Nearly 12 years after esteemed botanist’s killing, justice remains out of reach

Published August 11, 2022, 10:00 AM

by Vina Medenilla

It has been over a decade since Leonard Co, one of the Philippines’ most esteemed botanists, was fatally shot while conducting research and collecting seedlings of endangered trees in Kananga, Leyte.

It was on November 15, 2010, when Co, along with forest ranger Sofronio Cortez and farmer Julius Borromeo, were gunned down in an alleged shootout between the 19th infantry battalion of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the New Peoples’ Army (NPA) after the former has allegedly mistaken the men for NPA members.

Until now, the quest for justice continues for the victims’ families.

In 2013, the Department of Justice (DOJ) charged the nine troops involved in the incident with reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide. In response to this resolution, Co’s family has petitioned the DOJ to raise the charges to murder, but the case remains unresolved to date.

Glenda Co, the late botanist’s widow, is seeking financial assistance as the case proceeds in court.

“The death of Leonard and his two companions is already a decade of injustice, but I am still seeking justice, and will continue to do so at all costs. The battle is not for Leonard and his two companions; rather, it is for the field workers and environmentalists,” Glenda told Agriculture Online.  

Art for a cause

Raxenne Maniquiz, a 31-year-old graphic designer and illustrator, initiated a fundraising drive to help cover the legal fees associated with Co’s pending court case.

She did this by selling riso posters of her Rafflesiaceae distribution map, which was inspired by the original Rafflesia map of the Philippines created by the late botanist himself, along with Julie Barcelona, Danilo Balete, Mary Ann Cajano, Daniel Lee Nickrent, and Pieter Pelser.

Illustrator Raxenne Maniquiz’s version of the Rafflesiaceae map of the Philippines. Shown at the top of the map is the Rafflesia leonardi, named after the late botanist Leonard Co. (Raxenne Maniquiz)

Maniquiz wrote on social media, “Hello! I’m raising funds for the ongoing case of Dr. Leonard Co, a noted Filipino botanist and plant taxonomist. I’m selling A3 riso posters of this map. Proceeds will help cover the legal fees in Ma’am Glenda Co’s continued search for justice.”

The illustrator revealed that she chose the Rafflesiaceae map for the fundraising not only because it was inspired by one of Co’s works, but also because it was the first distribution map she designed and illustrated in 2019. It was also during this time that she learned of Co’s death.

“I think it is also very meaningful that I use this Rafflesia map for the fundraiser for him.” She adds, “There is an endemic Rafflesia named in his honor, the Rafflesia leonardi.”

As of August 6, 2022, Maniquiz has already received the maximum number of orders for the map. However, Maniquiz has put up a waitlist form for individuals who wish to get notified when a slot opens up.

People who would like to donate to help cover Co’s legal fees may still do by sending funds directly to Glenda Co’s GCash account at 09164361370. 

“The University of the Philippines Diliman Institute of Biology Representatives are one with Dr. Co’s widow, Mrs. Glenda Co in enjoining the UP community as well as the entire Filipino people to demand for justice for the death of Dr. Leonard Co. We are humbly asking for financial support to cover the legal fees of the case.” (Institute of Biology Representatives Facebook page)

Leonard Co was a world-renowned scientist and plant taxonomist who made valuable strides in Philippine botany, even up to his last moments.

His wrongful death at the age of 56 was an immense loss for the country, and for all the people whose lives he touched and changed. 

His life, although short, will remain an inspiration in the scientific community and beyond.

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