Award of medals to military officers hit ‘Something wrong with citing captors of Morong 43’
By Michael Lim Ubac, Alcuin Papa
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—Senators Pia Cayetano and Jamby Madrigal Tuesday cried foul over the awarding of Bronze Cross Medals to military officers involved in the controversial arrest and detention of 43 health workers attending a seminar in Morong, Rizal, early this month.
“There’s something seriously wrong when a government institution commends its personnel for committing an illegal act,” said Cayetano in a statement.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gen. Victor Ibrado was in Camp Nakar in Lucena, Quezon, Tuesday to pin the medals on the two leaders of the Morong raid: Col. Aurelio Baladad of the Army’s 202nd Brigade and Lt. Col. Jaime Abawag, commander of the 16th Infantry Battalion.
“I’m appalled at how the military keeps announcing that mere membership or affiliation with the CPP-NPA (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army) constitutes a crime,” Cayetano said.
Cayetano, who is seeking reelection in May, reminded Malacañang and the military that the Anti-Subversion Law had long been repealed.
“Membership in a leftist organization in itself is not a crime. What is punished is the act of rebellion or overthrowing the government through violent means and other acts defined in the Revised Penal Code.”
In the case of the “Morong 43,” no gunfight or military encounter took place, Cayetano noted.
Madrigal joined Cayetano and militant groups in slamming the military’s “arrogant behavior.”
“It is an insult to human rights victims and a clear case of arrogant conduct on the part of the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” said Madrigal.
The independent presidential candidate Tuesday pointed out that the arrest of the 43 health workers was still being questioned in the Court of Appeals. “It is also being investigated by the Commission on Human Rights, the Red Cross and other international groups,” she said.
“This is what happens when the military considers itself above civilian jurisdiction and even our courts of law,” Madrigal said.
Makabayan senatorial candidate Rep. Satur Ocampo also issued a statement expressing outrage over the award of medals to the army officers responsible for “arresting and violating the rights of the Morong 43.
“It is clear that the AFP wants to project impunity and defiance against the widespread condemnation it is facing due to its continued detention of the Morong 43,” said Ocampo.
Other statements of protest were issued by family members of the detained health workers, and nongovernment religious and health organizations.
Mariesol Villalon of the Promotion for Church People’s Response said their allies in the United States would ask US representatives to withhold military aid to the Philippines.
Dr. Geneve Rivera, secretary general of Health Alliance for Democracy, said the military was giving health professionals another reason to leave the country.
But Ibrado defended the award of medals to the officers.
Ibrado: File cases
He challenged critics to file charges against military officers and soldiers alleged to have tortured any of the detainees.
Ibrado said the allegations of torture and mistreatment by the military were just that.
“They (supporters) can file cases if they want. As of now, they cannot prove allegations of torture because there really wasn’t any torture,” Ibrado told reporters on arrival at Camp Aguinaldo after the medal rites.
Ibrado said the detainees, particularly the women, were treated well.
“The detainees were handled well. Women officers took charge of the women detainees,” Ibrado said in Filipino.
Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Chair Leila de Lima said she was ready to call Ibrado’s challenge.
She said the CHR would issue an order within the week directing the military to answer allegations that it was illegally detaining the 43 health workers. With reports from Leila Salaverria and Jerry E. Esplanada