” “harrowing” as
well as “clear and convincing.” Last October 6, the SC affirmed the
appellate court’s decision to grant the privilege of the writ of amparo to
both Manalo brothers, providing them protection from state forces. The
order also affirmed the possible culpability of Palparan in their
abduction and torture, as well as that of Cadapan, Empeño, Merino and
others. The SC also rejected the 7th ID’s investigation as “very limited,
superficial and one-sided.”
CHR chair Leila de Lima, for her part said, “The Manalo brothers, for me,
have the most significant testimony in the extralegal killings and
A week after being granted the privilege of the writ of amparo, Raymond
led the fact-finding mission to the military camp. Before the sun rose,
Raymond had already identified the camp layout while other mission members
set up tents and cordoned areas where the possible gravesites were.
According to their observations, there was painstaking effort to erase the
camp’s footprint in the area. The concrete hut floors, the basketball
court, the flag pole as well as the Marian grotto were broken up and
thrown in a clump of bamboo trees about 100 meters away. All the holes
were backfilled and the water pipes removed. Still, amid the shrubbery and
the wildflowers that overrun the abandoned camp and under the sprawling
shades of the dozen huge mango trees that blanketed the area, Raymond
managed to identify the spot of every structure that stood in the military
“Hindi ko aakalaing babalik pa ako rito. Takot ako, nanginginig,
giniginaw. ‘Nung una kaming dinala rito, akala namin ay isa-salvage na
kami,” Raymond said. (“I never thought I would come back here. I am
afraid, shaking, and I feel cold. When we were first taken here, we
thought we would already be summarily executed.”)
By the time the CHR team arrived by mid-morning, the mission was ready to
dig and document whatever could be found in the area.
At noontime, De Lima arrived from Manila and conducted an ocular
inspection of the possible gravesites. She also ordered additional diggers
to complement the Karapatan team who found the stony soil difficult to
penetrate beyond a foot and a half.
The first four holes in three possible gravesites produced negative
results. But there were signs of unusual human activity such as burnt
tarpaulins, tabletop covers, shoes, among others. Raymond identified one
shirt that might have belonged to Cadapan. The anthropologists also
confirmed that some of the spots pinpointed by Raymond bore “disturbances”
by human activity.
As dusk neared on the mission’s first day, a fifth hole was dug which the
experts said was “promising” as the soil was still soft and comparatively
loose past two feet. It was then that the experts ordered a halt to the
diggings on account of the approaching darkness.
Night falls on the mission camp
Under the pale light thrown by old-fashioned “petromax” lamps, the
remaining 30 or so human rights workers ate dinner while a squad of
Philippine National Police-Regional Mobile Group troopers kept a somewhat
loose perimeter security. Before dinner was over heavy rains fell on the
camp, overturning tents and soaking both mission members and their
clothing and equipment. The victims’ relatives bussed back to Manila due
to security considerations, along with some Manila-based journalists. Only
then did the CHR-sourced generator arrive from the town proper to provide
By 7 pm, when the rain stopped, the mission members slept with their wet
clothes and soaked sleeping provisions. The generator was turned off an
hour later and the last mobile phone calls and text messages were sent.
Even the police retreated inside their tents and vehicles.
The mission’s second day started with a briefing between the CHR, UP and
Karapatan teams. Datar expressed confidence that if Raymond was telling
the truth, they would find human remains such as small bones of the hand
and feet. “These are the things that betray the perpetrators of the
crime,” he said.
But that morning provided more disappointments. Site Three was abandoned
after it produced no convincing evidence. A new site was opened in the
hope of more positive results. Datar interviewed Raymond several times and
asked him to walk from the camp’s edge to where he thought Merino was
taken at least four times. Raymond also informed the expert that he
remembers Merino was wearing an old pair of yellow “Beach Walk”
flip-flops. Assured that Raymond was certain about his coordinates and
facts, Datar ordered the widening of Site One.
While standing on the edge of the camp Raymond found clothing on the
ground, nearly covered with soil. When he picked it up, he identified it
to have belonged to Caigas. “Shorts ito ni Caigas. ‘Basic Wear’ ang tatak.
