Rethinking Society Over a Cup of Coffee

Fact-finding on Rene's Assasination

06 June 2009


a. Narration of Evangeline Peñas, Noland Peñas and Gerry Merida

At around 11:30 am, we arrived at the residence of Manong Rene Peñas situated along the national highway in Barangay, San Vicente, Sumilao, Bukidnon, where we met his family. We talked to his wife Evangeline, his son Noland, and his nephew Gerry Merida.

In the course of our interview with them, they narrated that Manong Rene and his two other companions (Elizer Peñas and Samson Dollete) were ambushed at around 11:45 pm while they were on their way to the farm to take Mr. Dollete to his house which is situated just near Nong Rene’s farm.

We were also informed that in the morning of June 5, 2009, Manong Rene attended the barangay committee hearing on the amendments of barangay ordinances held in the barangay hall. Together with other barangay officials, he took his lunch at the barangay elementary school where the teachers were having a “despedida” party for their fellow teacher who was leaving the school and at the same time a welcome to the teacher replacing her.

At around 3:00 pm, he went home to get dressed to go to Kisolon to buy poultry feeds and supply of rice for the family. He brought the feeds to his farm house. Noland said that he was at the farm house when Rene arrived there. Noland also narrated that from the farm house, he proceeded to the store of Neneng where he drank Tanduay with Elizer Peñas and Samson Dollete at around 5-6pm.

b. Narration of Elizer Peñas

Elizer recounted that Nong Rene invited him for a drink and while on their way to the store, they met Samson. Samson obliged Manong Rene’s invitation to join them.

At around 7:00 in the evening, Rene, together with Elizer went home to continue their drinking session while Samson already went home. Rene and Elizer left the house at around 9:00 pm and fetched Samson from his house. They proceeded by motorcycle to the Impasugong poblacion but along the way, they stopped at the gasoline station in Kisolon for a gasoline refill. While at the gasoline station, they met Richard Cainoy and Eusebio Ubal-ubal aka Boyong who also had their own motorcycle and were planning to go to Impasug-ong tourism area for a drink as well. Rene, Samson and Elizer went to the Impasug-ong tourism area and Cainoy and Boyong followed.

Elizer said that while they were drinking, two unidentified women and a man arrived and sat at another table next to them and also drank. Nong Rene warned them that the three were “CIs” (or spying on them). They, however, did not take Rene’s warning seriously.

At around 11:00 pm, they decided to go home. Cainoy and Boyong rode on their motorcycle, while Elizer and Samson went with Nong Rene. Nong Rene was driving the motorcycle, Elizer sat in the middle, and Samson sat on the rear.

Upon reaching Barangay San Vicente, they decided to take the road beside the retention area of Carlos Estate. According to Elizer, they usually take that road when going to the farm as they could not pass the other road that passes near the Freedom Hall (the building being used by the Sumilao farmers as their office and meeting area).

When they were around 500 meters from the highway (where there were already no more houses and the area was dark as there were no street lights) Rene had to slow down because that section of the road was slippery and muddy. To the left side of the road was a corn field and there are bamboo trees to the right.

Elizer recounted that as the motorcycle slowed down he saw sparks and heard gunshots. He was not able to see the assailant because the area was very dark. They did not realize that they were already hit on the first shot. They only realized that they were being ambushed. Their motorcycle crashed to the ground on the second shot. They heard Rene say “Noy sibat namo kay nasamdan ko, patay ko ani” (Noy you have to flee. I am hit and I may die.) It was at this time that Elizer said that he felt something hot on his right arm.

Elizer said that he heard three (3) gunshots. He saw Samsom backtrack towards the highway while he crawled to the right side of the road. He did not look back. He said he then ran for his life and went to Rene’s house along the highway.

Elizer also said that a relative of Nong Rene went to the police station to report the incident. But the police did not immediately respond. They had to carry Elizer to the police station to prove that the report was true. It was only during that time that the police were prompted to respond.

