Environmental Advocates Trooped DOJ Calling for Justice for Slain Environmental Defenders

November 7, 2018

Glenda Co joined the protest in front of the Department of Justice calling for justice for the killing of his husband, Leonard Co.


Environmental advocates, scientists and the family and friends of Leonard Co trooped to the Department of Justice (DOJ) today, November 7, 2018, calling for justice for the death of the renowned scientist who was killed almost eight years ago. The DOJ downgraded the case filed by the Co family from that of murder to reckless imprudence resulting in homicide. The arraignment of the case will take place on the 14th of November 2018, on the eve of the eight-year mark of Co’s death. The family and supporters’ has repeatedly requested for a dialogue with the DOJ but these fell on deaf ears.

Co was a highly esteemed ethnobotanist, conservation biologist, ethnopharmacologist, and teacher. During his early college years in the University of the Philippines and former dictator Marcos’ Martial Law, Co’s interest in science and botany turned into a lifelong dedication to using his knowledge, skills, and discipline to truly serve the Filipino people. He was behind organizations such as Philippine Native Plants Conservation Society, Inc. (PNPCSI), a non-government organization built on the idea that the nation’s botanical resources should be, first and foremost, of service to the Filipino. Along with fellow academics and advocates, he also founded Community Health, Education, Services, and Training in the Cordillera Region (Chestcore) an NGO geared to document and systematize communities’ medicinal practices, paving the way for their development.

Co committed to his advocacy and served the people up until his very last moment. On the morning of November 15, 2010, he and forest guard Sofronio Cortez and farmer Julius Borromeo were in Manawan-Kananga Watershed in Leyte working on a reforestation project. Come afternoon, Co and two of his companions were already dead, as elements of the 19th Infantry Battalion (IB) of the Philippine Army made it rain bullets, claiming an encounter with the New People’s Army (NPA) took place on the site.

Survivors of Co’s group and the independent fact-finding mission conducted shortly after the incident testified to the fallacy of this claim and showed that there was, in fact, no indication of any crossfire.

It was January 2011 when the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the National Bureau of Investigations (NBI) conducted its fact-finding mission and released its report which immediately cleared the Army of the killings. Co’s family, along with supporters, protested said report and filed criminal charges of murder against the 19th IB themselves.

“This November 15, we commemorate selfless scientist Leonard Co’s death and continue to seek accountability from the 19th IB for the evident attacks on the four-man team in Leyte. We hold the military accountable for the murder of Co and his companions. Not only is the reduction of the case a clear testimony to the thriving climate of impunity enabled by the current regime and its almost identical predecessors, it is also a gross offense to Co’s family and all who only wish to seek justice for their fallen beloved,” said Owen Migraso, executive director of the Center for Environmental Concerns – Philippines, a convener of the Justice for Leonard Co Movement.

“We urge DOJ to raise the case to murder and ascertain that the Army members responsible for the attacks be convicted as they should. Lastly, we call on all environmental advocates like of Leonard Co and the scientific community to be one with the struggle for true justice as the case’s arraignment nears. Let us be one in the rallying cry against impunity and demand justice from all those accountable,” he added.