“When he passed by the soldiers, he told me, one of the men there had called out ‘that one’,” Mrs. Qualbar said.
Compostela town police said they had “no idea about any threats made at any checkpoints” and “could not say the AFP (army) are suspects.”
According to Mrs. Qualbar, the same day, in the morning, she had seen two soldiers drinking across from her house in the general store opposite.
“They were tall, of regular build, in their 30s or 40s and were wearing civilian clothes,” she said. “They spoke Cebuano, with a Visayan accent.”
She maintains she never saw them again after November 1.
But Mrs. Qualbar does claim family friends spotted another ‘military-looking’ man ‘following her husband and texting’ somebody outside Kings Bakery in Compostela town moments before Danilo climbed onboard his bike for his fateful ride home.
Mrs. Qualbar believes the man was texting an accomplice — possibly the gunman.
“Members of CAFGU (Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit) came here a few days ago asking me where my husband was buried,” she said. “They were joking with me, trying to upset me. I told them, you know. You know.”
There were no soldiers manning the checkpoint near Qualbar’s home when this writer drove past.
The writer however spoke with Colonel Alan Luga, commander-in-chief of the 1001st Infantry Brigade in Compostela province. Originally from Cebu, the son of a general and seen by many as a rising star in the Philippine military, Luga insists the army was in no way connected to the killing of Qualbar.
“If people have evidence, let us see it,” he said when this writer finally caught up with him at an early evening badminton game in Tagum City.
According to the colonel, orders, discipline and full awareness of and adherence to human rights law ensure that extrajudicial killings simply do not happen in the army.
“It is well known that Karapatan and Bayan Muna are civilian fronts for the NPA,” he said, “but as long as they stick to the law, we do not go after them.”
“Even NPA members are safe,” he said, “unless actively involved in armed combat. The only legitimate targets are armed groups.
“We must be legal,” he added, “we must do good.”
Colonel Luga admitted the army did have a problem in winning the “hearts and minds” of some people in the areas and needed to do more. He also maintained Compostela Valley had the highest number of NPA insurgents in the country, but that their numbers and threat were slowly declining.
“They are getting weaker,” he said. “The problem is they are targeting and recruiting youngsters — not necessarily believers, but those with a sense of adventure who have no jobs and nothing to do.”
“I’ve been here just six months and I have seen a lot of incidents,” he said.
But Bayan Muna party list Representative Satur Ocampo told the Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project that the reactions of the military and police to the killings were wholly predictable – and wholly wrong.
“They should take heed the recommendation of the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killing that the President should instruct all military commanders to stop denigrating or labeling legal organizations,” Ocampo said.
He also pointed out the government’s failure to heed the recommendation by the Melo Commission to investigate retired Army general Jovito Palparan, accused by many in connection to the disappearances of activists in central and southern Luzon but denies such charges. The five-man commission was formed in August 2006 to probe killings of activists and journalists and was headed by former Supreme Court Associate Justice and current elections commission chair Jose Melo.
“It would be fruitless for the families of victims and human rights organizations to present their cases to Task Force Usig given the bias it has shown from the very start,” Ocampo said.
The writer met Colonel Luga in Tagum City a few days after the NPA released video footage taken of Lieutenant Vicente Cammayo who is being held captive by the NPA after it captured him during a recent clash between the military and the communist guerillas.
Cammayo’s wife Mariel who is six months pregnant, recently appeared on television appealing for his release. Like the military, the NPA have been accused of their own human rights abuses including extrajudicial killings committed under the precept of so-called “people’s revolutionary courts”.
The NPA which has promised to release Cammayo before Christmas, also recently “apologized” for the killing of a five-year-old girl, Kyle Manegro who was shot during its attack on the military.
Besides flatly denying an army policy of extrajudicial killings, Colonel Luga wholly rejected any possibility of errant death squads operating within the military as he did suggestions similar squads might be responsible for a recent spike in killings in nearby Davao City.
According to Davao City police in a statement released last week, there have been “at least 221 killings” there between January and October this year. Many have reportedly been petty criminals and victims of robberies.
But human rights groups like Karapatan insist there have also been a spate of political killings directly related to Oplan Bantay Laya 2.
It is a claim they cannot substantiate.
Kelly Delgado, secretary general of Karapatan South Mindanao Region says his group only travels into Compostela Valley in teams of 20 to 30 strong.
“It is a high militarized zone and it is not safe for us to go there alone or even in small groups,” he said from his first floor office in Davao City inside a church compound.