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Human rights activist “Pepe” Manegdeg’s widow continues appeal

Tragically, a night before she arrived home for a brief family reunion before starting another contract as a domestic worker in Hong Kong, Florence “Dom-an” Macagne Manegdeg’s husband “Pepe” was assassinated. The perpetrator was alleged to be a military man. That was November 28, 2005, in the tobacco fields of San Esteban, Ilocos Sur, Northern Philippines.

Very recently, “Dom-an” Manegdeg and her Christian nun friend revisited government agencies in the hope that the murder case she filed against the perpetrators of her husband’s killing would be reopened and investigated.

May 2011, Manegdeg submitted letters to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chairperson Loretta Ann Rosales and Justice Secretary Leila De Lima, saying both agencies have been resolute in probing cases of human rights violation and that Ms Manegdeg understands her husband’s case was just one among the many cases of extrajudicial killings. However, she would not stop fighting for justice for what happened to her husband Jose “Pepe” Manegdeg, a human rights activist and coordinator of Rural Missionaries in the Philippines in the Cordillera and Ilocos, who was shot dead in San Esteban, Ilocos Sur in November 2005.

Another letter was attached to her submission, a copy of that sent to President Benigno Aquino III on December 10, 2010, that contained an appeal for the reinvestigation of the case and her story as carried by media channel VERA Files, as reported by Desiree Caluza.

In her letter to Rosales, Manegdeg said she was encouraged by the efforts of CHR in the investigation of a similar case seeking justice for the death of Jonas Burgos, which tagged a military official in the abduction of the human rights activist.

In March this year, the CHR submitted a report to the Supreme Court tagging Major Harry Baliaga, who was with the Army’s 56th Infantry Battalion in Bulacan, as the principal suspect in Burgos’ abduction.

*“I am coordinating with some volunteer lawyers for the follow-up of the case of my late husband. I have read the news updates about the case of Jonas Burgos and how your office has obtained results. I am hopeful that with continued cooperation with your agency and respective investigation and judicial agencies, we could come out with more evidence to pursue the case,”* Manegdeg wrote.

Ms Manegdeg also asked Rosales to request for the latest investigation report of the National Bureau of Investigation and Philippine National Police: *“which have both promised to conduct investigations and reinvestigations,”* and assistance to institute a probe upon Major Joel Castro who was tagged by a witness as the assassin in her husband’s killing.

The Ilocos police tagged Castro, formerly a captain with the 50th Infantry Battalion, as the main suspect. The provincial prosecutor initially said Castro was accompanied by five other men during the attack, but he dismissed the case in 2007, citing the retraction made by the lone witness.

Amazingly, or curiously, Castro was promoted to the rank of major when the case was dismissed, Manegdeg reports. In her letter to Justice Secretary Leila De Lima, Manegdeg lamented that this was not the first time a military official involved in human rights violations has been ‘promoted out of harm’s way’.

She asked that the witness be placed in a Witness Protection Program, the case be reopened and that a special prosecutor be assigned to the case.

Manegdeg relates how the witness, a tricycle driver named Fenio Caceres, was able to identify the suspect and based on that identification how the police were able to come out with a cartographic sketch of the suspect based on the description of Caceres.

After the initial hearing of the case, the witness recanted his statement and the case against Castro was dismissed.

*“It is possible that the witness retracted his statement out of fear. It is also possible that he was also threatened by the people or a persons who were involved in this case. But during that previous time, he was positive in the identification of the suspect”* lawyer Randy Kinaud, one of the lead counsels of Manegdeg, said.

Manegdeg said the prosecutor failed to learn why the witness recanted!

*“If the witness protection program was strong in our country, I can say that the witness in Pepe’s killing will be willing to speak up. For now, I can only say that the reason why he retracted was because he was threatened,”* Manegdeg said.

About The Author

Tony Henderson is a freelance writer working in Hong Kong, since 1980, and previously Japan, for seven years following two years in Mauritius after a year in Libya. Long time participant in the Humanist Movement and spokesman for Universal Humanism in Hong Kong. Also, Pressenza Hong Kong Bureau Chief.

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