Military fails to show 43 health workers at CHR probe
By Tetch Torres, Alcuin Papa
MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATE) The military on Thursday morning failed to produce the 43 detained health workers, as it claimed that their arrest in Morong, Rizal in February was a police operation.
At the start of the public hearing by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), a representative of the military’s Judge Advocate General’s Office (JAGO) told the CHR panel, headed by CHR Chairperson Leila De Lima that an order from the Morong regional trial court was required for health the workers, called the “Morong 43,” to be brought before the CHR.
The military filed charges of illegal possession of firearms against the health workers before a Morong court.
De Lima responded that it was the position of the commission that it did not need court permission to call for the appearance of any complainant or witness.
Lawyers for the detainees represented by Romeo Capulong said there was no valid reason for the CHR not to invoke its contempt powers against the military for failing to produce the 43 health workers.
On February 6, the military raided a rest house in Morong and arrested the 43. The military said they were communist rebels.
Relatives of the 43 claimed the detainees were being tortured and denied medical care and legal aid.
The CHR, while saying they found signs that the detainees were tortured, called for the hearing to find out if the human rights of the detainees were violated. The commission also summoned military officials to explain why the 43 were still detained in a military camp.
De Lima had said the military should produce the 43 at the hearing or face contempt charges.
Colonel Aurelio Balabad of the 202nd Infantry Brigade said the arrest of the 43 was “mainly a police operation” and that the Armed Forces of the Philippines “only provided support because there were NPA rebels in the area.”
He said it was Superintendent Marion Balonglong, Rizal provincial police commander who applied for a search warrant.
Balabad said he only saw the search warrant after the arrest of the 43. He said he merely provided the police with documents and information necessary for the application of the search warrant.
“Is it standard operating procedure for the military not to check the legal basis of an operation?” De Lima asked.
Balabad said he was not competent to answer, adding that he did not even participate in the raid. He only went to Camp Capinpin a day after the 43 were arrested.
But he admitted that there were 90 members of the Battalion who participated in the operation.
Invoking its right to remain silent, the military refused to answer questions from the CHR over allegations that they allegedly tortured the 43 health workers.
Counsel for the military Serme Ayuyao said a “respondent can refuse to take the [witness] stand” after he disallowed Balabad and Lieutenant Colonel Jaime Abawag of the 16th Infantry Brigade from answering questions from the commission.
“This is not a court of law, this is a fact finding body. How can we exercise our mandate if you are not cooperating?” De Lima said.
“Right against self incrimination can only be invoked when question is asked not before the question is asked,” she added.
Aside from Balabad and Abawag, other respondents are: Armed Forces chief General Victor Ibrado, Philippine National Police chief Director General Jesus Verzosa; Army Commanding General Lieutenant General Delfin Bangit; and Southern Luzon Command chief Lt. Gen. Roland Detabali; Brigadier General Jorge Segovia, commander of the 2nd Infantry Division of the Philippine Army; Superintendent Marion Balonglong, Rizal Provincial Police commander; and Judge Cesar Mangrobang, presiding judge of the Imus, Cavite regional trial court Branch 22 who issued the search warrant.
CHR Commissioner Cecilia Rachel Quisumbing told the military to stop delaying the proceedings.
“You also have the right to answer the allegations raised against you,” she said.
Relatives of the 43 health workers filed before the CHR early this month a complaint against the military for illegal arrest, illegal detention, and for holding the health workers incommunicado. They also accused the military of physically and mentally torturing the detainees.