At around 2:00 am, Samson arrived in the house behind Rene’s house. He sustained gunshot wounds on his right foot (shin) and left ankle. These wounds might have been the reason why it took him two (2) hours to reach the sitio. Elizer, on the other hand, sustained a gunshot wound on his right arm. He believes that the bullet hit and pierced through Rene’s first before it hit him. Rene sustained 8 gunshot wounds scattered on his right chest and right arm. And there were three exit wounds on his back.

According to Noland, a certain Alex Abragan noticed two persons running past their house towards Kulaman river. We were not, however, able to personally talk to Alex. But his wife confirmed that they indeed hear an undetermined number of persons running past their house moments after they heard the gunshots. The house of Alex Abragan is around 500 meters from the crime scene.

At around 3:00 am, the police investigated the incident. They were able to talk to Elizer and Samson, but the two were not able to mention the assailant/s. Thereafter, Elizer and Samson were brought to the old Bukidnon Provincial Hospital at Malaybalay city. Later however, Samson was discharged and was brought to a safe house at Kisolon. Elizer on the other hand was transferred at the New Bukidnon Provincial Hospital, Casisang Malaybalay City.

c. Narration of Alipio Tumangdang

At around 12:00 noon, we went to the Sumilao Municipal Police Station upon receiving information PJ De la Peña of ABS-CBN that a suspect is already in the custody of the Sumilao Police.

At the Sumilao Municipal Police Station, we were able to secure a police spot report. We were also able to interview the suspect, Mr. Alipio Tumangdang. From him we were able to obtain the following information:

• He denied the charges against him. He said that he was in his house the whole day attending to his farm. His house is situated just around 400 meters away from the crime scene at the left side of the road (if one is facing Kulaman river).
• He said that at the time of the incident, he heard a male voice calling for help (“tabang”), but was not able to respond out of fear. He, however, said that he did not hear any gunshot because he was fast asleep. It was his wife who woke him up after hearing gunshots.
• He further said that after taking breakfast, he then went to his relative in Brgy. Maluko, Manolo Fortich to construct a fish pond for tilapia. It was here where the police from Sumilao arrived and arrested him. He was brought to the Sumilao Police Station. He also said that the police told him that he was identified by Mr. Samson as the assailant. Mr. Samson, according to him, was a friend, but that they seldom meet recently.
• He said that he knew Rene as a kagawad of their barangay; that he holds no grudge or had any quarrel with Rene.
• He admitted that he is not the owner of the lot he is occupying and that he was able to cultivate the piece of land with permission from MARO (Edrolin) and Chief Bade, then the Municipal Chief of Police of Sumilao.
• He also said that he was the one who let Samson Dollete cultivate a portion of that area.
• The area that he is now cultivating is part of the 19 hectares that was awarded to a group of beneficiaries. Some of these beneficiaries are now reclaiming the area including the one that he cultivates. Because of this, a case of qualified theft was filed against him and is now pending at the provincial prosecutor’s office of Bukidnon. On his part, he filed a case against these beneficiaries before the DARAB, and his counsel is Atty. Cayatuna, a DAR lawyer.
• He said the he had not held any gun before.
• He also said that he once worked with Mayor Baula as farmworker.

During our short conversation with the police, they told us that Samson positively identified Mr. Alipio Tumandang as the assailant. Samson is allegedly being incommunicado in a safehouse which prevented the fact-finding team to interview him and verify what the police claimed that he positively identified the suspect as the gunman who shot and killed Rene and injured his companions. And according to the police, Samson was being transferred from one safe house to another.

The spot report contained suspicious facts:
• It reported that the police recovered 4 empty shells of shotgun (when only 3 gunshots were heard);
• That there were three assailants with one being held in custody and the other two still scot-free;
• That the victim, Rene Penas, “suffered gunshot wounds at the left shoulder and left chest that resulted to his instantaneous death…” This is not true because Mr. Rene Penas suffered gunshot wounds on his right arm and right chest.

