CHR, groups still baffled by death of Filipino interpreter for US troops

<font color=”#22518D”><strong>ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews/DateLine Philippines)–The death of an interpreter for American soldiers in Marawi City has continued to baffle government and private human rights organizations even after they wrapped up a probe mission early this month.</strong></font>

Florante Ursua, special investigator of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) office in Iligan City,  who joined 100 human rights advocates from the Zamboanga peninsula in their March 3 visit in Camp Ranao in Marawi City, said the outcome of the investigation was inconclusive because “some serious questions raised were not completely answered and the US soldiers asserted that the case was plain suicide while officers of the 103rd Infantry Brigade said that they were innocent and that they did not know that someone was hired as interpreter of the US forces until his death.”

He said members of the fact-finding mission “strategically” divided themselves into three groups and conducted simultaneous investigation: one group interviewed the police in Marawi, the other at Camp Ranao with 103rd Infantry Brigade officials, and the third with US troops stationed inside Camp Ranao.

“We were accommodated well but only the officials of the fact finding were allowed to talk with the military officers while the rest were kept at bay outside the camp,” Ursua told MindaNews.

In a blog by a group called Kodao Productions, the fact-finding team reported that “they had a brief talk with Col. Felix Castro, the deputy commander of 103rd brigade and US Army Capt. Mike Kaye of who both claimed they were innocent of the incident.”

The team also reported that they were denied access to the place of incident.

When they asked Col. Castro about Cardeno and the absence of an official report about the incident inside the Philippine Army camp, they were told that “Cardeño died under unidentified circumstances”.

Interpreting the death

Gregan Velez Cardeño, 33, died on February 02 this year inside his sleeping quarters near the US soldiers’ office and quarters at Camp Ranao, which is currently occupied by the Army’s 103rd Brigade. The American soldiers were deployed in Lanao del Sur as part of the Balikatan or joint military exercises.

Based on fact sheets distributed by the fact-finding team, Cardeño died while hired as interpreter of US troops.

A report reaching his family in Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay mentioned that he “committed suicide.”

Faye Mae A. Reyes and Bai Ali Indayla, secretary general and spokesperson of the Gregan Cardeño Movement of KAWAGIB-Human Rights, wrote that “without death certificate and permit to transport, US troops through US chopper transported Gregan’s cadaver in a casket filled with ice from Marawi City to Zamboanga City”.

“The family members were not convinced that Gregan committed suicide because six hours prior to his death, the victim called and conversed with his family and [disclosed] that his work is inconsistent with the contract he signed,” they said.

“The family observed patent and fatal injuries, several penetrating wounds on both feet and legs on Gregan’s cadaver. The family members, through phone calls, were informed that the crime scene was contaminated when police arrived to investigate, adding more doubts to the family on the matter if Gregan committed suicide or a foul play happened,” the group’s report said.

Indayla and Reyes said the fact-finding was to “shed light on the issues not clear to the family and conduct further investigation”.

Reyes said that “Justice for Gregan Cardeño Movement was spearheaded by a National Fact Finding Mission (NFFM) at the place of incident in Camp Ranao last March 2-4 with at least 100 delegates from human rights organizations, lawyers, academe and religious groups.”

The group mentioned that the fact finding was known to CHR Chairperson Leila de Lima, and Senator Miriam Santiago, chair of the Senate committee on human rights and the Legislative Oversight Comittee on the VFA. f.

HR group’s account

The human rights group reported that the death of Cardeño was not just plain suicide. For them “the victim died of torture before he was summarily killed”.

In its report, the fact-finding team mentioned that Cardeño signed on January 30 this year a contract of service as a security guard for a period of three months, from February 1 to April 30, with Skylink Security and General Services managed by a certain Thomas P. Rivera III.

Cardeño was later “sub-contracted” by a Dyn Corporation, a US-based manpower services agency, to serve as interpreter of the U.S Forces under Balikatan of Joint Special Operations Task Force of the Philippines (JSOTFP), also covered by VFA.

Prior to his employment, he was engaged in a buy-and-sell business while operating a tricycle in Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay.

Cardeño’s wife, Myrna, narrated that the group that her husband was supposed to join in Camp Siongco, Awang, Datu Odin Sinsuat in Maguindanao was composed of three US soldiers.They left on February 1.

He was brought instead to Marawi City in Lanao del Sur, and was slated to travel to Lumbatan town on February 3. Lumbatan is located at the other side of Lake Lanao from Marawi City, and can be reached by boat or by Lanao’s circumferential road.

In the morning and afternoon of February 2, Myrna and her sister in-law Carivel received calls from Cardeño “complaining and crying” that he was brought to Marawi City instead of Cotabato City, and that the nature of his work was not what was mentioned in the contract. He also told them that he had  informed his original agency of his concern

“Nagtawag ko sa agency kay dili ko kaagwanta diri, dili ni mao akong trabaho,” Myrna recounted her husband’s words and also recalled her husband saying, “basin diri nako mamatay kay dili ni mao akong trabaho.”  (I called up my agency because I cannot bear the situation here; this is not  the work I expected.  I may die here because this is not my job).

‘Come home’

Myrna advised her husband to come home. On February 3, she received a call from a certain SPO3 Ali informing her that her husband was found dead, hanging in his room.

At 4 p.m. of February 3, Cardeño’s corpse was transported to Edwin Andrews Air base (EAAB) in Zamboanga City.

Indayla said  “the family was barred from claiming the cadaver upon its arrival at the EAAB but was advised to claim the dead at La Merced Memorial Homes in Zamboanga City”.

Indayla said the corpse was transported without Certificate of Clearance issued by competent government agency to transport dead persons and had no Death Certificate issued by the Office of the Civil Registrar of the place where the cadaver was found.

“Instead, a post mortem examination by an accredited physician of the Philippine National Police, Regional Office, based in the City of Zamboanga, was conducted,” she related.

”The family saw injuries around the neck of the cadaver, three fatal injuries appear in the head apparently caused by a hard blunt object and several penetrating wounds on both feet, legs and calves apparently caused by a round sharp or pointed object,” Indayla said.

Asphyxia by strangling

Ursua told MindaNews that the autopsy report conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) mentioned that Cardeño died “because of asphyxia by strangling”.

Ursua, who was able to see the scene of the crime, related: “His room was well arranged and there was no evidence of violent fight. His cellphone was still there and a page of his notebook showed that he jotted “Please forgive me Lord. May you save my soul.”

Ursua said Cardeño’s death remains “clouded and important questions (have) remained unanswered”.

He also said that the CHR has advised the family to file a legal complaint. Violeta M. Gloria/MindaNews

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