Siya lang ang meron nito—pantulog niya,” he said. (These are Caigas’
‘Basic Wear’ brand short pants. Only he had them—as sleepwear.”) He said
he was certain because he washed the soldiers’ dirty laundry.
At exactly 12:30 pm, anticipation gripped team members on Site One. What
was thought to be just a layer of burnt wood close to the surface yielded
a four-centimeter splinter, which Datar immediately identified as human
bone. He then ordered a wider surface scraping of the site. Before the
team decided to take a delayed lunch break the hole already produced 15
more bone pieces.
When digging resumed more bones were found on the burnt-out hole. At 3:45
pm, Datar’s graduate assistant struck another vital piece of evidence—an
overturned slipper found on the edge of the small cavity with yellow
straps and bearing the brand name “Beach Walk.” When Raymond saw the
article, he exclaimed “’Yan ‘yun! Kay ‘Tay Manuel! ‘Yan ‘yun!” (That’s it!
That’s old man Manuel’s. That’s it!) Datar then said, “Positive na tayo.”
(“We are already positive about this grave site.”) A few minutes later a
simple ring band was also found as well as a human vertebra.
At 5 pm, the digging and scraping has reached the hole’s edge. Datar said
that based on the materials gathered and examined by the UP, CHR and
Karapatan experts on the site firewood and rubber tires were placed at the
hole’s bottom before the victim was placed in a fetal position wrapped in
a mattress. “These foreign objects and the victim’s position explain why
the hole is relatively small,” he said. Datar added that the gravesite was
covered with un-burnt soil in the perpetrators’ efforts to conceal the
Datar however hastened to add that it would be impossible to extract DNA
from the “carbonized” bones. He also said that he still has to study the
specimens in the laboratory to ascertain which parts of the body the bones
Still, Datar commended Raymond’s fortitude. “May lakas siya ng loob na
sabihin (ang nalalaman),” he said. (“He was courageous to speak out.”).
“It was clear there were human activities in the areas he pointed out,”
“Nabuhayan ako ng loob,” Raymond said. “Kung wala tayong nakita e di lalo
na nilang sasabihing sinungaling ako,” he added. (“I had a morale boost.
If we found nothing here, the military will say I lied all the more.”)
Raymond’s legal counsel Rex JMA Fernandez is optimistic about the results
of the fact-finding mission. “What Raymond said (about their abduction and
killings) was proven today. Moreover, there was deliberate purpose to
sanitize the burial place. If you take a closer look, the camp was big. It
was not cursory but a protracted occupation of the place (by the
military). That Palparan was involved in the tortures would be validated
by these findings. Even if the military would try to undermine the results
of this mission, Raymond is a very credible witness,” the lawyer
Fernandez added that he wants the area declared a crime site. “I think
they should continue digging and investigating. They should also interview
the locals,” he said.
The mission ends, the quest for justice continues
Before dusk of the second day, all the holes were backfilled as the
mission camp was being dismantled. Raymond walked one last time to the
gravesite, accompanied by the Karapatan team and Datar. The CHR team chose
not to join them.
Cris Hizarsa summed it up for the relatives. “Katulad ng ibang mga
pamilyang naghahanap, umaasa akong hindi kasama ang asawa ko sa mga
pinatay dito. Yun ang pag-asa ko at ng mga anak ko. Sana, yun ang regalong
maiuuwi ko sa kaarawan ni Shara.” (“Like the other relatives of the
victims, my family and I hope my husband was not one of those killed here.
I hope that is the news I bring home to my daughter Shara for her
Raymond Manalo then walked one last time to the gravesite, accompanied by
the Karapatan team and Dr Datar. The CHR team chose not to join them. Fr.
Diony Caballes led the prayers while the mission members joined hands
around the makeshift grave. After the prayers, shouts of “Justice!” rang
Then everyone broke down. Copious tears flowed on Raymond’s scarred face,
his shoulders askew in physical and emotional pain. The chests of
relatives of the forcibly disappeared heaved in grief while Datar’s own
eyes were moist and red.
As the sun was setting behind Mt Samat the mission members walked away
from the grave now looking more desolate with the weak flicker of candles
amid the creeping darkness. Finally, Raymond turned his back on the site
where Manuel Merino was killed, leaving the wild flowers to bloom in a
land that has seen such horror finally coming to light. (Bulatlat)
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