Questions in the results of the fact-finding raise:

1. On the theory that Rene was killed because of his involvement in the land dispute involving a 19-hectare landholding between the group of his companion, Samson Dollete and the group of the suspect, Alipio Tumangdang

• Why did Alipio not target Samson since he was his direct opponent in the land dispute? Why kill Rene only?
• Why did the suspect have to wait in ambush in the middle of the night in order to kill Rene when he could have easily killed him since they are next door neighbors?
• How could the suspect have accurately targeted Rene? How could he have known Rene was driving the motorcycle in pitch darkness?

2. On exploring other possible suspects who have motives to kill Rene

a. 94-hectare land balance of the 144-hectare commitment of San Miguel and Rene’s active involvement in the campaign for CARPER

• If the reason why Rene was killed is his involvement in land dispute cases, why single out the dispute in the 19-hectare landholding?
• Is Rene not involved in other land cases? Why not consider the continuing dispute in the 94 hectare balance (of the 144 hectares) which is supposed to be acquired by San Miguel Corporation for distribution to the Sumilao farmers? Why not consider the possible motives of people involved in this case (e.g the Baulas who have leased the 94 hectares to Del Monte instead of distributing the lands to the farmers in fulfillment of San Miguel’s commitment to the Sumilao farmers)?
• Why not consider the possible motives of those who were threatened by the active advocacy of the Sumilao farmers led by Rene for the resolution of the 144 hectares that caused the continued pursuit for the enactment of the CARPER law? Why not consider the active involvement of Rene who led the Sumilao march to Manila and the Banasi farmers in their land claim? Why not consider the threat that if the CARPER law is enacted, many landholdings will be subjected to CARP?

b. Series of unresolved killings of PAKISAMA peasant leaders in Mindanao in the last 7 months

• On November 22, 2008 PAKISAMA National Vice-Chairperson Vicente Paglinawan was gunned down by two motorcycle-riding gunmen in Davao City
• On March 9, 2009, Boy Billames, Secretary General of SAMATIKU – an affiliate of PAKISAMA in South Cotabato - was gunned down by a hooded gunman.
• Ka Rene is the current National Vice-Chairperson of PAKISAMA

3. Based on the testimonies above, there are other possibilities:

• If Rene’s suspicion that they are being spied upon, which he articulated to his companions, was accurate, does it not indicate that there were several persons involved in the murder? Does this not indicate that the killing was planned, coordinated, premeditated, and orchestrated
• Considering the darkness, how could the assailant/s know that that it was Manong Rene’s motorcycle that was approaching. Surely, there were other motorcycles which also passed by the road.
• Is it not possible that the persons Rene suspected to by spying on them at the Impasug-ong tourism area were the lookout for the gunman waiting in ambush? Does this not answer the question why the gunman knew the exact moment Rene and his companions will pass in that particular section of the road? Does this not answer the question why the gunman knew that Rene was the one driving the motorcycle and thus allow him to target Rene more accurately?
• How did the police conclude, in their spot report, that there were three assailants?
• Do these not indicate a more sophisticated scheme of ambushing Rene and his companions, which will also raise the possibility of this ambush being a professional hit especially that despite the darkness, the hitman shot Rene on a fatal part of his body with just three gunshots and that the place of the crime was deliberately selected for ambush? Does this likewise raise the inference that the choice of the shotgun as the weapon was deliberate?

4. On the haste being displayed by the police in “solving” or “closing” the case

• Why is Samson Dollete being held incommunicado?
• Why is the police zeroing-in on the “personal grudge” angle and disregarding other possible angles?
• Why did not the police respond immediately after they were informed that there was an ambush. Why did the relatives of Elizer Penas have to carry him to the Municipal Police Station to prove that there was indeed an ambush, and it was only on that occasion that they responded?