Elements of the 86th IB shot to death Vicente Valenzuela, 60, and his wife Rosario, 51, in Sitio Calabaggin, Barangay San Miguel, Echague, Isabela in the early morning of November 23. The soldiers strafed their hut, thinking there were Red fighters spending the night there.
An investigation led by KA-RAPATAN revealed that the killers of the Valenzuela couple belonged to a 14 to 16-strong group of soldiers who had stayed in two houses in Sitio Calabaggin the whole day of November 22. The group was led by a Lieutenant Bernardino and a Sergeant Balansa. The soldiers even held a drinking spree with some villagers before leaving at 1 a.m. on November 23.
At around 3 a.m., residents of the area heard two successive gunshots, followed by automatic fire. By 11 a.m., they heard a news report aired over a local radio station that an encounter had supposedly taken place in their sub-village. Nonetheless, the residents were skeptical since they did not hear any exchange of gunfire that early morning.
On November 24, soldiers told officials of Barangay San Miguel that some people had been killed and accompanied them to the Valenzuelas’ house located atop a hill about half a kilometer away from the sitio center.
The barangay officials found Vicente Valenzuela’s body at the entrance of their house. He seemed to have been chopping cassava when he was shot. He had a gunshot wound to the back, with the bullet exiting his chest. His wife Rosario’s body was found in their bedroom, lying face up. She had a gunshot wound beneath her right ear, with the bullet exiting the left side of her head. There were also several bullet holes in the walls of their hut, indicating that it had been strafed.
The soldiers took videos and pictures of the bodies and the house and picked up the spent bullet shells and placed them in plastic bags. They then wrapped the bodies in sleeping mats and ordered the villagers to bring them to the San Miguel barrio center. While the barriofolk were carrying the bodies, one of the soldiers named Robert Bagni apologized to them, saying that they had strafed the house, thinking that there were NPA guerrillas inside. Several residents heard what Bagni said.
On November 25, two police investigators arrived at the sitio to inspect the scene, take pictures and videos and collect more spent shells. That same day, however, the villagers heard over the radio a military report claiming that the Valenzuela couple had died in the crossfire in a gunbattle between the AFP and NPA. The day after, the PNP-Isabela repeated the military’s lie over Bombo Radyo, even claiming that the NPA had used the couple as human shields. The police added that they had found detonating cords, a laptop and personal effects of one of the soldiers who had died in an NPA ambush days before. The villagers who accompanied the soldiers and retrieved the bodies strongly belied such claims.
Relatives of the victims also said that the `15,000 Mrs. Va-lenzuela had been keeping after selling a small parcel of land, was missing.
The Valenzuela couple’s merciless killing and the perpetrators’ shameless coverup reflect the real picture of the “peace and development” being peddled by Oplan Bayanihan’s Community Peace and Development (COPD) Teams in the vast countryside.
The 5th ID’s COPD Teams, to which the soldiers of the 86th IB belong, have been occupying ten villages in southern Isabela since January. In these areas, the military has been relentlessly violating human rights and the international rules of war, staying in public places such as barangay halls and areas adjacent to schools, engaging in drinking and gambling sprees and disrupting peace and order in the villages, sexually harassing and molesting women and terrorizing civilians during military operations.